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October 4, 2023

Tragic Shark Attack Takes Kiteboarder Felix Louis N’jai

On Monday, Latitude 38 reader Edward Stancil sent us a link to a story about a shark attack off Point Reyes. Sadly, we’ve since learned the victim was much-loved foiling kite surfer Felix Louis N’jai, who had attended a camping wedding with friends on Saturday before several people took a Sunday swim the next day. According to KPIX Channel 5, Marin County firefighters responded to a call that three men had gone for a swim about 25 to 50 yards offshore when an apparent shark attack occurred. After an extensive search, N’jai’s body has not been found.

Felix was a regular and accomplished kiting competitor on the Bay, with a large, admired presence in the kiting community. He took third place in the 2022 Ronstan Bridge to Bridge, and eighth this year.

Felix Louis N'jai
Felix Louis N’jai, second from right, took third place in the 2022 Ronstan Bridge to Bridge Race.
© 2023 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

We spoke with fellow kiteboarder Geoff Headington, who shared a couple of memories of Felix: “We trained together and referred to each other by the nickname ‘coach’ since we were always helping to uplevel each other’s abilities. Felix was an incredibly upbeat, energetic and happy personality who was always a huge positive influence at any gathering on the water — or anywhere. Felix has a wide circle of friends from many different spheres. He was always pulling people together and invited me regularly to Thanksgiving football scrimmage despite my never being able to attend. He’d also rent a restaurant in Cole Valley every year where everyone would sing Christmas carols. He’d always say to us, ‘See you in church,’ which, to him, meant the church of the world, or see you in your community.

“He had a nickname and personal relationship with everyone. When a crowd of friends were asked if they thought Felix was their best friend, a large majority would raise their hands.

“Another quiet passion of his was an effort to become the kiteboarding Olympic representative of his native country, Gambia. He kept it quiet, but it looked like he was on track to make it happen, and I was hoping to join him as ‘coach.’ He kept it on the down low in case it all didn’t come together, but he’d been working on it for two years and was planning to be in France in 2024.”

Felix Louis N’jai waxed poetic about kiteboarding, telling Oregon Public Broadcasting, “I really love the speed, I have to say. And now, like, I cannot tell you, like, it’s so fun when you crank and you go and you are in the groove.”
© 2023 Facebook/Oregon Public Broadcasting

We also spoke with 5O5 sailor Mike Martin, who described Felix: “I loved the guy. He was a huge presence in the Bay Area kiteboarding scene. He always had a big smile and was a genuine character who made our community feel better. It’s a terrible irony that we’ve done so many crazy things sailing the Bay and he’s taken from us while just off a beach. He was a truly, truly great guy to all of us.”

Geoff said there was an impromptu memorial at Crissy Field on Monday, attended by the groom, who was swimming with him when the attack occurred. He said they had a regular swimming ritual in the Bay, and the groom was one of the friends who decided to join for the Sunday swim after the wedding. The groom was there with the kiteboarding group on Crissy Field to grieve and share the moment with everyone’s mutual friend.

It is exceptionally painful for both family and the kiteboarding community that knew and loved Felix so well. It’s always difficult to see news reports contain a reference to how incredibly rare shark attacks are. There are swimmers, kite- and windsurfers, surfers and many others who swim regularly off Bay Area shores. Attacks rarely occur, and a fatality is even rarer. This is, however, the “season” when great white sharks congregate along the Northern and Central California coast; most sightings are between September and October, before white sharks migrate toward Hawaii in December, and return in August.

According to KPIX, Dave Ebert, the director of San Jose State’s Pacific Shark Research Center, said: “They tend to hunt where they have an advantage. If you think about the surf, you know, the sea lions can’t always pick up on stuff because of all the [wave] activity. And that’s where whites will often attack.”

The loss of Felix Louis N’jai is devastating. He was a bright light amongst his circles of friends, and he will be sorely missed by everyone who foils and kites the Bay.

Martin and Lowry Come Out on Top in the 5O5 World Championships

The 5O5 Worlds concluded on San Francisco Bay with 2019 World Champs and locals Mike Martin and Adam Lowry coming out on top yet again. Aside from some smoky air ahead of the first weekend, the combined Pre-Worlds/North Americans, followed by the Worlds, were held in idyllic performance-racing dinghy conditions, creating a rambunctious, memorable event for all 60 teams.

