Sunday, August 31, 2008

100 Foot Wednesday - Maverick's

In all my surfing life, I have been treated to many experiences that have collectively created a sense of enlightenment and insight. Travelling the world to surf in exotic locations and experience diverse cultures has given me a great deal of respect for nature and its humble beauty. My respect for mother ocean was elevated exponentially last Wednesday when I had a rare opportunity to join a group of my close friends from Half Moon Bay on a boat trip out to view the infamous Mavericks lineup on an even Bigger Wednesday (Nov. 21). I grew up on the beach and have surfed for all of my life and still it is difficult for me to recount events from a surfer's perspective. Such was the intensity of the whole experience that I was left feeling like I had witnessed a truly rare phenomenon by the time we made it home.....Maybe I did.

We left the dock at around 7 a.m. with a blanket of fog still enveloping the coastline. It was a slow, cautious approach to the reef as the persistent fog hindered our ability to navigate through the channel. We eventually noted the rising peaks through the now diminishing haze. At first sight it was, to some extent, an anticlimax as the waves were nowhere close to the size we all expected from reports of the previous day. This initial feeling of disappointment, though, didn't last much longer.

With a combination of a changing tide and steadily rising swell, I watched in sometimes silent, and other times more vocal appreciation of the show being put on by mother nature. I witnessed hair-raising airdrops, not all of them successful, and several ballsy fades into one heaving barrel after another. At times I sat back with the contemplation of how my abilities would fare against this behemoth wave. Watching seasoned veterans like Flea Virostko, Matt Ambrose, Ken Collins and Shawn "Barney" Barron (to name but a few) paddle downhill into each peak to turn and stand, nonchalantly, in the jaws of the beast made it all seem achievable to me, albeit with the need for a little extra motivation. And I stayed with that thought for some time, silently content with my new found enigmatic confidence.

Suddenly I found my daydream shattered and replaced by the reality of where I was. It was the sight of an anonymous surfer struggling to make his way back to the lineup, faced with a monstrous set impatiently marching in from the horizon. He seemed to have gotten way out of position and closer to the north side of the peak. His frantic paddling was not enough and he was dragged over with the immense lip and thrust into the boiling cauldron of foam below. Needless to say, there were no envious faces in the crowd, but plenty of concern as the next bigger set doubled up and dumped a hefty load of the Pacific Ocean onto the poor soul's head. Two more waves crashed through the impact zone before anyone sighted him on the surface, all the while the tombstoning board suggesting a likely metaphor for his fate. The sets were consistent and making it difficult for the rescue skis to find an opportunity to power into the pit to drag him out. Eventually he was swept into and onto the rocks inside, boardless and no doubt with a newfound lust for life. I was forced to reassess my earlier ideas about my abilities. Sure, there are plenty of surfers out there who could easily make the drop with one fin and half a rail guiding them down a near vertical face to the bottom of the wave and to the safety of the shoulder, but could they survive the alternative to not making that drop? Not me.

With my ego now firmly under control and forming an ever-present lump in my throat, I continued to be awe-inspired by the waves now too big to paddle into. As the swell peaked with buoy reports of 30 feet at 20 seconds, it was becoming quite evident that it was not going to be just another day at Mavericks. There was a common feeling in the air that suggested that we were all in for a show today, and nobody was disappointed. Claims were ranging from 60 to 80 foot faces, and I don't think those claims were too far from the truth at all. Mavericks, it seems, was waking up a little angry this morning, and it seemed out to prove a point.

It was a while before anyone made the decision to change tactics and start the real show of the day. Flea and Barney were the first to don the footstraps and tow out to the outside peak to wait for the next set. They did not wait long. As the next mountain of water reared up on the horizon and feathered against the strengthening southerly wind, Barney let go of the rope and made his way down a conservative 60 foot face which gradually became vertical and beyond as it ledged on the shelf where, not long ago, the wave was just starting to peak. A casual fade back into the bowl put him into a cavern as big as a house; it drew hoots and screams from the gallery of onlookers on boards, skis and boats located on the shoulder. This was followed by a succession of tow-ins onto more unbelievably huge waves, and the show went on and on.

