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November 10, 2023

Baja Ha-Ha XXIX Draws to a Close, and ‘Boat Bum Gal’ Has Her Say

As the 29th Baja Ha-Ha fleet made its way into port at Cabo San Lucas, those already at the dock headed to Squid Roe for the annual “Can’t Believe We Cheated Death Again” dance and party. Unfavorable weather conditions meant the start of Leg Three out of Bahia Santa Maria had been delayed a few hours, and the fleet was scattered in its arrival at Cabo. But that didn’t dampen the spirits of those taking to the dance floor.

“It seems as though we left San Diego two months ago, not just two weeks ago,” the Poobah wrote on his Facebook page.
© 2023 Richard Spindler

The Poobah has also shared some comments regarding last week’s incident in which one of the Baja Ha-Ha fleet, the Nicholson 38 Boat Bum Gal, sank after hitting rocks at the entrance to Turtle Bay. The boat’s owner, Sandra Barnes, has contacted the Poobah to let him know that she is safe, now with her family, and that she won’t be “publicly addressing” the incident.

The Poobah continued:

I understand that, as we all know how people who don’t know anything about any given incident say all kinds of ridiculous stuff about them. It’s a universal truth.

As the Poobah, I want to point out a few facts to give some clarification and context to the incident:

1) In order to encourage people to stay offshore following the “finish” of Leg One, I set the finish 15 miles north and 15 miles west of Turtle Bay. I didn’t want anybody “finding themselves” too close to shore.

2) In the Sailing Instructions I issued a specific warning with regard to the finish of Leg Two: “CAUTION: Entering unfamiliar anchorages at night can be extremely dangerous. Enter Turtle Bay at your own risk.”

3) I also made this same warning about Turtle Bay at the Skipper’s Meeting.

4) Despite these cautions, entering Turtle Bay, even at night, isn’t even as difficult [as] entering San Francisco Bay. The safe width of the entrance to San Francisco Bay is about seven tenths of a mile, or about 3,700 feet. The safe passage entrance to Turtle Bay is a full mile, or 5,280 feet. Given the navigation lights and today’s electronic navigation, it’s hard to have trouble. The thing that perplexes me is why Boat Bum Gal was hugging the coast on the approach to Turtle Bay.

Here is the written explanation given by Ray McCormack, who holds a 200-ton Coast Guard license, and who was the Person in Charge for the final three hours of Boat Bum Gal:

Around 10 p.m. on November 2nd I awoke to the boat heeling over from wind. Got up and found that we had an offshore breeze blowing about 22 knots. Eased the sails and made the decision to turn inland a bit to mitigate the wind conditions the boat was seeing. The sails and rigging on this boat were quite aged. The boom vang had already broken off the mast. Our route had us going into the center of the entrance of Turtle Bay as noted by cruising guides, and this is what I have done over my last four times into Turtle Bay.

The new plan was to run the 10-meter depth or 30 feet to get close to land, allowing us to take the sails down. Usually when I deviate from my planned route I will drag my waypoints over to the new intended route. I did not do this, which means I had no reference to the boat changing direction. Also, my Coastal Explorer stopped showing tracks for reference of the direction of the boat.”

What puzzles me is why, if you’re very close to an irregular coast in just 30 feet of water at night, you’d be planning to head almost straight toward land in order to drop your sails.

McCormack also reports that, “As we headed down the coast, we saw that the autopilot would make 30 degree turns without notification….”

Further, “… [w]e found that when putting the autopilot in Standby mode, the hydraulic pump would not release the helm for 20 seconds.’

That strikes me as double and triple reasons why you wouldn’t want to be anywhere near a rocky and irregular coast at night. If you were a mile or two or three offshore, the autopilot could go bonkers and you’d still have plenty of time to get it disconnected.

Our approach to sailing is the same as riding motorcycles — we like to leave a big margin of error for possible problems, except when racing. So we don’t tailgate on our bikes, and we don’t hug the shore when approaching harbor entrances at night.

