Wednesday, April 29, 2009

30 Miles From Port, Historic Voyage Ends

Princess Tai Ping, the 54-ft Chinese junk that visited the Bay Area last October, was run down by a freighter off Taiwan on Sunday. Thankfully, all 11 crew, including three Americans, survived with mostly minor injuries. The collision occurred less than a day from the completion of a 14,000-mile round trip to the Americas and back that ‘proved’ what has long been speculated: that 15th Century Chinese vessels had the capability to come here then sail back home.

Sailor and adventurer Nelson Liu, now 62, conceived of the project and built the Princess in 2007. He has been aboard as captain during the entire voyage, which started last June. As part of her concurrent mission of cultural exchange and goodwill, most of the rest of her crew were sailors from many nationalities who hopped aboard for various legs. She also made stops in Los Angeles, San Diego and Hawaii before heading for home.

The incident occurred about 2:40 a.m Taiwan time. Bound for Keelung, the Princess was about 30 miles off the fishing port of Suao in northeastern Taiwan when the northbound freighter Champion Express rammed her, reportedly cutting the junk in half. The crew were thrown into the ocean where they would remain for five hours before rescue. All crew suffered from mild hypothermia and were treated and released. The worst injuries were suffered by one of the Americans, Thomas William Cook (also noted as William Cook Thomas). He was released after five hours in the hospital.

One of the worst aspects of the accident was that Captain Liu had talked to the freighter only minutes before the collision and done what they requested. The engineless junk was rammed anyway. The Champion Express reportedly stopped momentarily, but did not return nor render any assistance — not even a radio call — before resuming their course. In a real bit of cultural exchange and goodwill, the EPIRB aboard the Princess alerted the U.S. Coast Guard to the emergency. They contacted Taiwanese authorities, who performed the rescue.

“We had earned 99 marks (out of 100),” said Liu from his hospital bed. “It would have been nice to have that last mark.”

Via Latitude 38

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Streaming Radio

I discovered a great source of free internet radio. VH1 has an amazing array of genres available to listen to. Speaking of music, I am off to New Orleans for the second half of the 7 day Jazzfest. Artists like Dr. John, Neville Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, Ben Harper and a ton of local and regional bands. 12 stages going at the same time and folks having some great times. And the craw fish bread is to die for! Don't know how much blogging I'll be doing but we do have WIFI in the room. Stay tuned. Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez! (Let the good times roll).

Too Funny

Friday, April 24, 2009

Let's Head to the Beach

Flying the Hull

Enjoy the Storm

There is nothing more exhilarating than the middle of a squall, flying along, in perfect control, in harmony with the weather.

Even if you don't agree with this, it happens to the most cautious of us. No matter whether you always cruise in the right season and watch the weather with dedication, there will be a time when you are caught in stormy weather.

Many books have been written on the subject – and most of them are well worth reading – but there are a few rules that bring the subject down to its essentials. Here's a check-list of reminders – do you have any more?

But being prepared will make all the difference - .. .
1.Weather Weather Weather.
Know your weather, both before you leave port, and while sailing. This one is obvious, but it's amazing how many cruising boats leave without accurate knowledge of the weather. Also get weather from multiple sources – Buoyweather, grib files, NOAH, etc, and while at sea via VHF, HF or email.

2.Never leave harbour on a bad forecast.
There never yet was a gale that did not cease. This also implies that you never make firm arrangements to be anywhere at a set time. Make all your arrangements to pick up or drop crew or guests 'pending the weather'. If they can't hack that rule, they are not suitable as cruising companions.

3.Keep checking, once at sea.
A minimum of every hour, check the sky and the barometer. Keeping a log where the watch keeper is obliged to make an entry is a sure way of ensuring this. This way you can't be caught 'napping'. A good sailor (good seaman rather?) will have an eye continually on the sky.

4.Reef before the weather worsens. As soon as you see that bad weather or a squall is coming, check that loose items are stowed, batten down, fit storm boards and inspect lashings and, so that you are not having to do it on a wildly pitching deck.

5.Reef at nightfall.
Unless sailing in very settled and benign weather, it is a good idea to reef before dark – reefing or taking down a pole at night doesn't invite problems, but they are always more difficult to detect and solve than in good light. Cruising is quite the opposite of racing. With racing you set the sail that can be carried in lulls and are over-canvassed in the squalls. With cruising you set the sails that can be carried in the squalls and you are under-canvassed in the lulls.
6.Keep sea-cocks closed. In heavy weather it is good practice to have all sea-cock valves, except when they are needed, closed to ensure watertight integrity.

7.As a general rule, DON'T seek shelter.
If you are already caught in heavy weather, go to sea, to windward in the deepest water you can find. If your boat is well found, this is much safer than trying to escape from the storm into calm waters. To enter a harbour you may have bad visibility breaking water or obstructions which will be more threatening than the open sea. ('It's not the sea that kills you, it's the hard bits at the edges')

8.Keep warm.
Make sure that the body heat of the crew is protected. It is much easier to stay warm than to recover your body heat after being wet and cold. Thermos of hot liquid in the cockpit is very comforting in a heavy sea.

9.Stay safe personally.
Keep harnessed and cleated on. All crew should be connected to life-lines and perhaps have life jackets on as well.

10.Never never go forward without another crew member being in the cockpit.

These above are just common sense for normal stormy weather cruising that every cruising sailor strikes from time to time, not winds of hurricane or cyclonic strength, which may call for different strategies, and which we hope you will be able to successfully avoid all your cruising life.

Enjoy the storms! As long as you are in control, they are an exciting part of cruising life!

By Nancy Knudson

Thursday, April 23, 2009


This song plays at the end of "State of Play". Very good movie and a fantastic song by Creedence Clearwater Rivival.

Ramping UP!

As you can see from yesterdays wind report our normal summer winds are back. Every year about Tax Day the winds of summer return. Ten years ago it was your normal 20-25 knots starting about 1:30 and going till sunset. With a warmer than normal valley (the central valley) and more winds from the north causing more upwelling in the ocean (and colder water) we have been seeing higher winds on the bay. The last few years have been 25-35 in the slot...everyday! It makes me appreciate a recent sail where the winds were 12-14 and the helm was steady and I could relax on deck without having to tend to the boat. I am just happy to live so close to a bay that has profound beauty and tons of wind!! And a beautiful boat to sail that bay!


