Archive for December, 2005

Wild Oats, with Cahalan Aboard, Sets Sydney-Hobart Record

Posted by John Callender on December 27th, 2005 at 10:04 pm

Wild Oats in the Sydney/Hobart race

Having been kicked off Brasil 1 for the upcoming Southern Ocean legs of the Volvo Ocean Race, Adrienne Cahalan headed home to Australia and promptly stepped aboard the super-maxi Wild Oats as navigator for the Sydney-Hobart race, which started December 26. One day, 18 hours, 40 minutes, and 26 seconds later, she and the rest of the crew were celebrating a first-place finish and a new course record, having shaved more than an hour off the time recorded in 1999 by Nokia.

Additional details are available from this CNN story: – Wild Oats snaps yacht race record.

Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi/Handout.

ABN AMRO One Wins Cape Town In-Port Race

Posted by John Callender on December 26th, 2005 at 5:48 pm

ABN AMRO One during the Cape Town in-port race

The team sailing ABN AMRO One continued their winning ways during the Cape Town in-port race today, taking first place (and 3.5 points in the overall competition) to cement their position atop the Volvo Ocean Race fleet. Strong winds (up to 40 knots) and flat water in the lee of Table Mountain worked well for the boat, which extended its lead at each mark of the course. Details from the official VOR site: Tables turned.

Other excitement during the race included ABN AMRO Two running aground on the first leg (but holding on to finish third), and spectacular wipeouts during gypes by Pirates of the Caribbean and movistar (the latter while en route to a second-place finish).

I remember when I was 16 or so, going out on Victoria for the start of a buoy race in LA Harbor with the wind gusting to 40 knots. I was working the foredeck, and I can remember realizing just how difficult it was going to be to hoist the blade jib with the wind blowing that hard. Intellectually, I knew that the force of the wind in a sail increases as the square of the wind’s velocity, such that a 40-knot wind is not twice, but four times, as powerful as a 20-knot wind. But knowing it intellectually and experiencing it firsthand were two different things.

That race ended up being cancelled due to the rough conditions, and I confess to being relieved at the time. Wind that strong was more than I really wanted to race in, and I give credit to the crews of the Volvo Open 70s that competed today. At the same time, 40 knots in flat water is one thing. Sixty knots or more in the huge seas of the Southern Ocean, which is what these teams may be facing shortly, is something else again.

Photo: That’s ABN AMRO One during today’s race, courtesy the ABN AMRO web site.

Big Surf

Posted by John Callender on December 24th, 2005 at 11:16 am

Mike Parsons catching a big wave at Jaws

I’ve been driving back and forth through Malibu over the last week, which has given me a front-row seat for some of the huge surf we’ve been having in Southern California. The LA Times has an article today about some of the people who’ve gotten into trouble with the waves, including a young man who apparently was killed when the boat he was in capsized off Ventura. From Deadly high waves batter coast:

Late Friday, an 18-year-old remained missing after a small boat carrying him and three other family members capsized in rough seas near the mouth of the Santa Clara River, officials said.

The skiff carrying a father, two sons and his daughter capsized about 12:30 p.m. roughly 100 yards from shore, authorities said.

Three of the family members made it to shore, but one son did not, said Fire Marshal Glen Albright of the Ventura City Fire Department.

The others were taken to Ventura County Medical Center with minor injuries. Authorities searched for the missing man until darkness fell. The search is expected to resume this morning.

The article also describes how a surfer drowned off Carlsbad State Beach on Thursday, and how the Venice Pier has been closed until further notice due to damage from the waves. The surf is expected to subside over the next few days, before building again next week.

Photo: That’s a still I snagged from an unauthorized video clip that’s been floating around the net for a while. It shows Mike Parsons being towed onto a big wave at Jaws on Maui during a competition a few years ago. If you haven’t seen the video it’s definitely worth a look. One commenter claimed the clip is from the movie Riding Giants, but having watched that movie I didn’t see that clip in it (though the movie is very much worth watching, regardless).

Update: Oh, and now another source I googled up indicates that the clip is actually from the beginning of Billabong Odyssey. And since brief moments of the clip appear in the film’s trailer, I’d say that’s a pretty good bet.

Later update: So I’ve now watched Billabong Odyssey, and I can tell you that yup, it’s definitely from that movie. It’s basically the first minute of the film, with Parsons’ big wave (which was the high-scoring wave at the Tow-In World Cup in January 2002) also being featured in the extended coverage of the event toward the end of the film.

Another SoCal Wind Analysis Site

Posted by John Callender on December 21st, 2005 at 7:51 am

Southern California winds

I posted previously about my automatically generated wind maps. Now reader Charlie Houser writes to tell me of a very interesting variation on the same idea. It’s apparently being produced by the US Navy’s Pacific Meteorology and Oceanography Detachment at Point Mugu. Anyway, check it out: Southern California wind analysis.

