Front Rudder - January 2019

Taking Measure
Of Our Treasures

Sometimes it takes more than a spark of a match to light a fire under our butts to get out us of our routines and comfort zones in order to explore the world directly around us. For many of us, there could be many amazing adventures ahead!

Here in the greater San Francisco Bay area, often in the city itself are a multitude of sights, sounds, little nooks and crannies of tiny bits of our history that we often overlook in the hustle, bustle of our daily lives. For instance, I lived here for more than 10 years but it wasn′t until I prodded myself incessantly that I took a cable car ride! I have admired, photographed and laughed at the lines for years, but it took me until this fall to get on one and enjoy the ride. So much so, that I rode one again two days later! Just imagine.

Of course, it started with Irish Coffees at the Buena Vista and obviously it was the Hyde Street line, but this adventure was just an example of how complacent we get to our surroundings and fail to explore wonders that we take for granted, only noticing when they cease to exist.

Taking measures to not only visit but preserve these treasures that we have literally at our door step in many cases is essential in preserving that history that was once days of our lives.

Take the Pacific Maritime Library and Hyde Street Pier for instance. Yes, right there, under our collective noses we find a treasure trove of our city′s history, our maritime past and numerous other places to visit that we write off too quickly as being what the “tourists” do here.

Heaven forbid we would stroll down to Fisherman′s Wharf, let alone Pier 39, Coit Tower or Fort Mason! It took me years to go out to Alcatraz Island. So many of these places we have already bought and paid for so why not take advantage of them and enjoy the people whose tireless efforts keep these places exciting and vibrant!

We nibble at the ends in bits and pieces in the restoration of some of these places, like it to bringing the America′s Cup here in 2013 to loosen up our coin purses a bit, with Gavin′s help to fund and construct a few “legacy” projects like the James R. Herman Cruise Ship Terminal at Pier 27, or Jefferson Street and the Bannon Street Wharf Project.

Unfortunately, just as we began to scrape at the tip of the iceberg it all came to a screeching halt as projects like Piers 30/32 were killed by the uninformed who put the kibosh on thousands of jobs and millions of dollars. All this because they wanted to maintain a status quo, thus leaving those piers to simply rot and never develop into economic engines with destinations like hotels, shops and a sailing academy which could have attracted future events for our city.

Take the Municipal Pier at Aquatic Park for instance. Funds could have been put in place as a legacy opportunity to repair that crumbling walkway if not for the over-reaction of a few swimmers who chose to block efforts rather than participate in a constructive process that may have led to funds being made available to save the pier into perpetuity. The Pier was built in 1929 to create a protected cove where City residents could swim and recreate. The pier is now a threatened landmark in need of major repair. Although built strong, decades of standing against winter storms and pounding waves have significantly weakened this 1,400-foot walkway over San Francisco Bay. The pier remains open for fishing and strolling, but unless preserved it will one day close.

But, on a positive note there are treasures to behold, bop down, with an appointment, to the Maritime Research Center at Fort Mason which provides access to the library, archives and museum collections and encourages research in maritime history and humanities. The Maritime Research Center of San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park is the premier resource for San Francisco and Pacific Coast maritime history and the portal into the Park′s collections. Originating in 1939, the collections cover everything from the Goldrush to the Age of Containerization and have become the largest maritime collection on the West Coast and the largest museum and research collection in the National Park Service. The unique resources serve and inform historians, genealogists, artists, authors, students, filmmakers, sailors, boat and model builders and performers from all over world.