The 5O5 fleet is extremely competitive worldwide, though California remains a stronghold for 5O5 racing. California sailors took the top three positions, with Eric Anderson and Nic Baird, also from San Francisco and Martin and Lowry’s training partners, taking second, and Mike Holt and Carl Smith from Santa Cruz taking third. (Anderson and Baird actually led by two points going into the last race.)

Mike Martin and Adam Lowry cross the fleet on port.
Mike Martin and Adam Lowry cross the fleet on port on their way to winning the 2023 5O5 World Championships.
© 2023 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

Racing was held off Treasure Island and to the west of Alcatraz, where the race committee ran “rabbit starts” for the 60-boat fleet. A rabbit start is performed by having a single, designated 5O5 (the pathfinder) followed by a committee boat (the gate boat) port-tack cross the whole fleet with every other competitor crossing astern of both for an even starting opportunity. Unfortunately, two of these starts caused problems for Martin and Lowry. In one of the rabbit starts, they hit the “gatekeeper” after Anderson and Baird successfully “hooked” them just ahead of the start. Then, in Race 7, they were T-boned and holed while sitting on starboard waiting for the start. They managed a quick patch to complete Race 7 in lighter air, though they were slowed by their boat’s filling with water. After another on-the-water repair, they started the windier Race 8, but they were forced to retire after the boat started to sink on the downwind leg. With redress, those two races were scored as 2 points and 2.2 points.

Martin explained Chris Ray’s drone video of the Race 4 rabbit start below in more detail: “Adam and I left ourselves a little vulnerable; Anderson and Baird were able to hook us, so we ended up a little advanced at the start. We tagged the gatekeeper, but we were lucky; up until a rule change a few years ago, we would have had to drop out of the race. Now, you’re allowed to take your penalty and continue on. We ended up recovering pretty well, since one of the tricks if you end up in our situation in a big fleet like this is to take the long port tack behind everyone’s stern where you get an artificial lift because the wind is bent by all the starboard tackers. By the time we reached the last starboard-tack boat, we’d been lifted up to rejoin the fleet in pretty good shape. We ended up taking a fourth in the race.”

Despite the mishaps, the Martin/Lowry team made the repairs and stayed on their game, finishing the final race with a bullet. Mike Martin, now a five-time world champion, said, “The week could not have gone better for us in the end, but it was definitely a tough week. Our goal with our training partners is to push each other and to be duking it out for first and second in the last race of the Worlds, which we did.”

Martin and Lowry 5O5 World champions
Powered up 5O5 on the Bay.*
© 2023 Chris Ray

San Francisco Bay’s ability to put on spectacular conditions for world championships isn’t taken advantage of by enough of the world’s very competitive one-design classes. Seeing this caliber of fleet and racers putting their best performance on the Bay is extremely impressive. Sun, breeze and current combine for the kind of challenging conditions the world’s top fleets look for, and the Bay served it up once again.

We’ll have a full report on the 5O5 Championship in our November issue, where you’ll learn how you can win the 2024 World Championships in Varberg, Sweden, August 1-10, 2024. Complete results here

*Correction: apparently we misidentified the bottom 5O5 shot as Mike Martin and Adam Lowry.  

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The Homegrown, Grassroots Sausalito Boat Show Is Coming Soon

Sausalito Boat Show, where have you been all our lives?

Next week, Clipper Yacht Harbor will host the first-ever boat show hosted by the saltiest city in the Bay Area. This is a maritime milestone! According to organizers, the Sausalito Boat Show is a grassroots event — there’s no major organization behind the show. “It was built by a group of citizens and marine-industry businesses, many of whom are home-ported in Sausalito,” though the Bay Area’s shores will be well represented on October 13-15.

“We’re twisting the boat-show concept up,” said longtime friend of Latitude 38 Mitch Perkins, the boat show’s manager. “In a short amount of time, we’ve created a well-rounded show. Nobody does this amount of entertainment, speaker lineups and seminars, music, food and entertainment,” Mitch told us. “The city and community of Sausalito has been instrumental in outreach and support.”