They’re using the same weather buoy data I’m using. But they’re augmenting it with a lot of additional readings from shore stations, and (this is the cool part), they’re interpolating between the stations to produce forecasted windspeed and direction across the area between and around the observing stations.

I’m not sure how sound that methodology is; my racing sailor’s sense is that especially during light-wind conditions, the interpolated vortexes this system seems to produce bear relatively little relationship to the actual winds you’d find out on the water. But in stronger-wind conditions, I’d think that interpolation between the various stations would actually do a pretty good job of predicting real wind conditions.

Anyway, I thought it was pretty interesting. Thanks for the tip, Charlie!

Duncan Hunter’s On-Again, Off-Again Plan for Santa Rosa Island

Posted by John Callender on December 18th, 2005 at 4:01 pm

Santa Rosa Island

There was a flurry of excitement over the last week regarding the future status of Santa Rosa Island. Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) had attempted to add language to a defense spending bill that would have removed the island from the national park system, making it instead a military reserve where active-duty military personnel and veterans could conduct training exercises and engage in recreational hunting and camping.

Now, in the face of loud criticism from Congressional Democrats, environmentalists, and others, Hunter has agreed to withdraw the plan — for now. His stated intention is to try to re-introduce the plan — which he had previously floated back in May, also — next year, as part of a separate piece of legislation.

The LA Times had an interesting article on the issue back on December 9th: Military wants Santa Rosa Island. (The Times subsequently ran a correction, acknowledging that it was Rep. Hunter, not the military, that was pushing for the change.) From that article:

Hunter put forward a similar measure in May, but withdrew it after objections from environmentalists and Democrats and after consulting with Republicans.

In a statement e-mailed Friday night by his spokesman, Hunter said the proposed amendment “would broaden the recreational use of Santa Rosa Island to the benefit of wounded and disabled members of the armed services who have sacrificed for our country.”


Hunter’s proposal calls for the Department of Defense to transform the 53,000-acre island into a military operation, effective Jan. 1, 2009. The goal, the proposal said, was to provide “morale, welfare and recreation activities to members of the armed forces and their dependents, veterans, official guests and such other persons as the [Defense] secretary determines to be appropriate, including paralyzed and disabled persons.”

The island, according to the proposal, also could provide training areas for special operations forces and would continue to allow deer and elk hunting that is currently permitted.

Critics of the proposal said military personnel already can visit the park, just like the general public.

Rep. Lois Capps, a Democrat whose Santa Barbara district encompasses Santa Rosa Island, said the proposal is a bad idea “that is being pushed in secret negotiations.”

“All Americans should have access to the Channel Islands National Park, not just top military brass, members of Congress and folks who can pay thousands of dollars to go on private hunting trips,” Capps said.

Santa Rosa is the second-largest of the five Channel Islands that make up the park.

Among those who criticized Hunter’s proposal was Ron Sundergill, Pacific regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association. In a December 10 press release, Sunderhill wrote:

Why would Representative Hunter, why would anybody for that matter, want to suddenly restrict a large portion of this beautiful place to a small portion of Americans? It makes no sense!

We can only guess that the reason this is being proposed is to protect the commercial interest that operates the elk and deer hunting venture on the island. The owners of the venture, whose family sold the island to the federal government in 1986 for nearly $30 million, will be required to end their commercial activities in 2011. The timeline for ending the elk and deer hunting results from a legally binding agreement between the National Park Service and the National Parks Conservation Association, but the owners of the hunting venture strongly objected to the agreement.

If Santa Rosa Island is turned over to the Department of Defense for military recreation and other purposes, the permit for the commercial hunting operation is then likely to be renewed. This is especially evident since the proposed amendment requires that the current contract with the commercial hunting operation be honored, and contains no restriction on the renewal of the contract.

Anyway, Hunter has now pulled back on the plan, at least for the time being. From the LA Times: Lawmaker retracts plan for military use of island.

The measure, proposed during House-Senate conferences over the military appropriations bill, initially called for shifting management of the island to the Defense Department from the National Park Service. Although Hunter removed that provision Friday, critics said the proposal was still in conflict with a 1997 court settlement requiring the former owners of Santa Rosa Island to start phasing out elk and deer in 2008 and to eliminate them by the end of 2011.

“I am ecstatic it has been withdrawn,” Park Supt. Russell Galipeau said in a phone interview from the island. “This great piece of real estate that is now owned by the public will remain a great place for them to recreate and learn about this resource and endangered species … for generations to come.”

