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August 9, 2023

Wildfires Rage Through Lahaina, Maui

Much of Hawaii’s waterfront town of Lahaina, Maui, is in the grips of a wildfire that is destroying homes and businesses, and causing people to jump into the water to save themselves. What began as a brush fire was fanned partly by winds from Hurricane Dora. which passed south of the Islands. The US Coast Guard has been on scene, amid unconfirmed reports of around 100 people in need of rescue. Hawaii News Now reports what “onlookers believe is the worst natural disaster in Hawaii’s history since Hurricane Iniki.” (Iniki was a Category 4 hurricane with wind speeds of 143 mph. It made landfall on September 11, 1992. Six deaths were reported.) Hawaii’s acting Gov. Sylvia Luke has issued an emergency proclamation to all counties, and nonessential air travel to Maui is now being discouraged. All affected state agencies have also been ordered to assist with the evacuation.

The following video from ABC7 shows the current situation in Lahaina.

Lahaina has an interesting history, which includes its importance as the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1820 to 1845, and being a destination for around 400 whaling ships annually. Today the town is a popular tourist destination. It is also a destination among sailors, as it is the finishing point for the biennial Vic-Maui International Yacht Race. It is also the home of solo racer Ronnie Simpson, who is currently in Maine preparing for the Global Solo Challenge aboard the Open 50 Sparrow. Ronnie told us that one of the Maui firefighters, Keahi Ho, who we presume is rather busy right now, raced the Transpac aboard Merlin, and owns a charter sailboat, Gung Ho. We hope to chat with Keahi Ho and learn more about what’s going on in Lahaina.

Good Jibes #102: Molly O’Bryan Vandemoer on Inclusive Sailing

This week’s host, Moe Roddy, is joined by Olympic match racer Molly O’Bryan Vandemoer. Molly represented the United States in the 2012 London Olympics, and is now the director of the Peninsula Youth Sailing Foundation.

Molly O'Bryan Vandemoer
Molly takes a hike during the Cascais 2007 ISAF Sailing World Championships.
© 2023 ISAF Sailing World Championships

Hear about Molly’s family sailing roots, her college days sailing in Hawaii, her mission to make sailing inclusive for all youth in the Bay Area, how she’s introducing sailing to her own children, and what motivates her. This episode covers everything from growing the sailing community to competing in the Olympics.

Here’s a small sample of what you will hear in this episode:

  • Do Molly’s siblings sail?
  • What did Molly study in college?
  • Who put her Olympic sailing team together?
  • How close was she to getting an Olympic medal?
  • What’s a good age to get children sailing?
  • How long has Molly been at the Peninsula Youth Sailing Foundation?
  • What are her thoughts on women in sailing?
  • Short Tacks: Who’s had the biggest impact on her sailing?

Learn more about Molly at PYSF.US and on Instagram @MollyVandemoer.

Listen to the episode on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, and your other favorite podcast spots — follow and leave a 5-star review if you’re feeling the Good Jibes!

The Latest Scoop from the Yacht Racing Association

YRA Board Changes

Bay Area sailor Joe Rockmore alerted us that Don Ahrens has resigned as chair of the Yacht Racing Association of San Francisco Bay. “After seven years at the helm, he felt he had done his duty and wanted to pass it on to someone else. I think an announcement in Latitude 38 would be nice, especially a big thank-you for his years of service to the racing community of S.F. Bay.”

Don Ahrens at Alameda Community Sailing Center
Don Ahrens at Alameda Community Sailing Center for the YRA’s 2021 awards party.
© 2023 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

You may know of Don as the skipper of the Farr 36 Red Cloud, sailing out of Encinal Yacht Club in Alameda.

Farr 36 Red Cloud
Don Ahrens’ Farr 36 Red Cloud in an EYC Jack Frost midwinter race.
© 2023 Fred Fago

“Also, the YRA has adopted new bylaws. As called for in them, we appointed three directors at large: Bill Claussen, Andy Newell and Bob Walden.” All three are sailors based out of Richmond Yacht Club. “These three have been part of the YRA operational committee for years, and this formalizes their roles. The new board has appointed me as chair (I was formerly secretary of the board).” The YRA is seeking a new secretary and a new treasurer (Bobbi Tosse served as the treasurer of the YRA for many years, but she passed away on February 1). Anyone interested in either of these board positions should email [email protected].

Joe Rockmore at Berkeley Yacht Club
Joe Rockmore relaxes at Berkeley YC following a midwinter race in February aboard Gerry Brown’s Mintaka 4.
© 2023 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

The new chair of the YRA, Joe owns a South Beach-based C&C 40, Föhn. “I don’t race the C&C,” says Joe. “I crew on other boats: Mintaka 4, Gerry Brown’s Farr 38, occasionally on the Olson 25 Synchronicity, Don’s Red Cloud, a J/92 (hiJinks), and others.” Joe is also very involved in race management, serving as PRO for most regattas at Half Moon Bay YC and for most YRA doublehanded races as a US Sailing-certified Club PRO. For the last few years he has been part of the mark-set crew for the Rolex Big Boat Series at St. Francis YC, and he helps out with other StFYC regattas as a race committee volunteer. “I have now been racing and sailing on S.F. Bay for over 40 years.”