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dame Ellen

Ellen MacArthur is one of the top sailors in the world. The video below shows her attempt to break Joyon's round the world record on a her 75 foot tri, B&Q. What is truly amazing is that she broke the record by just a little more than a day (71 days total). With tons of adversity, losing touch with reality due to fatigue and boat parts breaking, this little lady pushed through for a world record. Joyon subsequently broke her record which now stands at 57 days. This is an hour video so get a comfy spot and enjoy.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

XXL Winners Announced

The winners of the Billabong XXL contest have been chosen. Monster Paddle, Ride of the Year, Biggest Wave and Worst Wipeout were the categories. See the winning waves and riders here.

2009 Billabong XXL Big Wave WIPEOUTS! - Watch more Funny Videos

Saturday, April 18, 2009

YouTube TV

In hopes that it can match in sheer numbers of viewers, youtube has jumped on the band wagon with a plethora of old TV shows. If my Dad had a high speed connection he could watch reruns of Barney Miller, Sea Hunt and My Mother the Car. They don't have the new shows like Hulu but this is just the beginning. There are also rumors that Best Buy has a new movie service to compete with iTunes. It just keeps getting better and better for those that want access to TV of yesteryear. Check out a show called Wild and Weird on youtube.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Crash Test

Latitude 38 Sail Magazine Online

Looks like Lat38 is now available for download in PDF format for free! They have been selling it over the last two years but now you can get your own copy at no charge. For those that don't know about this sail rag, it's the West Coast's premire sail mag. They have been going for more than two decades and they really do a great job of keeping us posted on what's happening in our own backyard as well as the rest of the sailing world. Richard Spindler is the editor and he has some great insights into the sailing world. They also raise money through sailing events to help kids in Mexico and beyond. My favorite sections are Letters and Changes in Latitudes. You can also read all that in the archives going back to 1999. Be sure to sign up for LectroicLatitude, the thrice weekly email update that keeps your hand on the pulse of the sailing world. Lots of great stuff and all free!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It Was Five Years Ago

Been blogging for five years and the incident that started it all is right here. Two sailors sailing under the Gate get too close to the south tower and next thing you know they are surfing the waves and sinking their boat. Please click the link and check out the fantastic series of pictures. Maybe its time to start your own blog, sailing or anything else you might be interested in. Go for it!

Fear is Good

In six months I will be sailing into the deep ocean once again, bound across the North Atlantic from New England to Scotland in a 41-foot yawl. And so it is time to reflect on the subject that many sailors would rather ignore: fear.

First off, I must admit the most frightened I've ever been in a boat has been within sight of land, not out on the deep. Racing a Soling near Lake Ontario's Canadian shore, I watched in terror as an electrical storm supercharged the atmosphere so completely that my shaking fingers tingled as I doused the wet sails. There were those many capsizes in windsurfers or Lasers that left me terrified under the shroud of sails until I struggled free. And there have been moments in fog or the black night when other vessels passed far too silently and much too closely.

As for the most likely candidates for fear, storms usually leave me feeling less frightened than challenged. I think three factors are at play here. One is my technical interest in sailing, which seems to come most richly alive in tough moments. The second is my conviction, bred into me by family and religious belief, that life is by nature risky, no matter where we are, and so we might as well stick our neck out here as anywhere. And the third factor is the power of adrenalin - that evolutionary defense mechanism, triggered by fear, that helps us all survive tough times by pumping us full of unrealistic confidence, even stupid arrogance.

All that concerns the during-the-storm experience. After the storm, when there are few technical fascinations and adrenalin has been drained away, I have been left clear-eyed and (very properly) frightened. I did not sense the full emotional power of the 1979 Fastnet storm until several weeks after we came ashore. As a passenger of a huge ferry boat rolling in a mild sea, I suddenly came to see myself far more helpless than I had ever believed during the gale itself. Escaping the deck, I found a safe corner in the cabin where I distracted myself with the terrors offered by the morning newspaper.

This is not to say that the open sea does not scare me in principle. If it did not, I would be very stupid indeed. Consider what the world's most popular and influential book says about the terrible deep. Though the authors of the Bible loved the wind (equating it with the Holy Spirit) and fresh water running in streams (living waters that bring life), Holy Scripture says hardly a good word about the sea from the first words of Genesis to the last ones of Revelation. In the Bible, the sea and the storms upon it are the chaotic Other Place of evil - as of course anybody who has been through a Force 9 or more powerful blow knows very well.

The question is not whether the sea and the storm are chaotic. That is generally understood to be true. The sea can be a very dangerous place. Rather, the issue is how on a practical level we can deal with and respond to them by warding off panic while still respecting the power of fear to hone our skills.

Two techniques work for me. First off, try to use our fear to ground our experience in facts, not terror. Look around and understand what we see, not what we imagine. At a safety-at-sea seminar in London, I heard the great ocean sailor Chay Blyth make this very point when he said that seamanship rule number 1 is "Be aware of your environment." It is all too easy to misread our surroundings, making them into something unrealistic, irrelevant, or fanciful.

If alertness is the first crucial grounding point, self-confidence is the second. Recognize that we have not traveled this far without some skills. Sir Edmund Hillary, the first conqueror of Mt. Everest and a man never afraid to admit fear, described a moment of self-recognition in his autobiography, View from the Summit. In a moment of faltering confidence in a frigid Antarctic camp on his route to the South Pole, he took a personal inventory of his aptitudes and came up with this: "Slightly crazy, frequently terrified, and not a bad navigator - and that about summed it up." Many of us would not consider this a happy self-evaluation, but it was good enough for Hillary. Reassured of his fundamental competence, he slept like a baby. He had succeeded in making his fear a companion.

Like awareness of the environment, self-confidence must be grounded in reality, not fantasy. That is why we who venture out onto the deep must keep working to build our skills by going out there and taking some chances. Even a little experience in windy weather teaches lots about boats, the environment, and your own skills.

