Over the past few weeks, several boats have been stolen from Alameda marinas on almost a daily basis, often in broad daylight, and often with the perpetrators caught on camera while in stolen property. Liveaboards in Alameda are stunned by the audacity of the thieves, who can often be seen returning to flotillas of anchored-out boats, with their spoils visible, on the Oakland side of the Estuary.
“It’s gotten kind of scary, the brazenness of it all,” said one resident. “It’s bad. It’s really bad. I mean, these guys come by nightly,” one liveaboard told us on Friday. “They’re coming in here, whereas they usually don’t,” said another liveaboard. “The theft is absolutely increasing at an increasing rate,” said a longtime sailor who works on the Estuary.
The Oakland Estuary is a confluence of multiple city, state and federal jurisdictions, as well as a focal point of any number of entrenched issues facing all major cities. Jack London Square in Oakland actually has more public dock space than any other location on the Bay, but the Estuary also has swaths of marinas opposite of tucked-away no-man’s land, where people on both sides of the law fall through the cracks. Several cities’ police marine units appear underfunded and understaffed, and anecdotes suggest that some departments aren’t entirely sure how to deal with stolen boats.
Residents of marinas (which, in Alameda, might eventually be considered housing units) have been told that they’re basically on their own, inspiring talk of a marina neighborhood watch. We’ve left out the names of residents we interviewed due to fear of harassment and retaliation.
Thefts New and Old
Last week at the Alameda Community Sailing Center, five of their eight RIBS were stolen from Ballena Isle Marina. Three washed up around various parts of town, but were “trashed and inoperable.”
In June, $20,000 worth of coach boats were stolen from an Alameda yacht club. One boat was stripped of its motor, pulled onshore, and knifed with holes so that it sank just beneath the water.
This weekend, a coach boat was reportedly stolen from the same Alameda club. “I’ll be damned if I didn’t go past where the thieves live and see one of these coach boats tied up,” a longtime Alameda liveaboard told us. “We know exactly where they go: two sailboats and a powerboat moored off Union Point Marina.”
The same liveaboard also told us that on Saturday, a woman had jumped the gate at Marina Village and walked onto his boat. The liveaboard’s son woke up and chased the would-be intruder, “who was probably trying to steal the [dinghy].”
Each of the people we spoke with told us that more than a week ago, police arrested someone off the aforementioned flotilla. One witness said that the Alameda County sheriff was there, as well as several Coast Guard boats on the scene. It’s presumed that the apparent arrest is related to the thefts.
Who Has Jurisdiction Over the Estuary? It’s Not Clear
If someone steals something in Alameda, then crosses the Estuary to Oakland, who’s responsible for enforcing the law, or for taking a report? It’s kind of a moot point, anyway — there is no such thing as a full-time marine patrol on the Estuary. The Alameda Police Department’s boat is not in the water, though it may be soon, according to what residents say APD has told them. After reportedly being on the hard for several months, the Oakland Police Department’s marine patrol unit might be back in the water, though we can’t confirm that. One witness said that Oakland police officers have tagged a few derelict vessels from land, presumably under Oakland’s new Nuisance Vessel Ordinance.
(We called OPD and the Alameda County sheriff for comment before publication. We hope to speak with them in the future.)
“What about the Coast Guard?” is a common refrain when people hear about piracy on the Estuary. The anchored-out flotilla — and alleged home base for rampant theft — is immediately off one end of Coast Guard Island. The Coast Guard has told Latitude that they don’t have “the authority or the jurisdiction” to remove anchor-outs. With that said, several residents told us that a lesser-known division of the USCG has been gathering evidence and potentially building a case.
An Alameda police officer told one liveaboard that there wasn’t anything they could do about the thefts. “She was being very sympathetic,” the liveaboard said. To be fair, people on shore complain about brazen theft of cars, break-ins, etc., and about police who are overwhelmed and often slow to respond.
Sometimes, both police and the community have difficulty identifying stolen vessels.