The collections were developed through the support of partners, donations, and library collection purchases. The collections include more than:

  • 35,000 published titles comprising over 74,000 items
  • 500,000 photographs
  • 1,800 archival and manuscript collections
  • 150,000 naval architecture and marine engineering drawings
  • 3,000 maps and charts
  • 6,000 historical archaeology artifacts
  • 40,000 history objects
  • 100 small craft, currently housed in a San Leandro warehouse, with funds hopefully being generated soon to open for display and visitation purposes

How collections like these come together can be told through amazing tales. For my own purposes I began collecting (hoarding) books, magazines, press releases regarding the America′s Cup more than 35 years ago. At first it was just a matter of picking up news on the event with coverage in many of the American nautical press like Bay & Delta Yachtsman, sail and yachting magazines, etc. The more I collected, the more interested I grew as I began to cover the event for a local boating newspaper out of Alameda called Longitude 122. It was the antithesis of Latitude 38! As I began writing stories it became apparent that resources for gathering background information was limited. This was pre-internet era for sure. In fact, faxing was just becoming popular and usually you had to wait for a press release in the mail.

Then of course, there were phone interviews. Usually back then you could get almost anyone on the phone if they were in the office, so from that standpoint there was a lot of great material to draw from!

But I came to the realization that I needed to establish my own data base of information so that I could draw upon my own resources. Luckily for me the perfect place was in order. There was an old used magazine and book store in the Tenderloin of San Francisco. It was called McDonald′s Bookstore and I was told that back in the 1920′s it was the meeting place for Socialists in San Francisco.

The place was floor to ceiling cavalcade of everything about sailing, yachting and the America′s Cup. At a buck a piece! I would spend hours there on my days off scouring for anything that had an article about the Cup or its history.

The passion, or madness grew from there so that now I have one of the most comprehensive private collections of the America′s Cup in the world. I have the 80 plus tubs and boxes in storage at $100.00 a month to prove it! Storage spaces are like an addiction and I have finally come to the realization that either my space or the collection must go. And since I can′t take it with me, it is time to find a new home for my collection. Hopefully I am going to keep it in one piece rather than having it end up on E-Bay!

Speaking of such, that site certainly helped me add to the collection over the last 10 years, but now it′s time.

On the subject of time, we are all familiar with the boat-shaped museum at the end of Fisherman′s Wharf. Well, thanks to a lot of hard work, it′s about to reopen again to great fanfare.

By the time this edition is released, the Maritime Museum in the Aquatic Park Bathhouse Building will be reopening after an extensive restoration of parts of the interior, including many of the beautiful murals inside.

The Bathhouse building was built in 1939 as a joint project of the City of San Francisco and the New Deal Works Progress Administration (WPA), and is the focal point of the Aquatic Park Historic Landmark District. This unique structure was designed in the Streamline Moderne style, a late offshoot of the Art Deco period and mimics the clean lines of an ocean liner. After occupation by troops in WWII from 1941 through 1948, the building became home to the San Francisco Maritime Museum and the country′s first Senior Center. The museum was operated by the San Francisco Maritime Association until it was transferred to the National Park Service in 1978.

The Aquatic Park was one of California′s largest WPA construction projects. The project was described as “one of the most sophisticated WPA building jobs in the U.S.” Several distinguished artists were responsible for the adornment of the exterior and interior of the bathhouse.

While the artwork of the Aquatic Park Complex is notable for its quality, it is also significant due to its surreal and abstract forms not commonly found in WPA projects at the time. The work of artist Sargent Johnson is incorporated into the entrance and back porch of the bathhouse. Johnson was a nationally recognized sculptor and one of only two black artists in California who participated in the WPA program.

Under the direction of Hilaire Hiler, an internationally recognized muralist, Johnson depicted abstract and stylized forms of sea life and nautical references by incising lines into green slate panels that surround the main entrance of the building and provide contrast against the white concrete of the building′s walls.

Directly below the slate panels are multilevel fountains lined with colorful tile mosaics. The design for the back porch continues with the use of maritime motifs rendered in multicolored tile mosaics.

For over two decades the Architectural Resources Group (ARG) has helped restore the Maritime Museum′s original glory as a public gathering space. From the micro (analyzing paint samples to restore artwork) to the macro (waterproofing and window restoration), ARG′s work has put the polish back on this beautiful example of Streamline Moderne nautical-style architecture.