One productive way to look at this exercise in self-improvement is to consider the example of skiers. Women and men who are competent on intermediate slopes and trials marked with blue signs always learn by mastering a black-diamond expert trail or two. In sailing, a day of moderate wind - 12-16 knots kicking up a mildly tossing sea without the need to shorten sail - is the equivalent of a blue trail, while 17-25 knots with whitecaps is firmly in the land of the black diamond.

When the wind pipes up a little, don't turn on the engine and douse sails. Instead, push the limits a little, work on your skills, be aware of your changing environment, recognize your abilities, and keep sailing. While no guarantee that you will never be fearful, this is a step toward the point where fear will not paralyze and may, in fact, be a stimulating companion — even a friend.

By John Rousmaniere

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

From the Archives

This was one of the first posts I made on the original H2uh0 site. You may have seen it already as the pics have been out there a while. A tugboat almost turns over in an attempt to make it under a bridge. Check it here.

Back in Action

As you read this, l'Hydroptere, the fastest sailboat on the planet, is getting ready to set some more speed records. When we last heard from the crew, the boat had topped 60 knots for a short burst before breaking up in a spectacular failure on the water. 60 knots! There is no typo here! For the last 6 months, she has been in the shed receiving refinements and getting stronger. Last season the carbon trimaran broke two world speed records. l’Hydropt√®re broke a first record over 500 meters at an average speed of 44.81 knots. The second world sailing record was one over one nautical mile, this run made her the fastest craft in the one mile. We look forward to many more records from this flying trimaran!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Top 20 Sailing Tunes

I added a little widget to the top right of the page that plays my favorite sailing tunes! will host your uploaded music and allow you to share it with the world. I have been thinking there must be a way to do this and here it is. The play list includes Van Morrison, " Into the Mystic", Leon Russell, "Back to the Island", Jimmy Buffet, "Son of a Sailor" and many more. Did I forget one of your favorites?

Here is a great list of many more sailing tunes if you are so inclined.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Pic of the Day

iPhone Apps for the Mariner

I have had an iPhone for about 6 months now and there are some terrific apps out there that utilize the GPS and other functions of the phone. First off, the app I use the most is the GPS app called iNavx. I was about to buy a GPS for the boat when my wife gave me her old iPhone. This phone did not have GPS but used cell towers to triangulate your position. It worked OK but once I upgraded to the latest iPhone, I was hooked. I loaded up some charts and it is very accurate. The charts show you everything you need to know about the area you are in. Instruments like a compass, SOG, Lat & Lon are all there. It will keep track of waypoints as well as your route. It's a great app that is constantly being updated. Would I use this to cross oceans? Only as a back up, but it works great on the SF Bay and in the delta. Cost is $49.99.

Next up is an app called Tides. Pull up your home waters and you will be able to see all the info you need including predicted currents. Always remember that the currents are a prediction only. We ran into a problem outside the Gate a few years ago. Due to recent storms the runoff was greater that expected and the current doubled on us. It was a very long slog to get in. This app is free.

Lastly if you want more of a feel of a real compass, download the free version of MotionX GPS Lite. A compass is there as well as lots of data related to your way point info. It also sports magnetic or true settings. There is also a paid version with more options.

If you have an app you like that relates to on the water fun, please leave a comment. Happy sails!

Castaway Dog

When Jan Griffith’s much-loved dog, Sophie Tucker, was washed overboard in stormy seas as the family were cruising on their yacht off Mackay on the east coast of Australia, she believed that her pet had drowned.

Despite a frantic search there was no sign of the animal and Mrs Griffiths and her husband, Dave, resigned themselves to never seeing their dog again. Their children bought their parents a new pet — a red cattle dog named Ruby — and life slowly got back to normal.

Unknown to her owners, Sophie Tucker, a black and tan cattle dog, was not a quitter. It seems that the determined pet swam five nautical miles through seas inhabited by sharks to an island, where she survived for more than four months by eating what was available.

The story of the canine Robinson Crusoe came to light after park rangers heard reports that a cattle dog had been sighted on St Bees Island, a nature reserve off northeast Queensland renowned for its koalas.

Faced with starvation, the dog reverted to her wild instincts and began hunting and eating feral goats that roam the largely uninhabited island. Reports from the rangers, who believed Sophie to be a wild dog, suggested that she had lost a lot of weight in her first few weeks as a castaway but soon began to look fit and healthy.

Months later Mrs Griffith heard the reports of a cattle dog loose on the island and contacted the rangers in the hope that Sophie had survived. “She had become wild and vicious,” Mrs Griffith said. “She wouldn’t let anyone go near her or touch her.”

Mrs Griffith said some locals believed the dog was regularly swimming back and forth several hundred metres between St Bees and Keswick Island to hunt.

She said that Sophie Tucker, named after an American music hall entertainer, had been on deck with the family as they sailed past the Whitsunday Islands in November when winds began to whip up the waves. Suddenly she had disappeared.

“We hit a rough patch and when we turned around the dog was gone,” Mrs Griffith said. “We were able to backtrack to look for her, but because it was a grey day we just couldn’t find her and we searched for well over an hour. We thought that once she had hit the water she would have been gone because the wake from the boat was so big.”

Sophie was returned last week when the Griffiths arranged to meet rangers who brought the dog to the mainland. Mrs Griffith said: “We called the dog and she started whimpering and banging the cage and they let her out and she just about flattened us. She wriggled around like a mad thing.”

Viki Lomax, of RSPCA Australia, in Queensland, said that Sophie was lucky not to have drowned or been eaten by a shark. “If this had been a Pomeranian, I don’t think it would have been a happy ending,” she said.

Caroline Bower, of the Veterinary Hospital Group, said that certain types of dogs could summon their wild instincts if their survival depended on it.

“Although all dogs share 95 per cent of their genes with the wolf, there are certain dogs with more predatory instincts,” she said. “A King Charles cavalier would be poles apart from a collie, a cattle dog or a sheep dog. Herding breeds still have a strong instinct to chase. The only reason they don’t catch and kill the animal they’re trained to look after is because they’re carefully trained. When driven by hunger you would expect them to revert.”