Last year, as someone was stealing a Grand Banks 42 from Jack London Square Marina, a neighbor, not knowing a theft was in progress, gave a “cordial wave goodbye” to the thief, according to a source. The thief took the boat to a brokerage dock in Alameda, and employees there called the police — who they say arrived immediately — about a trespasser. (One of the employees said they were suspicious because the man was driving the Grand Banks so poorly.)
The police originally asked if the boat could stay overnight at the dock; the employees said no — they had a boat returning soon. As the Grand Banks departed, it scraped a new boat at the dock. The thief took the boat back to its slip and left; he was arrested later for stealing electronics from other vessels in the Estuary.
There appear to be bureaucratic problems with policing, as well.
When another boat was stolen recently in the Estuary, a captain, acting with power of attorney from his client, called the OPD marine patrol officer, who apologized profusely but said he couldn’t do anything, “because I can’t get dispatch; there is no crime in progress, it’s not in the system because the owner hasn’t reported it stolen.” The officer advised the captain to go to the police station to file a report. There, the clerk could not enter the boat’s CF numbers because it wasn’t a VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), and they were thus unable to enter the boat into the system.
The vessel was recovered later.
If You See Something, Say Something
“This is getting so out of hand,” a liveaboard, who had an intruder on their boat on Saturday, told us. “So many of us are seeing people go through our marina. We need a marina neighborhood watch program. We need to do something. All up and down the Estuary, we are now exchanging our names and phone numbers. We are worrying about our self-defense in ways that we haven’t before.”
A captain said that he’d be willing to do a volunteer patrol one night a month. “If the mantra is ‘see something, say something,’ what comes of it? Do we get lights; do we pay for security? I don’t know.
“Maybe law enforcement can help us help ourselves.”
Cover Photo: An anchor-out flotilla between Union Point Marina and Coast Guard Island in November 2021.
This week’s host, Ryan Foland, reads three articles from the August issue of Latitude 38 Sailing Magazine. Hear “Going With the Flow” by Ashley Gremel, “The Martian Chronicles” by John Riise, and “Transpac — Thursday’s Child” by John Arndt.
This episode covers everything from the Med to Mai Tais. Here’s a small sample of what you will hear:
- How do you sail from the Bay Area to the Chesapeake?
- Where is El Milagro Marina?
- What is the Great Dismal Swamp?
- Who is Chuck Tobias?
- Where is Knossos?
- How was Ta’Xbiex Marina?
- Who won the 2023 Transpac?
- What is the King Kalakaua Trophy?
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After 21 years in its current location, the Vallarta Yacht Club (VYC) of Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, Mexico, is relocating its clubhouse and facilities after months-long negotiations ended with the termination of its lease, two years before its expiration. The club and its facilities are well known to and loved by many Mexico cruisers who’ve enjoyed the well-appointed facilities, which included showers, a Jacuzzi and pool, along with restaurant and bar facilities overlooking the marina. While it comes as a shock and brings immediate feelings of “Oh no!” VYC commodore Randy Hough says, “I’m very excited about the change and I’m starting to see it as a good thing and not mourn the end of an era. It is a new chapter and a blank page.”
The location, which was leased from Paradise Village Group, is being taken over at midday on September 12 by the state-run agency FIBBA, which Randy explained is “the agency in charge of development in the tourist zone.” And while it’s unclear what the agency has in mind for the site, Randy expects public access to the launch ramp and the docks used by the charter boat operations will continue. “Beyond that is anyone’s guess,” he adds.
The yacht club is working closely with the management of Paradise Village Group and Paradise Village Marina to find a new club space. Randy says they are close to reaching an agreement and hope to announce the new location in the next few days, adding, “Paradise Village has supported both the vision and reality of the Vallarta Yacht Club from the very beginning over 20 years ago. Our partnership with them has been mutually beneficial for over two decades and we are very pleased to be able to continue it.”
Randy expressed the club’s gratitude to Paradise Village Group and Paradise Village Marina.
“Paradise Village has kept us informed as their lawyers sought to sort out the issues with Lot 15. Paradise Village has provided security and maintenance of the property for almost 30 years. Paradise Village constructed the building and included public restrooms that they maintained at their expense, they also maintained the public dock space that is under Federal control with the blessing of our Port Captain. Vallarta Yacht Club has worked with Nayarit agencies over the years to promote the area and promote sailing and sport. Access to our clubhouse was allowed during the dispute partly on the strength of the relationships VYC has forged with Nayarit over the years.”