We’re glad to report that Sandra was treated wonderfully by the Mexican navy and other officials. When we met with Sandra and Ray on Profligate the morning after the loss of Boat Bum Gal, we asked her if she needed any monetary or other assistance. She said she was fine.

Three boats of the more than 3,000 that have done a Ha-Ha have been lost. A J/120 was sunk by a whale. The six crew took to their life raft and were picked up by a Coast Guard helicopter in what the Coasties later described as a “textbook rescue.”

About five years ago a Newport 41 was driven ashore just north of Turtle Bay before dark in benign conditions. “We fucked up,” was the explanation by the crew, who mistook a “false bay” a few miles north of Turtle Bay for the real thing.

And finally, Boat Bum Gal. We wish all of you safe sailing.

Boat Bum Gal sailing track
The Poobah shared this graphic of Boat Bum Gal’s track as she entered Turtle Bay at around 2:00 a.m. At the time of impact, Sandra was belowdecks.
© 2023 Facebook/Richard Spindler

DeWitt Art Installation Brings Sailing to the Public in Richmond

We’ve received a note and photos from Sally DeWitt, Jim DeWitt’s widow, saying, “I am happy to say that one of Jim’s paintings is being installed as public art on the side of a very large, new building in Point Richmond. The finished piece will be 40-ft x 40-ft. The painting depicts El Toros racing. It is on the south wall of the building at Cutting Boulevard and Canal Avenue.”

DeWitt Art Installation
The DeWitt art installation.
© 2023 Sally DeWitt

Our recent trip to San Diego reminded us how public art helps connect the public to the sea, since most of what sailors do is out of sight of those on land. Because we can’t spend all our time at sea, public sailing art brings some of the beauty of sailing ashore for everyone to treasure, and it serves to remind us all to set off once again.

Sally went on to say, “I’ve included photos of a three-dimensional depiction of El Toros and an information placard installed across the street from this mural, between KKMI and the Point San Pablo Yacht Club. The El Toros were designed and first built in Richmond. Jim built #216 and learned to sail and race it on Lake Merritt in Oakland. I think he was about 16 years old in the mid-1940s. He lost his first race in #216 — it was his first time sailing a boat himself, after all — but he was a quick learner and tied for first place for the season on Lake Merritt that same year. Don Trask and he were sailing buddies and fierce competitors, starting in El Toros on Lake Merritt. I swear Jim painted himself leading the pack in this particular painting.”

El Toro Sculpture
This El Toro sculpture is now in good company.
© 2023 Sally DeWitt

The history of the El Toro starts in Richmond, where it was conceived as a development of the Sabot. The leeboard was replaced with a centerboard, along with other design developments that came out of spirited bull sessions, resulting in the final design with a shovel for all the bull as the symbol on the mainsail. Over 11,000 El Toros have since been built, and it remains a very active fleet locally and elsewhere. Besides Jim DeWitt and Don Trask, numerous very successful sailors started their sailing lives in the El Toro fleet, including Paul Cayard and John Kostecki.

El Toro
The rich sailing history of Richmond is well known to sailors, but not the public.
© 2023 Sally DeWitt

Sally concluded, “It’s taken about two months to put together the mural project. Kudos to Jonathan Livingston, RYC member (and owner of the Wylie 39 Punk Dolphin), for launching the project with the City of Richmond. It finally got started this week. A group of artists from Oakland, under the heading BAMP (Bay Area Mural Program), are installing the mural.”

El Toros in Sausalito
Public sailing art can help inspire folks who don’t understand what goes on beyond the shoreline.
© 2023 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

There’s no doubt that, like sailing, public art can lift everyone’s spirits. Sailing is fortunate to have had artists like Jim DeWitt and other advocates to help bring the beauty of sailing to the public. If you have other examples of public art displays of sailing, please send photos of them to [email protected].