Sophie Tucker has readjusted quickly to the comforts of home, Mrs Griffiths said. “She surprised us all. She was a house dog and look what she’s done. She’s swum over five nautical miles, she’s managed to live off the land all on her own. We wish she could talk, we truly do.”

As for Ruby, the two canines are now the best of friends.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Survivor's Tale: The Boat That Lost Her Keel

Here is the story from the crew of Heat Wave during a race around the Farrallon Islands (about 28 miles off the coast). They lost their keel whilst surfing down a wave about 8 miles out from the Golden Gate. It's an amazing story of luck and determination. Read it and share! This piece was featured on Sailing Anarchy over the last week.

Part 1: The Race: It was 5:30 in the morning on Saturday, March 28 2009. Dave (Wilhite) and I were both getting up, him from the bed and me from my folded over blanket on the floor.

We had time for Peter (the boat owner and our host) to make us some scrambled eggs and english muffins, then we set out for the boat, which was moored in Sausalito.

At about 6:45 we made it to the boat, the sun wasn’t up yet and there was a nip in the air; but the day promised to be a beautiful one, with clear skies and very little wind yet. We set about preparing the boat for the race, I installed the new spinnaker halyard, and put the remote release shackle on the tack line. Dave was busy securing our emergency gear inside a dry bag, and making sure the watertight compartments were dry and closed. Dave secured our half water bottle of Tequila, and two cigars (which was for our after the finish celebration) in a dry bag. I gave the waterline one last quick scrub with a deck brush, Dave started the motor and we were off.

We motored across the bay, Dave smartly set us on a course well to the left of the starting line, as there was much current and that direction would actually get us right to where we wanted to go. About half way to the starting area we stowed the motor and put up the main. We then unfurled the jib and began sailing in about 7 knots of wind to the starting area.

We got there a little late, but we were all ready to go. Dave said hi to his friends on the 1D35 Zsa Zsa, and then we tried to figure out when we were starting. We figured out it was in about two minutes, so we said ‘we’re racing now’ and began sailing upwind towards the starting line as fast as we could. We hit the starting line about 20 seconds late, but with good speed we were able to tack to port and start heading out into the middle of the bay where the best current, and the best wind were. The J-105 Roxanne was leading the fleet, with an olson 30 right behind her and then a few Express 27’s. The boat Bloom County was to the left of us by a ways, and we could easily see our advantage on them by being in better current.

We sailed mostly on port out of the bay, with a few quick tacks onto starboard to stay in the best current. We took one starboard tack too far and quickly fell back a few boats. We swore not to make that mistake again.

Once out of the bay the tide started to change. The last of the ebb we had been riding was reversing into a strong flood. Bloom County, which had been ahead of us, had gone into worse current and fallen back. As they came back to us we tacked right on them and footed a little to force them into a large catamaran’s bad air. They were forced to tack away, which proved a horrible move for them as we never saw them again that day.

We tried to play the middle, but we started getting sucked back into the bay. The wind was lighter now, maybe 4-5 knots of breeze. The swells were about 6-8 feet, and the current was against us by about 2 knots. This all meant that as fast as we were sailing, we really weren’t moving over the bottom. We were however moving backwards slower than most of our competition. We came across one of the boats from the fleet ahead, a J-90. We decided that we would concentrate on racing them, as they are a similar, yet bigger boat (and they are made of carbon). We like to set high expectations…

We were proving successful at racing them. Each tack we seemed to get inside on the shift on them and get ahead. Then their boat speed would get them past us, and then we would pass them again. At one point, we tried dropping the anchor to see if that would be a better strategy than trying to race against the current. While we weren’t really moving over the bottom, the anchor still drifted aft on the boat, so we quickly gave up the idea and pulled up the anchor. Unfortunately the anchor caught on the bottom of the keel. I thought I was going to have to go swimming but I was able to free it after a minute of trying and we got it in. We then put it away, deciding that it was too ballsy a move to try again.

While battling the current in center channel we noticed a few boats, primarily Moore 24’s sneaking up the beach on our right. They seemed to be in less current so we tacked to port and gave it a shot. Sure enough we were able to work our way a quarter mile upwind. Dave and I kept trading off the helm every 20 minutes or so, trying to stay fresh. At one point I even took a 15 minute cat nap on deck, which was very nice.

By about noon we looked back and realized that most of the fleet had retired. We were now in a group, with the J-90 (who by now was a little ways ahead of us), a few moore 24’s, a Beneteau 36.7 and us. We all got on starboard tack and started heading out to sea. We were about 20 degrees shy of laying the islands, which were about 20 miles away and still very much out of sight. The breeze started to increase, in to the 10-12 knot range – perfect for upwind sailing.

We were masterfully carving up the faces of waves, and down the back. Slowly as we got away from land the wind build and backed,. We were now laying the island in breeze in the steady teens. We started cracking our sheets and the boat powered up. We were now doing boat speeds in the mid 6 knot range. There were still a few Moore 24’s around us, which were keeping up to our dismay.

As the day went on the breeze continued to build. About 8 miles from the island we decided to reef the main. As Dave drove I slacked the halyard, pulled on the cunningham reef, and then the clew reef. The boat liked it and we went even faster with better control.

It was probably around this time that we started getting wet. First a little wave to the face, then a little bigger one. Throughout the beat we kept taking bigger and bigger douses of water over our heads. It was penetrating our foul weather gear a little, and it was definitely cold.

About 6 miles out I started being able to see the island. Dave had warned me that once you see it, you see it forever. He was right in that it seemed to take forever to actually get to the island once it was in sight. After another hour or so we were there, beam reaching in about 25 knots of wind, still with the jib and reefed main. The island was incredible looking, with the bright sun shining on it and the huge waves breaking all over the enormous cliffs. We tried to get as close around it as we felt comfortable, without risking getting into the beach breaks. There was a Moore 24 ahead, and one behind us, so we felt like we were at least in the company of others, who had undoubtedly done this race many times before.