YRA Racing

Learn more about the YRA at and sign up for races at A few coming up in the near future include:

  • August 12: In The Bay Series #3
    Starts off FOC (on the Berkeley Circle); two races are on the schedule.
  • August 19 start: Bluewater Bash
    The YRA’s Long Distance Ocean Race, with a skippers’ meeting on Thursday, August 17.
  • August 27: Shorthanded Sunday Series #3
    Doublehanded crews, spinnaker or non-spinnaker divisions. One race.
  • September 9: Offshore Series Race #8
    Final race in the 2023 Offshore Series. Several course options are available; the race committee will pick the best one for the conditions of the day.

The Protections and Perils of Tethering Yourself Into a Sailboat

During a recent discussion about lifejackets, many of our readers said that in addition to a PFD, tethers were an essential piece of offshore equipment. There is no question that tethers are both widely used and a basic, no-brainer method of keeping sailors attached to the boat. But tethering, like every safety measure, brings with it a perception of security that may be shattered if the unthinkable occurs.

In the case of tethering, one is inevitably going to be dragged with the boat. Depending on where you fall and how long the tether is, this may represent different degrees of protection or peril.

In 2015, Practical Boat Owner tested tethers to demonstrate the practical effects of going into the drink while clipped in. The trials produced “sobering results.”

PBO referenced a 2011 accident where a skipper perished after going overboard off southern England. A subsequent investigation found that the sailor had done “everything by the book. He was wearing a lifejacket and he was clipped on with a tether, or safety, line — but when he went overboard from the foredeck on a dark night, he was dead by the time the crew could recover him.”

To test tethering, PBO dragged ‘Fred’, a “realistic, weighted rescue dummy wearing a lifejacket” off a boat, using tethers of various lengths, sailing at various speeds, and placing the dummy on both the windward and leeward sides of the boat. Using a long tether, “Fred dangled close to the hull on the windward side. His position was in the trough of the boat’s quarterwave, and he was repeatedly smashed into the hull by the waves. On the leeward side the long tether allowed him to be swept back into the boat’s boiling quarter-wake; he was almost entirely submerged, with the lifejacket unable to keep his head out of the water.”

A short tether on the windward side kept the dummy out of the water; on the leeward side, the shorter length put the dummy in the boat’s gurgling wake. The length of the tether is one of those pesky compromises between safety and comfort; the longer the tether, the more mobility and freedom, but the greater the risk once overboard.

Poor ‘Fred’ was really put through the motions back in 2015 by Practical Boat Owner.
© 2023 Practical Boat Owner

On a trip down the coast in 2020 — from the Bay to the Channel Islands — we wore harnesses at night, and would clip in during the hour of solo watch, as well as whenever we left the cockpit. The skipper instructed us to attach the tether in a way that allowed for a quick release in the event that we found ourselves dragging in the water. It was a strange prospect, at once tethering yourself to the boat, but being ready to cut yourself loose.

“You need to reduce your speed to below two knots within one minute to give a tethered casualty a chance of survival,” PBO said. One minute? Even that seems like an eternity if someone is bobbing and bashing in the water.

Whenever we discuss MOB scenarios, there’s usually a lot of emphasis on the crew, their PFD, and even the color of their foul weather gear. These are all salient factors, but ultimately, it’s the crew’s ability to get back to the person who’s fallen overboard — and then to get them back on in a timely manner in all kinds of conditions — that will make the difference between life and death.

For these reasons, our readers often emphasize the need to practice MOB scenarios. But does anyone out there practice tethered MOB situations?

Search for Captain Donald Lawson Suspended

The search for missing sailor Captain Donald Lawson off the coast of Acapulco has been suspended. On July 5, Lawson left Acapulco headed for Baltimore via the Panama Canal aboard his ORMA 60 Defiant. On July 9 he informed his wife Jacqueline Lawson, also known as Tori, that he was having engine issues that were preventing him from charging his batteries. Then, on July 12, his sole remaining power source, a wind generator, was damaged in a storm. On July 13 the couple decided Lawson would return to Acapulco for repairs. He was approximately 300 miles southwest of the city. That was the last communication anyone had with Defiant.

Almost two weeks later, on July 23, a Mexican search plane spotted the capsized Defiant 275 miles off the coast of Acapulco, but due to the sea conditions, no one was able to reach the boat until July 27. A search concluded that no one was aboard the trimaran, and that the boat’s liferaft was nowhere to be seen. Subsequent searches involving the Mexican navy and the US Coast Guard found no evidence of Lawson or his liferaft. It is believed Defiant had an EPIRB, which has not been triggered.

Jacqueline Lawson issued a statement on August 4, reiterating her hopes that her husband is still alive. “Donald is an experienced sailor with the skills, expertise, grit, and determination to survive, even in these difficult circumstances. The life raft that was on board Defiant when Donald left Acapulco on July 5 still has not been located, which gives me hope that he is still out there somewhere, waiting to be rescued. My family and I will continue to provide updates as we receive them from Mexican authorities. Meantime, please keep my husband in your prayers.”

Donald Lawson and his boat
Top: Lawson meets with the Acapulco port captains in February. Bottom: Defiant at anchor, awaiting the work ahead.
© 2023 Instagram/journi11seas

In May 2022, Lawson sailed Defiant (then, still named Mighty Merloe) into San Francisco Bay during a passage from her former Southern California home to Seattle. His mission along the way was to introduce the boat and his nonprofit Dark Seas Project to West Coast sailors. An African American sailor, Lawson announced his goal to break multiple sailing records while carrying the message of diversity, equity and inclusion, and environmental stewardship.

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