Saturday, March 27, 2010
California Coming Home
Before dawn Monday, 18 sailors aboard the race yacht California were riding 60 mph storm winds, smack mid-Pacific, 2,200 miles from San Francisco.
Spirits were high. They were sailing fast in second place among the race boats on the seventh of nine legs as part of Clipper 09-10 Round the World Yacht Race. The crew looked forward to greeting visitors here by April 1.
Then the wave hit. The kind of big sideways wave that rolls a boat until the top plunges into the ocean.
California's 90-foot mast snapped, the tiny storm foresail ripped away. Dark ocean poured in, flooding the electronics, and Clive Owen tumbled across the cabin, gashing his head and bleeding profusely as the boat popped upright again.
Everyday people sail this "challenge of a lifetime." Owen's a corporate exec from London. Elaine Kirton is a British army physiotherapist. Dennis Flynn is a golf course administrator from Westchester, N.Y. Six Californians are sailing legs, as are some 180 others of diverse ages, professions and nationalities aboard 10 identical region-sponsored boats on a 35,000-mile race around the world.
Why do it? Shana Bagley, a deputy attorney general in Oakland sailing three legs, describes the amazing accomplishment, wonderful port stops and profound feeling of family.
But the nearly 6,000-mile wintry Pacific crossing, begun March 2 from Qindao, has been a cruel successor to tough earlier legs.
Big Pacific conditions damaged Uniquely Singapore and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital. A wave broke the shin of Hull & Humber skipper Piers Dudin, who was airlifted out. An unmarked Java Sea reef destroyed the boat Cork, and Team Finland lost part of its mast near Taiwan.
California is under way again, after getting fuel from four other Clipper boats, and transferring Owen and Flynn to a nearby 180-foot tanker, Nord Nightingale.
Clipper race founder Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first to sail nonstop around the world single-handed, in 1968, commended the amateur crew. "The North Pacific is just as dangerous as the Southern Ocean," he said, and the crew will look forward to a hero's welcome.
Indeed, aboard California, Kirton writes that it will be a momentous moment for her to sail under the Golden Gate Bridge. Though she's from England, she said she feels a sense of homecoming.
They finish at the Farallon Islands. Flotillas may escort them in, spectators can cheer from the bridge or ashore. The first boat is scheduled to arrive around Thursday. Track positions at clipperroundtheworld.com.
They will berth at San Francisco Marina West Harbor; Golden Gate Yacht Club is their host. Dock access requires escort, but the race office can accept cards or care packages for visiting crew.
Open boat tours will be April 5 (10 a.m. to noon, 2 to 4 p.m.); youth tours April 10 (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.); and public presentations at San Francisco Yacht Club April 7 (7 p.m.), South Beach Yacht Club April 8 (6 p.m.), and OCSC in Berkeley April 12 (7 p.m.). VIP tours are available, and watch for the boats sailing the bay.
But first they must get here. A bigger storm is now hitting the fleet.
Via SFgate.com Paul Oliva