Spade Rudders and the Gibraltar Orcas

Coincidentally, the day after we published a story on spade rudders we heard of yet another boat that was attacked and sunk by orcas near the Strait of Gibraltar. A Polish Jeanneau 449, Grazie Mamma II, was sailing off the coast of Morocco when the crew reported a pod of orcas attacking it for 45 minutes before the boat started leaking and eventually sank. This continuation of behavior appears to be unique to the area and has resulted in about 500 encounters between orcas and yachts. The New York Times reported this is the fourth yacht sunk by orcas in the area.

In Nicki Bennett’s podcast with Ronnie Simpson this week, he also said one of the competitors in the Global Solo Challenge had their rudder damaged by orcas as they made their way from Gibraltar to the start in A Coruña. Amazingly, a race boat did catch the orcas on video in the act of attacking their rudder this past summer.

Are these orcas just playing around? The behavior remains unexplained and, thankfully, does not appear to be spreading beyond the area around Gibraltar.

A Sorcerer’s Apprentice — ‘Merlin’s Transpac Return

I was not born into the sailing world, unlike many of the people I know, respect, and sail with. Sailing weaved its web around me when I was not really looking.

Bill Lee and the legend of Merlin, a Bill Lee Custom 68, circulate in the Santa Cruz air still to this day. You don’t have to look hard to find people who know and have sailed with Bill Lee. Some even raced on Merlin in ’77 when she shattered the Transpac Race record, which she then held for 20 years. The “Fast is Fun” motto for all Bill Lee Santa Cruz boats is known worldwide.

Around 2017, Bill brought Merlin back from the Great Lakes and outfitted her for another Transpac Race. I got to see her in the harbor several times and often wondered what it would be like to be at the helm. I could close my eyes and see myself surfing down the waves on Merlin, flying along with California behind me, heading toward the setting sun. By this time, I was hooked on sailing and had bought and sold a Catalina 27 in San Mateo, and was sailing a 1990 Ericson 32. My Santa Cruz 52 dreams would have to wait for a winning lottery ticket, but I vowed one day I would ring that bell.

Sailing on San Francisco Bay in the summer was not like my classes in Santa Cruz. Over the course of a few years sailing with friends, I learned the finer points of Bay sailing and racing. Actively participating on as many boats as I could, I felt my skills were finally becoming more honed. My confidence grew as I learned that I was capable of sailing in some of the most difficult conditions. Each time out on the water, I would test myself and the boat, and catalog the experience to draw upon in the future.

My desire to dig deeper into this vein of sailing blood that I had tapped into was starting to burn like a fire. In the Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge was like a line in the sand. On the other side was the open ocean. Outside the Gate there was the Great Pacific. I wondered what one might find out there. When all that matters is the wind and your course, is the world a simpler place?

Apparently, the cure for sailing is more sailing. I surmised that if I wanted to do bigger and badder sailing things, I needed to get more involved at my local yacht clubs and get onto boats. I wanted offshore, I wanted Transpac. I wanted Pac Cup. The more time you spend sailing, the more sailing people you meet. The more you drop your name into the hat for crewing for a team, the greater the chances you will improve your skills and become good crew.

After getting onto several racing boats inshore and offshore, I somehow decided that, in addition to racing on S.F. Bay, maybe I could squeeze in a couple more days of racing by hitting the Santa Cruz Yacht Club beer can races. Made a few calls, sent a few emails, and boom, I was on a J/105 in Santa Cruz, teamed with a guy I’d met on a Shearwater Sailing charter. The internet is awesome.

A bit more reviewing online, and I came across something that made my heart skip a beat. “Need capable crew for Transpac delivery. Bringing back Merlin from Honolulu to San Pedro.”

Farewell, Hawaii!
© 2023 Fernando Rosero

Continue reading in this month’s issue …

West Coast Boating Facilities
A few weeks ago, 'Latitude 38' received a letter expressing concern about Santa Barbara's plan to reduce or completely close part of the city's free anchorages along its beachfront over concern for underwater infrastructure.
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Calling all racers. It's time to submit your entries for the 2023 Wosser Trophies. Whether you've won a single race or not, these are still within your grasp.