As we bore off around the island I drove as Dave threw the main over. It was a textbook jibe, perfectly controlled as we surfed down the face of a wave. The wind was lighter as we were in the lee of the island, and prospecting a downwind run we shook the reef out of the main. I then gave Dave the helm as I had to take a leak and this seemed like a good time to do it.

As we came out from the lee of the island we were starting to see boat speeds as high as 12 knots. We were excited to go downwind, but as we looked at the GPS a realization that the wind was too far forward for that came over us. We were going to have to reach hard again, not what are cold, tired bodies wanted to do at 5:00PM with only our breakfast eggs in our stomachs.

The breeze was back up now that the island wasn’t in the way, so I went forward and put the reef back in the main. As we adjusted our course and sails Dave recommended the outboard lead. In my worn out laziness I suggested that I should drive while he set it up. He told me where the line was inside the boat and said to go to it. He rebutted my excuse of not knowing where the lead should go with the fact that he had never hooked it up either. I gave in and grabbed the line, went forward and started hooking it up. Of course he had to catch a good 2 wave combo right then and fire hosed me right in the face while I was tying the new sheet onto the clew of the jib. ‘Oh well’ I thought since I was pretty much drenched already.

The outboard lead worked phenomenally well, and we were easily hitting boat speeds into the low teens. Our strategy was to stay high until a wave came, then accelerate down it’s face and use our speed and stability to reach back as high as we could to try and make our mark, which was set in the GPS as the South Tower of the Golden Gate Bridge.

We continued this strategy for the rest of the evening as we watched the sun set behind us. We were about 17 miles away as the sun disappeared over the horizon. We still had two Moore 24’s ahead of us, and one closely behind, we just could’t shake those little buggers.

Soon after the sun went down the breeze increased even more, with steady puffs into the low 30’s. The waves were getting bigger as we approached land, and our boat speeds kept getting better. I chugged a weird green juice drink that Dave gave me, and then took the helm for the final hour of our voyage. When I took the helm we were probably 16 miles out and two hours away from finishing; or so we thought. Part two tomorrow....

Part two: The Crash

I had been tired since mid-day. I was lethargic, my body wouldn’t stop shaking and it was impossible to find a place on the boat where your muscles didn’t have to constantly work to keep you in place. It was miserable. After I took the helm, however, in the twilight, we started seeing some incredible boat speeds. The knot meter would top out in the high teens, and then it just wouldn’t read any more. The wheel was probably coming out of the water as the boat was hardly floating any more, it was flying. 10 wave combos were the norm, with white water flying everywhere you couldn’t see the waves you were riding, you just had to feel them.

My second wind had definitely begun. I was happy again, I wasn’t thinking about my worn body or the cold, I was grinning ear to ear trying to get the boat going as fast as I could. At one point I offered the helm to Dave, not wanting to be a hog. He declined, stating his plan was to take it right before the bridge. That sounded fine to me, I was on a good roll and having fun.

We got surfing one set of waves and I got a little too ballsy. We were still headed, and trying hard to get up to the bridge. I went up a little too high and I slowly lost my helm. I warned Dave that I was losing it, the main sheet was already out and we went into a gentle roundup. As soon as the boat de-powered I was able to regain control and we were off again like nothing had happened. I had learned where the edge was though, and I didn’t intend to go beyond it again. About ten minutes later, or a little after 8:00pm, we got on a really big wave. We had seen about five this big that day, so it was nothing new, but it promised to be a good ride. I set up on the face of it, with a good puff we quickly accelerated down the face of the breaking wave. I could hear the water foaming above me as we flew down the face. All of a sudden we felt a jolt in the boat, the kind you feel if something heavy shifts downstairs. Immediately the boat rounded up, with no warning and no fight on the helm; it took about a half a second and we were sideways on the face of the huge wave.

As the wave broke over the side of the boat we rolled and the sound was that of a tree falling down; loud cracking and splintering. The boat went fully upside down, and we were washed off it, but attached with our tethers to leeward of the boat. We both expected the boat to immediately right itself, and we were concerned that we were going to do what I-14 sailors call a California Roll, which is where you get dragged under the boat as it rolls in your direction.

While that seemed scary at the time, it was nothing compared to the reality of the situation. As we realized the boat wasn’t coming back up we saw where the keel should be, shattered fiberglass and a bilge pump hose sticking out of the bottom of the boat. Part three monday.

Part three: The Realization

As Dave and I looked at each other a horrifying idea was coming over both of us. The keel was gone, the boat wasn’t coming back up, and even worse, it might be sinking!
We were both still tethered on, to what was now the underside of the boat. Fortunately I was on my long tether, which is about 10 feet. Dave was on his short one and was getting pulled under with every wave.
He pulled a knife out of his pocket and cut his tether away. He then handed me the knife.
I almost cut my tether right away, but as I saw that the boat seemed to be floating, and that I had enough length to still get on it, I decided it was probably safer to stay attached and risk getting dragged under if the boat went down, then to cut away and risk getting washed away from the boat. I carefully folded the knife and put it in my pocket for safe keeping.

I climbed onto the bottom of the boat, and I was managing to stay on it pretty well. Dave tried to climb up, and I helped him. We got him on but he quickly got washed off by a wave. He decided that it would be easier to just stay in the water, and hang onto the boat, then repeatedly try to get on the boat, and share the small space with me. I had no protest, as I kept getting washed off too, and both of us trying to climb on over and over again would get pretty cramped.

We started discussing the situation. We were about 8 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge. “The wind and waves are pushing us towards land” I said, perhaps we would ride the overturned boat to the beach? Dave, who knows San Francisco waters much better than me wasn’t so positive about it. He noted that the tide was ebbing again, and we were being taken out to sea. Not what I wanted to hear.
As I looked around I saw the clear, black, starry sky above us. There was a sliver of a moon directly to windward, which had a kind of spooky look to it above the frothing waves that kept rolling down on us. Looking the other way I could see right up the lighted streets of the city. I could see the flashing lights of the Golden Gate Bridge, and I could see Alcatraz lighted up below it. It all looked so close, but it seemed a lifetime away.
I thought about my beautiful fiance, my dog, and all the fun things we were planning to do with our lives. I thought about how I would never go camping with them again,.
For a minute, as I looked up at the moon, I thought to myself ‘I must be dreaming, I’m going to wake up from this and everything will be normal’. I quickly realized that this was far from the truth.