In 1958, years after construction, the Bayview room, also known as the Blue Room, was painted coral and gray and was later repainted white. ARG Conservators conducted paint analysis and did window exposures to uncover and restore the original blue paint scheme.

Below the Museum are two subterranean wings with showers and dressing facilities for Aquatic Park bathers. The showers were fitted with electric eyes that turned the water off and on for bathers.

In 1941, the bathhouse was used by the military as the headquarters for anti-aircraft defense on the Pacific Coast. The bathhouse was used for housing troops and as offices. The artist, Johnson, executed the exterior bas-relief in green slate that surround the main entrances. ARG utilized an innovative method for removing soluble salts from the panels using ultra-sonic cleaning technologies and surface treatments for the masking of incised graffiti.

Karl Crouch Kortum was the founder of the Maritime Museum and Aquatic Park. His love of ships and the sea dated from his 1941 passage on Kaiulani from Gray′s Harbor, Washington to Hobart, Tasmania. The voyage, in which Mr. Kortum served as acting mate, was the last for an American merchant ship under sail.

Kortum′s heart remained in the golden age of sail, and he after the ware he devoted himself to the creation of a museum in San Francisco dedicated to the maritime history of the Pacific.

The museum featured intricate wooden models of historic ships, in many cases built by sailors who knew them. But it was the 1953 acquisition and restoration of the steel-hulled square-rigger Balclutha that gave the museum landmark status. Over the years, the Balclutha was joined at Hyde Street pier by a number of historic craft, both sail and steam. Balclutha will reopen to the public soon after a three-month visit to an Alameda drydock. Work includes regular maintenance and installation of a new chair lift to her cargo hold exhibits. The electric lift is the first phase of a long-term initiative to increase access for more park visitors to experience this square-rigged National Historic Landmark. Balclutha′s steel-plated hull will also be sandblasted, inspected and freshly painted. Her poop deck will be repaired, and then recaulked. All her yards (the masts′ horizontal crosspieces) will be removed and inspected.

The Balclutha was known as Star of Alaska and Pacific Queen. She is the only square-rigged ship left in our area. She was built in 1886 by Charles Connell and Company of Scotstoun in Glasgow, Scotland, for Robert McMillan, of Dumbarton, Scotland. Her namesake is said to be the eponymous town of Balclutha, New Zealand, but her name also refers to her first homeport, Glasgow, Scotland. Designed as a general trader, Balclutha rounded Cape Horn 17 times in thirteen years. She carried cargoes such as wine, case oil and coal from Europe and the East Coast of the United States to various ports in the Pacific. These included Chile for nitrate, Australia and New Zealand for wool, Burma for rice, San Francisco for grain, and the Pacific Northwest for timber.

In 1899, Balclutha transferred to the registry of Hawaii, and traded timber from the Pacific Northwest to Australia, returning to San Francisco with Australian coal. In 1902, Balclutha was chartered to the Alaska Packers′ Association (APA). After having struck a reef off of Sitkinak Island near Kodiak Island in May of 1904, she was renamed the Star of Alaska when bought by APA for mere $500.

After extended repairs she joined the salmon fishing trade, sailing north from the San Francisco area to Chignik Bay, Alaska, in April with supplies, fishermen, and cannery workers, and returned in September with a cargo of canned salmon.

In 1933, Star of Alaska was renamed Pacific Queen by her new owner Frank Kissinger. In this guise she appeared in the film “Mutiny on the Bounty” starring Clark Gable and Charles Laughton. She then eked out an existence as an exhibition ship, gradually deteriorating, and was for a while exhibited as a pirate ship.

In 1954, Pacific Queen was acquired by the San Francisco Maritime Museum. It is a favorite for overnight school outings and sea shanties.


Carnage In The Route Du Rhum

The Route du Rhum is a transatlantic single-handed yacht race which takes place every 4 years in November. The course is between Saint Malo, Brittany, France and Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe. The first competition, won by Canadian Michael Birch in his boat Olympus Photo by a margin of 98 seconds over second-placed Michel Malinovsky in Kriter V was held in 1978, and was marked in tragedy by the disappearance of Alain Colas during the crossing.