Many times the waves did not peak, but stayed full until they hit the inside ledge where it would double up unridden and unload with a deafening roar. As the barreling lip engulfed the foam ball, an explosion of spray exited the hole like a cannon shot, often with enough momentum to send a shower of water vapor over the boat. I think I can confidently say that it is the only way I would be getting wet at Mavericks.

Even after six hours of bobbing around dodging the wide sets on the edge of the channel, never did I feel like I took the view for granted. Each wave held its own attraction, displayed its own fury, and made its own rules. Every wave, without exception, demanded an equal quantity of respect. The minute you become complacent in nature's playground, the moment mother nature will slap you down. Mavericks, it seems, is no place for complacency. It is a rare and humbling sight to see a display of nature's powerful beauty and unbridled fury in the same frame. I sat exhausted in the boat as we motored away from the break on our return. The adrenaline from just witnessing the power from a safe distance was enough to drain me, and I cannot even begin to contemplate the euphoria of participating first-hand and looking the beast in the eyes. It was an experience beyond my imagination, and yet another insight into the untethered forces of our planet, which we insist on claiming to control. How wrong we are.

As I sat on the boat motoring away watching the barrels get smaller in the distance, we were confronted with a sight none of us were quite prepared for. Our stoke turned into anxiety as we searched for the green buoy marking the entrance to the channel. As we scanned toward the shore all that we could see was whitewater. Suddenly, the buoy appeared from under the water amid a washing machine of froth as a wave passed over it. The entrance channel to the harbor was consistently being shut down by 30-foot closeouts and we were on the wrong side. I was reminded of a story I read in a past issue of Surfers' Journal about a fleet of fishing boats that were once stranded outside the harbor by this exact scenario. I always wondered how they must have felt, and now I know. We edged our way closer to the buoy, eyes on the horizon behind us in search of approaching sets. Several times we started our run for the safety of the inside channel only to be turned around by the approach of yet another massive set. The lulls were so short it was ridiculous, and our confidence was teetering as we considered the equation. We had about half a mile of distance to cover in a boat carrying six passengers with a 40 horsepower engine. There was no chance in hell we would outrun a wave if we miss-timed our dash. So we waited for what seemed like an eternity for a clean shot. When we saw a clear horizon, we made a run for the shore. The nose of the boat grabbed and rebounded off every bit of chop, threatening to pearl and pitch us all into the soup. As we neared our goal, I turned to the north to see Blackhand Reef on the inside section of Mavericks throwing out like Kirra on steroids. It was a solid 20-foot barrel as round as you could ever wish for, churning along the reef like a freight train. For a second I forgot about our predicament until the engine started to labor under the weight of a bed of kelp freshly dislodged from the reef by the swell. It must have been only seconds, but the weed came free from the prop in enough time for us to power away from the wave that was approaching behind us, which, only moments earlier, we had seen funneling along Blackhand. We arrived back at the harbor to safety soon after, all feeling a little humble, although stoked on the day. We saw arguably one of the biggest Mavericks days of all time and almost paid the ultimate price. Many rated the day as the biggest to date and I could not argue by any means. I saw bigger and deeper barrels that day than I think I ever will in my existence, but to imagine how it looks from the inside...

Shane Wilkie

Monday, August 25, 2008

Swimming with Whales

From a sailor in the south Pacific:
The southern humpback whale lies suspended vertically near the surface just metres away from me, its ghostly white underside silhouetted against the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean. The giant mammal is nearly 16 metres (50 feet) long and weighs around 3.5 tonnes, but a gentle flick of its huge tail is enough to propel it gracefully back into the deep, leaving me bobbing on the surface.

My first experience of swimming with whales in waters off the northern Tongan island of Vava'u lasts only several minutes. Although a pair of adult humpbacks are still around, I want to sit somewhere quiet on the boat for a few minutes to store the astonishing encounter in my mind. Some whale watching companies do not allow their clients to swim with whales and believe the practice should be banned. - .. .
Later, I slip back into the water, a minnow next to the gentle giant that glides past me within 10 metres, its eye meeting mine with momentary curiosity.