Then I saw a Moore 24 coming at us. Dave had handed me a flashlight a few minutes before so I quickly started holding it over my head trying to signal them. When I looked at the beam it was very dim, but I kept it up anyway, and started yelling. They must have come within 200 yard of us, but they sailed right by in the night. As they sailed away my hope faded as I didn’t know of any more boats behind them. I looked at the dying flashlight and turned it off to save the last of the batteries. As I hit the power button it came on bright as day. Apparently it was actually off, and for some reason it was powering up slightly. I kicked myself thinking they would have seen it had it been turned on fully.

We were now probably five or ten minutes into our ordeal. Dave was still in the water, and for some reason his life jacket wasn’t inflated. I asked him about that, and as I did I remembered him telling me to put the VHF radio in my pocket a few hours before. It hadn’t fit, and so I had put it in a sheet bag (rather than the cup holder it was in) so that it wouldn’t fall off the boat if we wiped out. I looked at Dave and said “Dave, you should go get the radio.” I don’t know why I said it, as I didn’t really expect him to do it. The boat was moving all over, there were lines all in the water and waves constantly breaking over us. He looked up at me for a second, didn’t’ say a word, and just disappeared. About ten seconds later he reappeared and seemingly out of nowhere he handed me an already turned on VHF radio.

I quickly switched the radio from channel 69 to 16. I started yelling every distress word I knew, Mayday, SOS, Help, I wasn’t really sure which was appropriate but they all got my message across. Immediately a woman's voice came over the radio, stating that she was the US Coast Guard and what was my situation. I explained that we were the vessel “Heat Wave” and that we had lost our keel. Our boat was upside down and sinking. We were about 8 miles out from the Golden Gate Bridge in the center of the channel.
The coast guard informed me that they were sending boats out, and a helicopter. I asked for an ETA on the helicopter and I was told they didn’t know. I repeated the question and said could you give me a rough guess? I was given a guess of fifteen minutes.
I relayed the information to Dave, who was sitting pretty still in the water, in his now inflated life jacket clinging to the stern pulpit under water.

It was amazing to me how that radio changed things. It was like a light bulb going off in my head saying “ok, you’re not going to die, you just have to hang in long enough and you’ll be fine.”
About ten minutes after first radioing the Coast Guard the gal informed me that a Pilot boat was nearby and it was looking for us. She asked if I could see them. I looked, and probably a mile away, to the north/north east of us were lights of a boat, with a search light scanning the water. I answered “yes” that I could see the boat. It then became a game of trying to figure out how to tell them how to get to us. The final chapter tomorrow.

Part four: Survival

When we had been sailing I knew our course to the south tower was something like 60 degrees. They appeared to be twenty degrees left of the bridge, so they were at maybe 40 degrees. The reciprocal of that would be 220? Yes, that’s it. I got on the radio and instructed the Pilot boat to steer a course of 220 degrees and go about one miles. The captain of the Pilot boat got on the radio and started talking to me. I couldn’t figure out what he was saying as I kept getting wiped off the boat by the waves, and having to climb back on.

I told Dave they knew where we were (which was sort of a lie), and I told him we would be on their boat soon. He asked about the status of our boat which seemed to be sinking. I lied again and said it was fine. Then I got on the radio and told the Coast Guard to hurry up because our boat was sinking and we were going to die soon. In truth, our boat really was sinking, It probably had about an hour left by my guesses. I thought again about cutting my tether, but I still felt safer with it on.

As time went on the Pilot boat slowly got closer. I asked again where the helicopter was, but I didn’t get a definite answer. I then went back to trying to guide the Pilot boat captain to our location. Giving him a course and distance didn’t seem to be working, I tried telling him to go 90 degrees to the wind and waves, I also noted on the radio that we were 90 degrees to the moon from him (the moon was directly upwind). Whether any of this was helping or not I didn’t know, I just knew he was still a long ways away and not coming at me nearly as fast as I would have liked.

I was now standing on the boat, with my back to the rudder, one hand over my head with the flashlight, and the radio in the other hand. I can’t even count how many times I got knocked off the boat, but each time I climbed back up and kept trying.

At one point the Pilot boat captain explained that he was going to scan his search light around, and for me to tell him when it was pointed at me. As he did it he scanned what seemed like everything in about two seconds. I had no way of telling him where to stop. A few tries later he slowed the scan down. I pressed the send button on my radio and as his light came over us I started screaming that he was shining it right at us. The light stopped, aimed at us from maybe a half mile away. I kept yelling that it was shining right at us, RIGHT AT US! I yelled. The light stayed steady and kept moving closer. I could see his red and green lights.

Dave was getting pretty quiet at this time. I told him they saw us and were almost here. I had said this before, so I don’t know if he believed me. Every time I looked at him his eyes were closed. In hind sight this may have been because I was shining a light in his face, then again they may really have been closed. He would respond to direct questions and was still coherent, but he wasn’t doing good.

As the pilot boat was approaching I got wiped off the boat by a wave. The radio got knocked out of my hand and I saw it go about two feet under water and then disappear. I got back up and kept shining the flashlight towards the Pilot boat, which was now probably a quarter mile away. Almost instantly I got knocked off the boat again and this time I lost the flashlight. The inside of the boat was lit up for about fifteen seconds. I jumped into the water reaching my hand down towards the lighted area, but it was no use. The light disappeared into the depths.

The pilot boat seemed to have turned off their search light, but I could still see red and green bow lights. As they approached Dave said something about a helicopter. I never saw it, but according to Dave the helicopter came from the opposite direction, and he watched it come straight towards us, low over the water with it’s search lights scanning side to side. As soon as the Pilot boat showed up next to us a bright light appeared, not from them but from above. It was the helicopter, lighting us up bright as day. The Pilot boat put their lights on us, and seemingly from nowhere there were two coast guard boats there too. We were surrounded by three boats and a helicopter above. My heart lifted and I knew we would be safe.

