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Stormy Winds Send Sailboats Adrift

It was a sleepless night for many Sausalito boat owners Monday night into Tuesday morning, and probably for none more than the staff and tenants at Schoonmaker Point Marina.

A predicted windstorm arrived, and as usual, it took many boats by surprise and unprepared. Boats large and small were tossed around, and especially those out in the Sausalito anchorage. And as happens every time there is a storm, especially a Norther, at least a half dozen or more of those boats drag anchor and eventually founder. Some meet their end against a concrete dock, some on rocks or the beach, and some take on water and just sink below the waves as they drift helplessly toward the shore.

During southerly storms, which are equally frequent in winter, many of these boats drag onto the shore in Tiburon. Little damage is done to property on shore other than the need for a cleanup.

Sausalito marinas are often in the direct path of anchored boats that are ill-equipped or unprepared for winter gale winds and waves. When the northerlies blow, as they did in the early hours of Tuesday morning, some of these boats, many of which are unregistered and uninsured, can cause damage to boats berthed in nearby marinas when they break their moorings and drag helplessly toward shore.

The ‘casualty list’ for Schoonmaker Point Marina this time comprised five boats in total — three sailboats and two powerboats that dragged into the marina. The latest ‘victims’ included a 40-ft wooden cabin cruiser named Salty that dragged down onto Schoomaker’s A dock and sank. Reportedly the female owner managed to get herself off, but not her dog, which was lost, along with apparently everything she owned. The debris from the boat washed up onto Sausalito’s Open Water Rowing float.

40' cabin cruiser sunk
The 40-ft cabin cruiser Salty sank and broke up next to the Open Water Rowing docks.
© 2021 John Skoriak

Not long after Salty met its end, a Catalina 27 followed, drifting unattended into the same A dock, and toward some of Schoonmaker’s most expensive boats. This dock, sometimes referred to as “Millionaire’s Row,” is where the largest inside berths are located. The unfolding scenario did not look good.

Though the Catalina 27 started heading for several of the marina’s boats, the marina staff and several tenants worked in the dark early hours to secure the boat, and managed to tie it off to Open Water Rowing’s float. According to those on the scene, securing the Catalina was even more difficult due to a jib that had come loose. They therefore had to jump onto the boat and secure the flailing jib before trying to secure the boat. At mid-morning, Parker Diving’s salvage boat arrived to tow the boat out before it did any more damage to the surroundings.

The Parker Diving team had a busy morning in Sausalito.
© 2021 John Skoriak

Parker repeated the process for several more boats, including another large sailboat that dragged into the fairway between Schoonmaker docks D and E in the East Harbor (south), sitting precariously between two rows of boats less than 15-20-ft, swinging on an anchor. Parker Diving secured a towline, then cut the anchor chain and towed the boat out. This boat apparently was a repeat offender, and had been previously ticketed and marked for demolition at the Army Corps of Engineers Bay Model.

When unexpected guests arrive on your doorstep …
© 2021 John Skoriak

By midday, there were still two boats stranded — one against the wall between Schoonmaker’s B and C docks, and which also had been ticketed and marked for demolition. The last vessel was a sailboat that dragged into Schoonmaker’s lagoon and sat like a beached whale. As the wind gradually died down, Parker Diving and marina staff were planning the removal of these last two boats.

Beached boats cause less damage, but are just as dangerous as they drag across the Bay.
© 2021 John Skoriak

Luckily no one was physically hurt, and no one lost their life, though a few lost (or will lose) what represents their only property. While we have some sympathy for those who lost their boats, their belongings, and apparently in one case, their pet, we have seen this scenario play out year after year. And we’d like to say there is a lesson here, and that many should heed it. Boat owners are responsible for their craft. Whether it’s big or small, sail or power, anchored or berthed in a marina,  keep yourself, but also your boat and your neighbor’s boats, safe.

Sausalito wasn’t the only anchorage with problems from the storm. On Monday, we wrote about Brock de Lappe’s ongoing challenges with illegal anchor-outs off the Union Point Marina in Oakland. Yesterday he wrote in, saying, “In last night’s windstorm one of the capsized anchor-out boats broke away and drifted into our Union Point Marina. Now it is our problem. None of these illegal anchor-outs are properly registered or insured so when there is any issue the owner just walks away and it becomes someone else’s problem.” – Latitude 38

4 Comments

  1. Avatar
    ken brinkley 3 months ago

    Stronger enforcement of anchor outs ? Everybody needs to play by the same rules.

  2. Avatar
    Peter Le Lievre 3 months ago

    I recorded peak gusts that night at 61 knots which is close to hurricane strength. It’s no accident they call Sausalito’s “Hurricane Gulch” after its namesake. Any idea that this is a ‘safe’ anchorage in winter is completely unfounded. Scores of people have died over the decades both on boats and more, unfortunately, those who are called out (always at the peak of the storm) to rescue them. It’s dangerous, expensive and avoidable. If only RBRA will enforce the statutes already on its books. 72-hour anchorage means 72 hours.

  3. Avatar
    Greg Clausen 3 months ago

    This seems to be natures way of cleaning the Bay. I really think there needs to be a permanent mooring solution for the Bay so that at least if people are moored out they are safe and other boats are safe.

  4. Avatar
    Martin Thomas 3 months ago

    There seems to be a significant block of people that support the anchor outs, perhaps to offset their guilt at living in multimillion dollar homes.

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