Despite their massive size, the humpbacks move with languid grace. While we are vulnerable to their power, they appear relaxed in our presence, showing neither fear nor aggression. The curious giants lolled around our boat for at least 90 minutes in an unusually long encounter that thrills two BBC natural history cameramen on board.

'Watch the tail! Watch the tail!' skipper Allan Bowe yells as one swimmer drifts too close to the whale's massive tail. Later he says whales appear to be careful to avoid hurting swimmers.

'They know you’re there, they’re looking at you.' - .. .
'They know you're there, they're looking at you. If they wanted to hurt you, if they smacked that tail on you, you're gone, you're dead,' he says, adding none of his clients have been injured.

Tonga is one of a few countries in the world where it is possible to swim with whales. Others countries include the nearby South Pacific state of Niue and the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean.

Each year, southern humpback whales migrate thousands of kilometres from their summer feeding grounds in Antarctic waters to the tropics, where they mate, and the females return to give birth about 11 months later. Bowe estimates about 200 whales gather in the waters around lush Vava'u and 60 smaller islands nearby.

'Watch the tail! Watch the tail!' - .. .
The massive humpbacks, making a comeback from near extinction before a worldwide commercial hunting moratorium introduced in 1982, usually arrive in Vava'u in late July and leave about three months later.

Some argue swimming with whales is disruptive, particularly for mothers with calves, but Bowe disagrees.

'What I find annoying and frustrating is the arguments coming from people overseas, they haven't been here and been in with the whales,' he says.

'It's not in our interest to harass the animals, they are our livelihood.'

Bowe, a former fisherman and charter boat owner in his native New Zealand, pioneered swimming with whales after impetuously jumping in the water with a pair soon after he arrived in Vava'u in 1992.

'I found I couldn't tell people about it when I got out of the water.'

'Their beauty, their gracefulness, the lack of fear in something we've nearly hunted to extinction.

'There's just something there that I connected with and I've never found it anywhere else.'

Idyllic Sailing waterways of Tonga - the whales are just a bonus - .. .
Bowe started his Whale Watch Vava'u business in 1993 and others quickly followed in offering swimming with whales trips.

The Tongan government has since set a limit of 13 operators, each allowed only two boats, along with rules aimed at preventing harassment of the whales.

Another whale watching company, Whale Discoveries, run by Canadians Doug and Sharon Spence, do not allow their clients to swim with whales and believe the practice should be banned.

The couple, who first came to Vava'u 18 years ago, say they worry about the well-being of the animals and of the swimmers.

'Some have quite a close encounter and we have no doubt it's a fantastic experience and for many a very emotional experience,' says Sharon Spence.

'It could be argued that if you offer that kind of experience to the general public, then you're creating a passion for the whales that could ultimately save the whales.'

But they say some 'cowboy' operators -- and they exclude Bowe from that category -- flout the rules, stressing the whales.

They also worry about the risk of swimmers being attacked by tiger sharks.

A young US Peace Corps volunteer was killed two years ago by a tiger shark in the sea off Vava'u, although she was not swimming with whales.

Another man was seriously injured by a tiger shark six years ago while swimming with whales, prompting the government to ban swimming with whales for about two months.

Bruno Toke, head of the Tongan Visitor's Bureau in Vava'u, says he is worried about the possibility of another shark attack.

'I fear if that happens again, the government might stop it completely.'

If swimming with whales was banned, whale watching in Tonga would lose its near unique status and visitor numbers would fall, he says.

'That you can swim with the whales here is very, very important for tourism. I've done it once, it's just an awesome experience.'

As well as the 1,400 who come by yacht to Vava'u each year, another 8,000 come as normal tourists, and swimming with whales is the prime attraction in the pristine waters, ahead of diving, sailing and fishing.