In 1978, Michel Etevenon, intended the first Route du Rhum to be the transat of freedom. Monohulls and multihulls were mixed without class divisions and without size restrictions. Professionals and amateurs competed under the same rules and all outside aids to navigation were allowed on an open course.

As it only happens once every four years, 2018 will see the 11th run of this legendary trans-Atlantic sailing race. It kicks off from Saint-Malo with around 100 boats competing across six categories. Join the 200,000 people who gather to witness their departure from Quai Saint-Vincent and Quai Saint-Louis, directly in front of the city ramparts. With a total distance of 3,542 miles, the Route du Rhum is a serious challenge.

It was conquered by Mike Birch on a small yellow trimaran in the very first year, Loïck Peyron on a giant multihull in 2014, Florence Arthaud (the first female winner) in 1990 and Laurent Bourgnon, the only skipper to win twice, in 1994 and 1998.

The who, what and why of routing is often the case in this race as the first few days of racing can shape the result.

While the IMOCA and Class40 fleets must make all their decisions themselves, the ULTIMES and Multi50s rely on a strategy and small-scale decisions which are made in close collaboration with shore-based weather routers.

The giant ULTIMES, will average more than 30kts and are expected to reach Guadeloupe in around six days, and the Multi50s need almost constant attention. There is just not the time for the solo skipper to spend the required hours downloading and monitoring weather files and data to run multiple possible routes and to prepare a strategy. It is unsafe.

Sebastien Josse, solo skipper of ULTIME Gitana Maxi Edmonde de Rothschild explains: “The router knows how hard it is to do some maneuvers, so if he can save me one tack or gybe then he will do that. He knows that if we could do three gybes and maybe gain seven minutes or two minutes from doing two, then he will also know that you can lose minutes in the maneuver. The first gybe can be OK, the second is worse and the third you are finished. You have lost that possible gain. So, he knows what you can do and what the balance of return is.”

Increasingly, skippers are choosing to work with a new, younger generation of solo sailors as routers who are perhaps more in tune with the soloist′s competitive mindset. The routers will draw down the weather files between two and four times per day depending on the model they choose, bringing in wind and wave state files as well as satellite images which are useful for analyzing the passage of the fronts and for spotting squalls, particularly in the trade winds. Several different models are used which offer different resolutions.

Frances Joyon, the record-breaking skipper of IDEC Sport is notoriously self-sufficient but has brought in Gwenole Gahinet as one of his key crew on the Jules Verne Trophy who explains: “In certain situations, particularly related to the sea state, we recall what it is like on board, so we know where to set the level, where to place the cursor. Sometimes we may have to degrade the polar (the maximum target speed) to 30% to stay in the realms of safety.” 

The weather router is in constant contact with the skipper communicating mostly by text messages or WhatsApp on the iridium phone network. For the ULTIMES the routing, down to the number of maneuvers, tacks and gibes, will be pretty much known already as the skippers start the race. It is the fine detail that the solo skipper needs so that he can prepare changes of sail or trim in advance.


Thomson Misses Alarm, Leaving Hugo Boss On The Rocks!

The British yachtsman Alex Thomson stood on board his damaged yacht, Hugo Boss, moored to the quayside in Guadeloupe on Friday morning (16 November) and told the assembled media that he did not deserve to win the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe.

Thomson had been leading the 3,542-nautical mile solo transatlantic race almost from the start and was approaching the Guadeloupe archipelago when he over-slept, allowing his boat to hit the rocks on the northernmost tip of Grande Terre island.

In order to save his boat from being wrecked the 44-year-old sailor from Gosport, England, had to start his engine to get back into deeper water. Although he managed to complete the race and was the first in the 20-strong IMOCA class to cross the finish line earlier today, he was subsequently handed a 24-hour time penalty by the race jury for using his engine. This means that Thomson is not only very unlikely to win the race, he is also likely to drop out of the top-three with Paul Meilhat on SMA the likely winner.