I don’t know if Hunter is trying to pull a fast one on behalf of a well-connected constituent, as Ron Sundergill has speculated, but if so, then it’s pretty lame for him to try to dress it up as some kind of noble action on behalf of disabled veterans. Santa Rosa Island, like all the Channel Islands, is a very special, very beautiful place, and a national park is the perfect way to preserve it.

Photo: I found that lovely shot of Santa Rosa Island on the web site of the Bruns Lab, which is part of the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology at UC Berkeley. Apparently they do some sort of ongoing scientific research on the island. I used the image without their permission; I hope they don’t mind.

VOR: Cahalan Fired as Brasil 1’s Navigator for Southern Ocean Legs

Posted by John Callender on December 6th, 2005 at 9:02 am

torben grael and adrienne cahalan after brasil 1\'s finish

Navigator Adrienne Cahalan, until now the only woman racing in the VOR fleet, has been fired as Brasil 1’s navigator. The move apparently came as a complete surprise to her. From her statement Monday, as reported on the official VOR site (Interpreting the situation):

“Yesterday I was informed by team manager Alan Adler that I was to be replaced as navigator on Brasil 1. Regrettably it was not Torben himself who told me of this decision. I am very disappointed not to be able to sail the remaining legs in the race with Brasil 1 and particularly the Southern Ocean legs coming in and out of Australia.

“I am and have been fully committed to both Brasil 1 and the Volvo Ocean Race for the past year and in light of our good results so far I was very surprised and disappointed to be told of Torben’s decision.”

Possibly seeking to frame the public perception of the move, Team Brasil 1 themselves claimed surprise in a subsequent statement:

“The Brasil 1 Team was surprised by Adrienne Cahalan’s statement that she was out of the team for the remaining of the Volvo Ocean Race. No decisions have been taken so far. This subject will be discussed in a meeting (on) Tuesday in Rio de Janeiro.

“During the first leg, trimmer Marcelo Ferreira was out of the sailing watches for some days due to a medical problem and Adrienne Cahalan wasn’t planned to take part in the watches. The only issue here being the great physical strength required for the job. The situation of having two crewmembers out of the sailing watches will be the subject of the scheduled meeting.

“The idea that will be discussed is having Adrienne on the Brasil 1 as team’s meteorologist and including a navigator who will be a part of the sailing watches for the Southern Ocean legs. Afterwards, there is the possibility of having Adrienne back to the crew for the remainder of the race.

“That idea is still the one we are supporting: ‘Adrienne has done an important job for the team and we do not want her to stop helping us’, Brasil 1 skipper Torben Grael stated.”

It sounds like the bumping of Cahalan from the crew was handled pretty poorly. If you’re going to do something like this, I think it’s best to do it openly and directly, being clear about what led you to the decision. Coy statements to the media after the bumpee has gone public with her disappointment are unfortunate.

On the underlying reasons, I wonder how much of it is based in machismo, as amplified by the understandable fear of taking these radical boats into the Southern Ocean. A male crewmember in good physical condition, generally speaking, is going to have more upper-body strength than a comparable female crewmember (and in that vein, I guess it bears noting that Cahalan is 40 years old).

Upper-body strength isn’t everything, of course. On this race physical endurance is a factor, too, and it’s less clear that a male crewmember would have an advantage in that area. With numerous circumnavigations and three previous Volvo/Whitbread races in her background, Cahalan certainly has plenty of relevant experience, and after being part of the team for the past year, and crewing on leg one, it seems unlikely that interpersonal chemistry would be emerging as a factor at this point.

My guess is that, confronted by the unknown, the Brasil 1 team is trying to do whatever they can to control the variables they do have control over. They face many, many worries going into the next two legs, and apparently they decided that having one of their ten crewmembers be a woman was one more worry they didn’t need to have.

I assume from Cahalan’s statement that she believes it was Torben Grael’s decision, and given that, I think I’d agree with her disappointment that he wasn’t willing to communicate it to her directly. Maybe there’s more to that story, though.

Photo: No longer one of the boys: Brasil 1 skipper Torben Grael and navigator Adrienne Cahalan at the post-finish arrival celebration in Cape Town. From the Brasil 1 official site.

Controversy Continues for Avalon Repair Barge

Posted by John Callender on December 2nd, 2005 at 8:00 am

repair barge at Avalon

The Log ran a story by Marisa O’Neil a week ago (Avalon takes another look at large barge) about the new repair barge that owner Robert Sherrill has anchored off the Casino in Avalon. At issue is the height of the barge, which at three stories has prompted many in Avalon to complain that it is an eyesore.