So Amazing

For Your Monday Morning

Corentin Douguet (E. Leclerc / Bouygues Telecom) – first words from the winner of a 560 mile leg of the 2007 Figaro Race in France:
“You must not this [sic] kind of thing too often; it is not good for your health! I have aged at least 10 years. It was too much…hours and hours of upwind in 40 knots, its pure hell. These boats are only little and the sea was truly awful. It was painful and at one point I nearly gave up. I had been there for hours and went below deck to check on the charts…have a look and see I was exactly half way between the home and the finish, only that heading home would have been downwind and hesitated at one point because it was so tough. I never thought that all my fellow competitors would leave me to work alone. When I heard that I was in 33rd place on this mornings poling, I even told myself that fine, they had all tacked before me so felt confident. I said to myself that maybe there is a chance here. On the next position report I was 18th and then on the last one I was second behind Bostik. It was incredible when I thought I could do it.

I was with Gildas (Le Comptoir Immobilier) and then Mich’ (Foncia) in the same place. I must have continued west for a couple of hours. It is just incredible because that happens because Michel Desjoyeaux does not make mistakes.

I had been checking the weather charts since the start to try and work out when the wind shift would come in. It was important to use that to work out when to tack. We had everything on this leg and particularly on the long stint in the windy conditions. It was not so much the 40 knots of wind, but the violent sea state. I tied the lifeline round my waist as a belt and clipped on to stop me from being thrown off whilst helming. When you are tired you fall asleep and if a wave crashes over the boat you can get washed out the cockpit.

At one point I told myself to just forget about the race, just sail safely. It really is that: sailing as a good sailor and not get worked up about pure performance because in those conditions it was no longer possible".

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Beach Bash

Today is the last big event of our summer season. The company I own (Too Much Fun Club), puts on large events for companies in the Silicon Valley. Today's event is for a long time customer (and sailor) on the beach near the world famous surf break Mavericks in Half Moon Bay! 500 folks will be there and we will have some great food, fun and hopefully some sun. It's pretty cool to get paid to go to the beach!

Sailor Survives 13 Hours of Treading Water

For Jim Nelson, Sunday started as a normal day on Green Bay, part of Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes of North America.

'I just wanted to do a little sailing. I've been a sailor a long time,' the 56-year-old Wisconsin man said.

Nelson's dramatic survival has made headlines after he treaded water on the bay without a life preserver for almost 13 hours while he waited for rescue.

His sailing trip lasted about four hours, when Nelson stopped to head back to the dock. He failed to lock his boom in place, and it swung around, knocking him into the water near Long Tail Point.

'I surfaced, and I was looking around for my boat, and the motor was running and the sail was up, and there was the boat going off to the southeast,' Nelson recalled, 'and I thought, ah man, not gonna be a good day.'

It was 2 P.M. when Nelson started swimming toward the eastern shore of the bay. He fought the current for a while, then alternated between floating, swimming, and treading water.

'I'd swim a little bit and then I'd rest. I'd do a dead man's float, you know, where you lay on your back and just let your limbs... but obviously that's not a very good way to make progress towards land.'

A search wouldn't begin for another five hours, until Nelson's boat was discovered adrift about the same time his wife called authorities to report her husband hadn't returned home.

It was almost seven hours after that -- after 2 o'clock Monday morning -- that Nelson would be spotted by a Coast Guard helicopter about four miles north of the mouth of the Fox River.

'I was getting the waves over my legs, and they were crashing down on my chest, and then the water coming up to my face, so I must've swallowed 50 gallons of bay water. Yuck,' he said.

When night came, the only light Nelson had was from the moon and a buoy.

'It was flashing the green light, and I knew that if I could make it that far, even though the rescuers may have given up, I could hang on to it and wait for first light, because I know they would get back out.'

But help came before that.

'I stopped and I looked, and here the helicopter was coming back towards me real slow, so I started treading water to keep my head above water, and I'm waving my arms frantically, and the pilot turned his light on and flicked it a couple of times to let me know that he saw me.'

Minutes later, a diver was in the water to help lift Nelson into the helicopter.