The Pilot boat, who was positioned to leeward of us, threw me a life sling with a line attached. It was a perfect shot, it landed right across our bow and slid back to me. I handed the line to Dave, who left our boat on his way to the Pilot boat. Half way there he lost his grip on the line. The Pilot boat, which had a largely overhung bow, drifted over him. I saw a crew run to their bow looking down. He yelled at me “where did he go?” I yelled back “he’s under your port bow!” They turned on a bow thruster, which shot Dave out from under them. I then saw him drifting back towards the side of their boat. It was amazing how quickly they drifted away from me.

I then started focusing on my own rescue. I pulled the knife out of my pocket and it took me about five slashes to cut my tether. At this time the J-80 started to roll a bit. I was now sitting on the chine of the boat, and I was able to hold onto the top of the gunwale to keep my balance. The starboard lifelines were starting to come out of the water. The two coast guard boats were to either beam of me. They seemed about the same distance away. I was tempted to jump and swim for it, but I held back to make sure I didn’t do something stupid.
I kept motioning for them to come closer. After a few minutes one came upwind of me and yelled for me to swim for it. I dove off the boat and swam about twenty feet over to them. They threw me a life sling, but I was practically already there. I grabbed onto their boat and they helped me in. I got up and walked, with their help, around the boat and inside.

I was brought to a room inside the boat, where I laid down on the rubber grated floor and threw up everywhere. I was happy not to taste any sea water, just the weird green drink that Dave had given me on the boat a few hours before. They wrapped me in blankets and we were on our way.
They kept worrying about me, asking if I was ok, or needed anything. I kept explaining that I had never felt better, I was alive and anything else at this point was just a luxury. Of course my body was still shaking violently trying to get warm. They had me take off most of my clothes, down to shorts and a shirt, and they put about five or six blankets on me.

About twenty minutes later we were at the dock, I walked off their boat, and got in an ambulance. I got some more blankets, they took my pulse and blood pressure. I borrowed a phone to call my fiance. A few minutes later they brought Dave in, on a stretcher. Apparently they had used some sort of hoist to get him out of the water, and once on their deck he couldn’t move on his own.
As we rode to the hospital the paramedic talked to both Dave and I. Dave seemed coherent, he could answer all the questions and he was happy. We were both just happy to be alive

Part 5: Afterthoughts and Clarifications

First off it’s important to note the preparation that went into this race. It was something like three or four months before that Dave had asked me to go with him. He had subsequently made many trips to San Francisco to work on the boat, take it out sailing, tuning etc. We even made a smaller spinnaker for the boat expecting to reach back in (though not quite as tight and in as much wind as we saw). Dave went as far as sailing with the spinnaker and doing multiple re-cuts, each of which he would video-tape and then send to me for my input.

The boat had been hauled, the bottom faired, the boat had a current survey and the boat yard had been given a pretty much blank check to make sure the boat was in tip-top condition. This was by no means a low budget, half ass affair. We had all the proper safety equipment, we did extensive study on the wind reports and current predictions before the race. We also had a small, waterproof video camera which was mounted on a pole on the transom, as well as a strap to mount it on our heads. If the boat ever washes up, the camera is probably gone – but if it’s there, it’ll have some awesome footage of the final hour, including the final wipe-out.

I have no idea how the keel failed. We never hit anything, and the only wipe out we had was the one I described, which was as I described it, gentle and slow. The boat didn’t roll, it just rounded up.
When I was on the bottom of the boat it looked like a pretty big hole where the keel should be. It was the shape of the keel, but it was probably 6-8 inches wide, and there was lots of shattered fiberglass. There was also that bilge pump hose sticking out of the bottom of the boat.

Some thoughts on the safety gear.
We definitely were not prepared for a keel failure. We had a good ditch bag in the boat, but obviously we couldn’t get to that. It was sheer luck that Dave had gotten spooked about the VHF being in a cup holder and had me move it just a few hours before our wipe-out. I think in the future I would attach the ditch bag to the push-pit on the back of the boat, that way you could get to it no matter how the boat was positioned. Also a GPS would have been good so as to give a better position to the Coast Guard. One of the GPS/Radio things would have been even better. A hand bearing compass, which we had, but not at the time, would have been very useful in telling the Pilot boat exactly which direction to go, rather than just my guess of a course. Being tethered in was definitely a good thing, but I will definitely add a quick-release shackle to my tether. The latest design, which I have , just hitches on to your harness, and there is no way to disconnect it without a knife. That was very scary when I thought the boat was sinking.

Also I was wearing the latest Spinlock inflatable life jacket. It worked great in that it took water all day and never deployed, but the second I hit the water it went right off. It floated me perfectly and didn’t get in my way when I was trying to move around. However the built in strobe light, which is supposed to be water activated, never came on. Upon later inspection I found nothing immediately wrong with it. There is an off switch that you can use to save batteries, but you have to pull a pin (sort of like the kind that kills a jet-ski when you fall off) and that was still in. I have no idea why the light didn’t work but it probably would have cut a lot of time off our rescue, and the Moore 24 may have seen us in that first 5 minutes should the light have worked. Finally I’m thinking having some equipment on your person is a good idea. Maybe one flair and a VHF radio and a flashlight. They should be tethered to you somehow as well. Maybe even a personal Epirb, but I don’t know enough about those yet to make a decision. A boat Epirb would have been good too.

Coming out of this whole thing I am scared by it, but at the same time it’s a pretty incredible experience to have had. I have a whole new appreciation for life, the people I know and love, and the amazing things I get to do. They say you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, well I almost lost it all and I definitely know what I’ve got now. The support and encouragement I have received from our sailing community just in the past day and a half, has been incredible. People I’ve known, and people I don’t know, have all been contacting me, making sure I’m alright and offering assistance if I need it. It’s really a great sport we have and my thanks go out to you all.

Good sailing,

David Servais

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Why Do You Want to Sail Around the World?