The Vallarta Yacht Club location is recognized worldwide through events like the 2007 J/24 World Championships, the 2011 Pan American Games, the 2016 and 2022 Laser World Championships and four Optimist North American Championships, as well as many others.
VYC says the Junior Sailing School will not be affected. Randy says the club has assurance from FIBBA that they will continue to have access and control of the staging area for small-boat regattas. “Our schedule includes Regata de Revolución in November, Banderas Bay Blast in December, Vallarta Cup in January, WesMex International regatta in February, and of course the Banderas Bay Regatta in March.”
We spoke with Paul Martson of J/World Performance Sailing, which is located along the dock near the VYC. “This will be profound as the VYC location was so good. Sail right up and grab a lunch. Walk over from J/World and grab a Margi. Always bustling with traffic between the Junior Sailing Program and the proximity to the public launch ramp.” Paul acknowledges that a new location could have some benefits, such as better visibility and more traffic and parking, maybe even a bigger kitchen for the restaurant, but is nonetheless concerned about what the new facilities will mean for races and events.
“VYC is not the clubhouse,” Randy tells us. “Our club is almost 200 members and as a new plan is taking shape we see great new opportunities to explore. Many of us have years of great memories that include the old clubhouse, those will live on with us. Developing a new location is a born again opportunity for our members that haven’t been with us as the paint was drying on the then new yacht club building.”
We wish the Vallarta Yacht Club the very best in finding and relocating to a new premises, and look forward to many future regattas and gatherings with its members and visitors.
Hurricane Hilary barreled up the west coast of Baja with a drumbeat of threatening headlines and dire predictions. It did cause havoc and destruction in several communities, many of which are still struggling to recover. However, as our Monday story told, for most people the bark was worse than the bite. For sailors trying to figure out how to understand and prepare for forecasts, it could be helpful to really see what happened in various harbors and how the two primary weather models compared. Thankfully, cruiser Jason Hite of the Caribbean 50 Volare took some time to create a post-storm analysis of the GFS vs. ECMW weather models.
We connected with Jason, who posted the following on the Sea of Cortez Sailors and Cruisers Facebook Group, “Here is how the forecast vs. actual turned out. Lots of people say ECWMF (European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts) is the best, but these results will show you why I like GFS (Global Forecast System). It’s normal for PE (Puerto Escondido) to gust higher than forecast due to the topography of the area. I didn’t see anybody post numbers for Concepcion. If you’d like to see your area covered in the next storm, please comment below.”
Jason also summarized his time spent in Mexico over several summers.
“My experience cruising in Mexico in the summer:
I summered in BOLA (Bahia de los Angeles) in 2016, 2017, 2018 (solo).
2019 I summered in Loreto.
2020 I spent COVID summer in Barra de Navidad.
2021 I spent most of summer in Loreto; just popped up to BOLA for a couple of weeks for the now forbidden full moon party.
2022 Summered in Loreto
2023 Banderas Bay
When I summered in Barra I was worried we might see a major storm. It happened to Zeehag! Luckily there was a cruiser there that said he was cursed with fair weather, and we should expect no major storms that summer. Sure enough, we had one hurricane; I didn’t even take the shades off Volare — it just rained for three days and caused lots of flooding. That guy’s boat is in La Cruz now, so I’m hopeful his good weather karma continues!!!”
While the drama felt by most people who read the Hurricane/Tropical Storm Hilary weather predictions was less than anticipated, it was wise for all sailors in the path of the storm to take precautions. Both the European ECMWF model and the American GFS model can be wrong, since Mother Nature has a mind of her own. Hurricane Hilary turned out to have smaller impacts than anticipated, while Hurricane Dora had far worse impacts than anticipated in Lahaina.
As sailors know, it’s always good to keep a weather eye out. What’s your experience with ECMWF and GFS, and how do you receive your weather while voyaging mid-ocean? Do you have a preference for ECMWF or GFS?