A clearly hugely disappointed and at times emotional Thomson put a brave face on his fate. The grounding that caused apparently only superficial damage to the bow, stern and one foil on the starboard side of his boat, came in the closing stages of what would have been a thumping victory and his first major race-win in his 20-year professional career.

“It′s a real shame for me and the team to be in the position that we are in,” said Thomson who has been third and second in consecutive Vendee Globe solo round-the-world races. “The jury has decided that I have a 24-hour penalty which will mean I will not win the race. How do I feel about that? Well I think that is very fair because I don′t think I should win the race after hitting Guadeloupe.” This was greeted with spontaneous applause from his audience.

“This sport is about detail and, in the final last minutes, I didn′t get the detail right. Like I say, to be last night grounded on the rocks, I just feel very lucky to be here with the boat with very little wrong with it. A few holes but I sailed here under my own steam, so I feel very fortunate,” said Thomson.

Thomson explained that he had gone to sleep knowing he would soon come close to a gybe point off the coast. However, a wristwatch that he wears that is designed to give an electric shock to wake him, failed to go off because it was out of charge and he slept through the audio alarm.

“I slept through, I didn′t hear it and when I woke up the alarms were going, and the boat was strange,” said Thomson. “I went up on deck and I could see Guadeloupe. I didn′t know it was Guadeloupe. I couldn′t understand what was happening until I looked at the chart and then I could see I was on Guadeloupe... ha-ha... I had arrived! Live and learn.”

The accident occurred at the north end of Grande Terre, just south of the Grande Vigie lighthouse on La Pointe a Claude. Upon hitting the cliff, Thomson had to lower his sails and start his engine to reverse his boat from the rocks. He was able to extract himself from the reefs before re-hoisting his sails to resume his passage. Thomson stopped his engine and then set a new seal on the propeller shaft. The skipper was not injured but there is damage to his boat. The crash box in the bow was damaged and had taken in water but it is contained, and the bowsprit was damaged. The water was contained by the forward bulkhead. The starboard foil was also reported to be damaged.


Capsize For Le Cleach On Tough Second Day

At the end of the second day of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe an Atlantic storm that had been forecast at the start made itself felt across the whole fleet with one boat capsized, two dismasted and many sailors electing to seek shelter in French and Spanish ports.

The most serious incident of an action-packed 24 hours, as the fleet continued west and south out of the Bay of Biscay into the Atlantic proper, was the capsize by French former Vendee Globe winner, Armel Le Cleac′h, on board Maxi SoloBanque Populaire IX.

The big blue and white trimaran was running in third place in the depleted ULTIME class when its port float snapped off in 30-35 knots of wind and five-meter waves. The boat then turned over but Le Cleac′h was reported to be safe inside his central hull about 340 nautical miles northeast of the Azores.

As the maritime rescue coordination center (CROSS) at Griz Nez in northern France took control of the operation to rescue Le Cleac′h, Jacques Caraës, the Race Director, explained how Le Cleac′h′s second capsize this year in this boat unfolded - his first one came during a training sail off Morocco in April.

“We received a call from CROSS at 13.23 hours French time after Armel activated his distress beacon,” he said. “Ronan Lucas the Banque Populaire team manager informed us that the boat had capsized and that Armel is inside and safe in the central hull. He is gathering all his safety and survival equipment while he is waiting for rescue. He is 450 nautical miles from Lisbon and 320 nautical miles from Punta Delgada, so slightly closer to the Azores,” added Caraës. “It is too far away for a helicopter to go to the site, but we know via the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre that a plane is flying over to check out the situation. Armel is OK and is getting ready to be evacuated.”

Earlier in the day there were two dismasting′s. In the IMOCA division the Franco-German sailor Isabelle Joschke lost her rig when holding seventh position and had to turn back towards the French coast. Then the same fate befell the British skipper Sam Goodchild on board Narcos Mexico in the Class40 fleet.