'I will probably never feel anything like that in my life. It was just such a relief, and knowing that they weren't going to find me in another type of condition, because that probably was a very real thing.'

'Two rules that will be in effect from now on is: number one, wear a life jacket; number two, never sail alone.'

While he talks like he's taking this in stride, Nelson says after this experience life is a little different.

'I learned a lot about myself, too. Inner strength, faith, and probably the knowledge now that I have to appreciate what's around me.'

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hurricane Kiter (or: Why I Will Never Kitesurf)

For this post I had pulled a vid from Youtube but they yanked it. This link will take to the vid. Be sure to click on the blue "enlarge" button on the top left of the video.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Found it on Mr. Boat Blog

Baja Ha Ha 2008

This October 26th marks the 15th edition of the Baja Haha. This is a 750 mile cruiser rally from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip of Baja California. Last year there were 150 or so boats and about 500 folks enjoying the beatiful Pacific Ocean along the Mexican coast. There are two stops along the way, one in Turtle Bay, and another in Bahia Santa Maria. The last leg is a 36 hour hop to Cabo. It takes about 12 days to complete the journey and from what I have read to is the trip of a lifetime for many folks. The big news is, I plan to sail it this year! Not on my boat, but on someone else's. Who's boat you might ask? Well the way this works is there will be a crew party in early September and all the boat owners and potential crew members get together and the folks looking to get on a boat try to sell themselves to the boat owners and help them sail their boats down the coast. There is certainly a chance I will not get on a boat, but with my 25 years of sailing the bay, owning a boat on the bay for 8 years and my passion for all things sailing, I think my chances are good. As a matter of fact, maybe some of my readers are going and need a hand! Please contact me and let's talk! Please contact me at

Off to the Delta!

A few of my partners sailed the 40 or so miles up to the Delta this weekend. Our boat, Addiction, will be in the warm waters of the San Joaquin for the next month or so. My friend Tex and I depart this morning for a few day stay up there. I have a very busy week ahead with several events (I am an event planner in my real life) and lots of stuff going on. My wife, Bridget, turns 50 today and we get a Golden Retriever puppy next Monday. It's gonna be crazy fun for the next several weeks so I will post when I can! Here is a picture of a chart that shows about where we will be. One of our favorite areas up there is Potato Slough.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Night Sail

One of my favorite sails on the bay is a night sail. I was in the channel as the sun went over the mountains. The wind was in the 20's and I wanted a mellow sail so I partially unfurled the jib and took off at 5 knots. Took a few tacks to get out to the central bay but soon I was beyond the Berkeley Pier and cruising. The bay was very quiet and only a boat or two in the area. With clear skies and fog near the Gate, the half moon light was shimmering down along the water. What a beautiful night to be on the bay and celebrate this summer night. I continued on for about 3 hours and then headed in to the slip. I slept onboard that night. In the past, I have had trouble sleeping on the boat because the cushions are all from 1981 and they don't do it for me. My wife gave me an old feather bed to put over the top and now I sleep like a dream. I was to meet a friend at 10am for a sail so I had a few hours to myself in the morning. That gave me a chance to get the boat ready for a month long trip to the delta. We will head up this weekend to a slip up at Bruno's Island until mid September. We plan to head up when we can and sail, swim and relax in the warm, fresh water of the San Joaquin. I downloaded all the charts I need to my iPhone and with the new navigation program I downloaded from the App Store, I should be in fine shape as far as knowing where I am in the 1500 miles of waterway up there. I am sure I will have some great stories to tell!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

iPhone GPS App for Mariners

I have been considering buying a handheld GPS for the last couple months and have been looking at several models. Yesterday, I spotted a new app for the iPhone. It's called GPSNavX and is by a company that has several other nav programs for Macs. It can do many of the same things a regular GPS unit can do and gives you access to free charts for your area or the world. It's not cheap at $50 but beats paying $500 for a Garmin. I will be downloading it and checking it out when we travel to the delta and a mapping GPS unit is the only way to go! Check the site here.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Tow In

Sailing San Fran

Click the pic for a larger view.