Now the LA Times’ Nancy Wride has written an article with some additional detail: New barge roils water in Avalon. From the latter story:

Sherrill’s Marine Services has been a fixture of Catalina for decades. His father bought the barge in the late 1950s from a guy named “Smitty” — and even then it was old, Sherrill said. The Sherrill family had a Long Beach boat repair business, but also spent summers at Avalon Harbor in what was then a seasonal business. From the age of 11, Robert Sherrill worked on the barge and often slept on its spartan cots. In 1984, he bought the barge from his father.

At first, Sherrill’s family lived in an Avalon condo, but he sold it a few years ago and moved to Temecula. He decided to move back, he said, after the business became a full-time venture and a partner couldn’t run it anymore. But now his family can’t afford any property on the island, Sherrill said.

He said the workers on whom the island depends can no longer afford to live there. As for worries that a lot of people will suddenly start living in the harbor, Sherrill said they’re nonsense because of the cost of Avalon moorings, many of which sell for more than $1 million.

Sherrill said he made his plans clear from the start, telling the harbor master about the construction and about his intention to move his wife, two teenagers and dog on board, into an 800-square-foot, third-floor apartment. He said he described his plan to split the 800-square-foot second floor into three units to house visiting mechanics and boat captains who staff the business’ 24-hour vessel assistance service and help tackle ballooning demand in warmer months.

Harbor Master Bray disputes this, saying that Sherrill told him the bottom two floors would be repair and vessel rescue offices, and the top floor would be for on-call boat captains and mechanics. No one is living on the boat now, however.

In November, the City Council held a public hearing on whether to pull Sherrill’s Marine Services’ permit. It voted not to do so, instead ordering Sherrill to work with the harbor commission to improve the look of the new barge. The council barred anyone from living on the vessel until Sherrill and the commission reach an agreement.

For now, the barge’s interior remains unfinished. Sherrill and his family, according to Sherrill, are living in close quarters on a 40-foot boat they own.

Meanwhile, everywhere they go, they hear talk about the barge. Avalon is just like “Peyton Place,” Sherrill said. “People just love to have something to talk about.”

Personally, I’ve almost always steered clear of Avalon, preferring less-crowded venues for my island getaways. My main experience of Avalon is as a cluster of lights off to port while drifting around the East End during the wee hours of the Catalina Island Race. I confess to being interested in how this controversy turns out, though.

Photo by Bob Chamberlin of the LA Times.

VOR: ABN AMRO 1 Wins Leg One

Posted by John Callender on December 1st, 2005 at 8:15 am

ABN AMRO One approaches Cape Town

After both ABN AMRO boats finished at the back of the pack during the VOR’s first In Port race, Mike Sanderson, ABN AMRO One’s skipper, was quoted as saying, “We’re still adamant we’ve the right boat for the race. I don’t think we’ll be having this conversation in Cape Town.”

Prophetic words. From the Team ABN AMRO web site: ABN AMRO One wins Leg 1.

ABN AMRO ONE sailed to victory in the first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race as they crossed the finish line below Table Mountain in first place today at 15:25hrs (local time) or 13:25 GMT. 49 miles ahead of second placed boat, ABN AMRO TWO, the crew celebrated what looks to be an impressive first and second for TEAM ABN AMRO. The victory puts ABN AMRO ONE at the top of the leader board with eight legs remaining.

There’s also this write up from the official VOR site: The winner! It includes a very interesting account of some of the ongoing troubles aboard fourth-place Ericsson, which apparently had their jury-rigged canting keel come free from its moorings following a gybe, as described here by skipper Neal McDonald:

Five minutes into my stint on the wheel, what should have been a reasonably easy task of steering in broad daylight, in about 20 knots of wind with just the mainsail up, suddenly became a very difficult task. I knew this sensation and before I heard the call of ‘we have another Free Willy situation on our hands’, I had fully guessed what had happened. The waves would roll the boat one way and rather than steady the boat, the keel simply stayed in the vertical plane and the boat rolled around it. Not nice.

Another very interesting item on the official VOR site today is this piece by former America’s Cup champion John Bertrand: Thoughts of Mr. Bertrand.

It is certain that Cape Town will be a busy port, with retro-fits across the fleet, with close attention being paid to the canting keel systems on each boat and how they are integrated into the hull. The transmitted forces are enormous. It is always difficult to calculate maximum loads and dial in adequate safety factors, but the combination of unforgiving carbon fibre structures and the enormity of ocean wave formations makes the exercise almost impossible. Trying to figure out what forces are unleashed when a carbon structure is dropped off a five story building could be an equivalent exercise! The bottom line is if these boats were built strong enough to NEVER break, they would not be light enough to be competitive. It’s back to maximizing power to weight ratios.

Anyway, here’s wishing the best of luck to the racers still on the course, and to all the teams as they prepare for the next leg, which will be taking them a very long way from help in some of the roughest waters in the world.

Photo of ABN AMRO One approaching Cape Town, from the Team ABN AMRO site.

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