But wait, there’s more!

On Sunday, October 15, Latitude 38 and Spaulding Marine Center will host the Last Call in Paradise Party, featuring the Cruz Boys and a tribute to Jimmy Buffett. Admission to the party is free with show ticket; get discounted beer tickets at the Latitude 38 and Spaulding booths. The party is from 12 to 2 p.m., but it’s 5 o’clock somewhere!

We are so incredibly excited to see a boat show finally come to the shores of Sausalito.
© 2023 Sausalito Boat Show

Parties are just the tip of the iceberg.

There are currently eight seminars scheduled, free to boat show attendees: Kira Maixner of Modern Sailing (who is featured in this month’s Latitude) will host a Women in Sailing seminar; Tom Relya of South Beach Riggers will tell you how to save money with safe rigging; Laura Gill of the Marine Mammal Center will discuss the work of rescuing sea life; yacht broker Ben Rifkin will hold a seminar on Marine Navigation; Jennifer Hinkle will hold the Sail Racing 101 seminar; broker Malcolm Morgan will host the Boaters Guide to Corrosion, Electrolysis and Shock Hazards; Lisa Chapin will discuss The Many Pathways to Sailing; and Michael Rex will talk about the Charles Van Damme Ferry Paddle Wheel Project.

Excited yet? Hungry? Thirsty? There will be beer and wine at the boat show, as well as food trucks such as Kona Ice, and lots of Sausalito businesses such as Fish and Firehouse Coffee; and don’t forget the Rhum Bus by Batiste Rhum, brought to you by Marin local Tristan Mermin.

And did we mention boats? “This show is filled with every kind of boat from many name-brand manufacturers,” Mitch Perkins told us. “Sail, power, fishing, foiling … there’s something for every boating enthusiast to see.”

Perhaps the biggest stars of the show will be Clipper Yacht Harbor and its home city. Sausalito has long been the historical, economic and spiritual sailing and boating capital of the Bay Area. This is not to take away anything from the many wonderful shoreside towns in the Bay, but Sausalito’s maritime roots run very, very deep. Latitude 38 is thrilled to see salty, saucy Sausalito finally host a premier event showcasing the local maritime industry.

Please enjoy the show, stop by the Latitude 38 booth, and celebrate boating in the Bay.

A Short Film About Webb Chiles, With a Few Corrections

It was a thrill to hear from Webb Chiles a few weeks ago, with some exciting news to share:

I am writing immodestly to tell you of a short film about me. Safe Harbor, which now owns the Skull Creek Marina where I dock Gannet, is creating a series of short films under the title Storytellers, about people who keep their boats in one of their marinas.

They decided to begin the series with me.

I did not seek this and was not aware of it until Safe Harbor emailed asking if I would be willing to participate. I agreed in the hope that some who see the film will be interested enough to explore further and read more of my words who otherwise would not have.

That is also why I am writing to bring it to your attention.

Webb Chiles aboard the Moore 24 Gannet in 2014 in San Diego, shortly before departing on a multi-leg, singlehanded circumnavigation, which he completed in 2019.
© 2023 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Ronnie Simpson

The film is nine minutes long. Naturally there are omissions in reducing 81 years, six circumnavigations, seven books, six marriages, another million or so words, and some other relationships, to nine minutes. However I like the film and do not believe that I could be portrayed better in that length of time.

There are a few errors in the film. I did not have the opportunity to fact-check it. Only one of the errors is of much significance and that is where in the opening title sequence it is written of me: “Six- time solo circumnavigator.” While I have circumnavigated six times, only three of those voyages were completely solo — the first, fifth, and sixth. I have always tried to avoid exaggeration or hyperbole, believing that if you do it right, the plain truth is enough. So if someone comments that Webb Chiles has not made six solo circumnavigations, tell them Webb Chiles agrees.

The minor errors occur when a photo of The Hawke of Tuonela is said to be Resurgam, and Resurgam is spelled Resergam.

I hope you will view the film, and if you find it worthwhile, share the link with your readers.

Readers, here’s the video, and here’s a link to Webb Chiles’ A Single Wave: Stories of Storms and Survival at the Latitude 38 online book store.