Here is one man's thoughts on his motivation to sail the globe on his new to him Valiant 40:

"What is it that motivates you to want to sail around the world?"

I’m been considering this question in greater depth lately–more people have been asking, and I’ve been more closely examining my standard response.

My standard response goes something like this: over the past decade I have experienced a substantial amount of adventuring around this country, largely through climbing and canyoneering, and the excitement and newness of those activities has faded. Four years ago this culminated in looking for a next step, a new activity, a grander undertaking. Learning to sail, then saving money to buy a boat, then buying a boat and fixing it up, then sailing the boat around the world–all of this combines into one very ambitious new adventure.

I want to encounter new people and new places, I want to experience things that take me beyond my current boundaries, I want a larger universe. The few times I have traveled abroad have been rare and precious gifts. Each occasion has provided unequaled education and inspiration–I return home invigorated–and I constantly ask myself what is my major malfunction, that I don’t travel more frequently.

I want to run away from it all. Other cruisers commonly advise that escaping is a really bad reason to sail away. Better to face your demons at home they say, deal with the root of the problem rather than running away, because the demons are really inside you and you’ll take them with you wherever you are. They are surely right–but I also think that escape can be a good reason to go. I want to escape those cancerous aspects of my current life that I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to excise for some time. Sometimes one needs a dramatic departure from the current life–a discontinuity–in order to make a new start.

I’ve started sleepwalking through this bay area life, and I hate that more than anything. I hate the sleepwalking! I think it happens to everyone, it’s a natural consequence of human makeup. It’s evolution, our minds are hardwired to turn things into habits–it’s the smart thing for the body to do. When an activity is new it takes extra time and concentration and energy; when it becomes a habit it requires little effort or thought, and we can do other tasks at the same time. Learning to drive a car requires concentration; you have to actually think about turning the wheel and pressing on the gas and when to do it and how much, etc. After you’ve been driving for a few years is is completely habitual and requires no conscious thought, and because of this you can eat food and carry on a conversation while driving. Making habits is efficient and natural. It also robs us of the excitement and risk associated with activities. You figure out a route to work, you learn how to complete your job the same way every day, you eat at the same few restaurants each night, you sleep on the same side of the bed with your head at the same end, every day. Eventually the whole day, the whole month, a whole year just becomes a habit–then you’re sleepwalking. And the insidious thing about it is that sleepwalkers don’t realize they’re sleepwalking. The mind doesn’t give you feedback about how habitual an activity is becoming. It just gets easier and easier until you consider it boring and you don’t think about it anymore–if you’re like me, your day job provides an example.

Are these motivations sufficient? A good enough justification for spending all of my money and time and putting everything on hold for five years in order to sail around the world? Are the motivations strong enough to withstand the knowing look of a good friend (someone who can effortlessly identify and dissolve bullshit)? Are they strong enough for my family–the watchdog reminding me to spend my life in a worthwhile way? Am I bullshitting anybody? Am I bullshitting myself?

I am engaged; Karen and I are getting married next fall. Karen and I have talked a lot about our future after the boat, and we are optimistic and excited about that part of life too. So the question of motivation gets harder to answer, as life on land looks pretty promising too. The sailing trip isn’t the same no-brainer easy "yes" activity that choosing to do a hard climb, grueling canyon, or lengthy road trip once was. People talk about how hard it is to go skydiving–when the moment comes how can you jump out of the plane–but that’s why it’s so easy–it’s only a moment. You just have to get up your gumption, your "f-it, just do it" for only an instant and then you’re out of the plane you’re committed and reasserting your commitment is irrelevant. It only took a second of effort. If you had to maintain the same motivation–that level of fearlessness that it takes to push yourself out into the air during that moment–if you had to constantly sustain that day in and day out for years, it would be impossible. Preparing for this trip has not required just one single huge sacrifice or commitment or leap; it has required years of plodding sacrifice and commitment which will continue until the moment we sell the boat.

So you tell me: are my motivations sufficient? Do my answers to the question justify all the time, effort, money, and sacrifice in order to take a sailing trip around the world? My reasons for taking the trip haven’t changed, my motivations are intact. So far I remain satisfied with my answers. They don’t silence the internal questioning as easily as they once did–my life is more complicated than it was when we first embarked on this project–but they still quiet the doubts. I examine my motivations much more frequently than before; my answers are correspondingly more polished, more carefully given.

If you would like to check out his blog, click here.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Mav's Big Wave Contest May Happen Next Week

Hope is on the horizon for the organizers of the Maverick's Surf Contest.
A swell capable of producing waves worthy of the big wave surf contest appears to be forming near the international date line. So Tuesday, the day they expected to be bemoaning the close of the window for the big wave surf contest, organizers instead anxiously awaited word that they had all the permits they needed to extend the contest period through April 8.
Keir Beadling, CEO of Mavericks Surf Ventures, which puts on the contest, said the extension hinges on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. The NOAA has to grant the company an extension on its single-day exemption to the ban on personal watercraft in marine sanctuaries, including the waters surrounding the Maverick's break off Half Moon Bay.
"They are an important partner of ours and this is the crucial piece we need to get an extension," Beadling wrote in an e-mail Tuesday. "I am hoping to hear positive news from them tomorrow, and it's probably safe to say that thousands of people are crossing their fingers in the meantime."
A perfect storm of massive -- at least 20-foot faces -- and frequent waves must hit the break for the call to be made to bring in 24 of the world's top big wave surfers for the contest on 24 hours notice. That didn't happen during this year's Dec. 1 to March 31 contest window. However, wave trackers recently spotted a gale that could produce 32-foot seas -- and even bigger waves
at Maverick's on Monday, according to the San Mateo County Times.
"Everyone's getting excited about another computer model that's going to happen next Monday, if it happens at all," Maverick's founder Jeff Clark, who has the final say when it comes to giving the contest the green light, told the Times.
As many as 40,000 Bay Area surf fans attend the contest every year, and hundreds more catch the action on a live webcast, which will be available again this year at The contestants will compete for a $150,000 prize purse. The biggest purse ever! Cross your fingers and let's get this show on the road.