Someone asked me what its like to sail on the bay. In the summer, its cold and very windy. Remember that famous Twain quote? "The coldest winter I ever spent was the summer in San Fran". It's very true. The wind blows 20-35 most of the time. When we sail in the summer, long pants and layers are the norm. With a backdrop of mountains, the Golden Gate Bridge, the city skyline and throw in some famous islands (Alcatraz and Angel) and you have got one of the most beautiful sailing venues in the world. The fog thundering down the hills above Sausalito is fantastic. Sailing thru the "slot" as the winds approach 40 knots. Having lunch and resting peacefully at anchor in the lee of Angel Island (and swimming in 64 degree water). Many people don't realize that before this area was covered with ocean and bay, the mighty Sacramento River flowed out the gate and created this majestic topography. With a very cold ocean and a very hot inland valley, the wind sucks thru the gate with amazing force. If you don't know what you are doing, you can get in trouble quickly. An just outside the gate, it can get tricky with areas like the Potato Patch and currents running at 6 knots in very large seas. The Pacific in our area has been known for it's treacherous waters since the first Spanish explorers discovered the bay in 1775. Juan de Ayala was the first known sailor to find the bay. Apparently, explorers sailed right by the entrance for 100 years before Juan took a turn inside the bay. If you have never sailed the bay, do yourself a favor and try it!! But be sure to have a good boat and someone who knows what they are doing!

Free Mags Online

Here's a neat trick. You may have found Zinio, a website that allows to view magazines online for a fee. If your an iPhone user, you can view them for free. Let's just say you haven't made the leap to an iPhone yet, but you still want to read great mags for free. You can change your browser into an iPhone browser and now have free access. Here's how. Now go to and check out mags like Macworld, Playboy (for the articles, right?), Outside and many more!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Boat Hits Reef in Paradise

The loss of one's yacht on a remote reef is the stuff of nightmares for most sailors. Yet somewhere in the world on most days of the year, there is a boat lost. Sometimes the stories have good endings, sometimes they end in mysteries, always they are harrowing. This is the story of the loss of the yacht Elsewhere when her steering failed at a critical moment, and the luck that followed them to bring them safely home.

The hull's violent 'Bang!' 'Bang!' against the unforgiving reef sounded like gunshots. Tyler Johnston, 12, wanted off the sailboat. Now. The boy ran below deck to his berth and quickly stuffed his belongings into a plastic bag.

Minutes later, he and his grandparents, Matt and Judy Johnston of Antioch, sat in an inflatable raft in the South Pacific 5,000 miles from home watching the wind and surf slam their sailboat into a reef. 'The banging, it was pain to my ears,' Tyler said in the safety of his grandparents' Antioch kitchen.

The shipwreck began the Johnstons' harrowing seafaring tale, a saga of rescue by an exiled Russian media mogul, a night in luxury aboard a mega-yacht, and an arduous trip to port on a creaky freight vessel. 'We finally persuade Tyler's parents to let him come sailing with us, and look what happens,' said Judy, shaking her head in disbelief.

Matt and Judy Johnston, 64 and 63, successfully sailed the 38-foot Elsewhere thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean in the past decade, logging stops from Mexico to Ecuador to Bora Bora to Tahiti.

Their cruising days are over for now. Read on.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Surf Japan

For the Tillerman - Vintage Lasers

Manta Ray

These creatures are amazing. I was scuba diving in Tahiti in a place called Manta Alley. These guys eat only plankton and the water was so heavy with plankton that it was cloudy. Anyway, we dove down into a valley and swam thru but saw no mantas. We were waiting for the next dive and decided to snorkel near the boat. Low an behold, 6 mantas appear with 10-12 foot wingspans and fly out of the clouds of plankton in perfect formation and all following the leader. It was almost as if they had been trained by the Blue Angels Air Force Stunt Team. The did 360's, barrel rolls, figure eights and a whole lot more. It was a beautiful, magical site to witness and one I will never forget.