While the majority of the 123 skippers continued blasting their way along the 3,542-mile course towards Point-a-Pitre, there were nearly 50 boats that were either seeking shelter along the French and Spanish coasts or heading back towards the French coast with technical issues that were preventing them from continuing.

The badly damaged Banque Populaire IX was returned to Vigo. After the capsize, the objective was to recover the damaged elements of the boat. There, first appraisals by Team Banque Populaire, confirm that the ULTIME is in a badly deteriorated state.

“Despite all our efforts the storm has badly affected the boat which has become detached from itself and in this state rebuilding looks impossible. When we think of all the people who contributed to this fabulous project, we are all very sad about this outcome. But we are already hard at work to consider the continuation of this magnificent history with Banque Populaire,” said Ronan Lucas, director for the team.


Francis Joyon Wins The Route Du Rhum

Francis Joyon wins the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe in new record time taking line honors and setting a new record time for the 3,542-nautical mile Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe.

At the helm of the maxi-trimaran IDEC Sport, Joyon completed the singlehanded race in seven days, 14 hours and 21 minutes, beating the existing course record by just 46 minutes and 45 seconds.

The 62 year old Frenchman also won the ULTIME class which features giant trimarans. In a thrilling head-to-head match race to the line, the closest finish since the first race in 1978, Joyon held off his younger compatriot Francois Gabart to win by only seven minutes and eight seconds. 7d 14h 21mn 47sec at 19.42 knots on the theoretical course of 3,542 miles in an actual distance traveled: 4,367 miles at 23.95 knots!

The 40th anniversary and 11th edition of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe is not over yet. There are still plenty of intrepid Class40 and Rhum class skippers making their way to the Caribbean, but we now have winners in all six classes and the overall shape of the race is starting to emerge.

Looking back over the 18 days of competition, occasional drama and a lot of blood, sweat and tears, it is quite clear that this was an absolute classic Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe that has only enhanced its status as one of the key races in the solo ocean racing calendar, alongside The Transat and the Vendee Globe solo round-the-world race.

The beauty of this contest is the way it combines a brutal start in the cold, disturbed autumnal air of the north Atlantic and Bay of Biscay with the easier and warmer conditions of the trade winds. But a notable feature this time is just how challenging the north-easterly trades have been for many skippers. The notion that once they had survived the series of depressions of the first 10 days, it would all be plain sailing to Pointe-a-Pitre has proved far from the case. The trade wind has been boisterous, squally and unpredictable and many of the leading skippers have found the final days to the finish extremely wearing as they battled exhaustion and often contending with auto-pilots struggling to keep boats on track.

These were sailors who were able to cope with the physical and psychological onslaught of three successive storm systems while keeping their boats on track but, at the same time, not breaking them. It was a test of experience and seamanship and for many of those chasing them it would prove a tough school in which to learn.

So, what were the stand-out performances? Well, it is difficult to look further than the remarkable transatlantic match-race between Joyon and Gabart who put on a master-class on the fastest ocean-going sailing boats in the world. They made something difficult and dangerous look easy. Some might say that the course should be changed to avoid going around the leeward side of Basse-Terre at the death, but it presented the same challenge for both sailors and Joyon, a living legend of the sport, used all his guile to sneak past the superstar of the younger generation.

While records in almost all classes have been broken, the preparedness of many of the sailors to share their adventures with us made this a thrilling sporting event. One element that has come across loud and clear is just what a huge and life-changing undertaking the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe is for almost all who take part in it. It requires months of preparation and then a steely determination once the starting gun has been fired.

There are still many stories to tell, not least by the marvelous Loïc Peyron who is steadily closing on the finish line on board his little yellow trimaran, and eric Bellion who is trundling across the Atlantic on his big schooner. I have also been keeping an eye on Dominque Dubois who has doggedly kept to his task on his 50-foot monohull despite enduring what looked like a horrendous first 10 days in the Biscay.

That′s it for this month. Check in with me at H

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