News & Views

That Crazy Italian Guy

I first met Alessandro di Benedetto on a dock in November 1992 in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, as we were both preparing to sail across the North Atlantic from the Canary Islands to the Bahamas to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage to America. I was crewing on an Australian-owned Taswell 56 called Antipodes that was enrolled with 145 other yachts in Jimmy Cornell's America 500 rally. Alessandro planned to cross with his father on a 18-foot Hobie Cat called United States of the World.

As I remember, Alessandro was the quiet one; his father, Federico, was the voluble, talkative one. They roamed the docks where all the rally boats were tied up handing out photocopies of a letter they had sent to the Secretary General of the United Nations. In the letter they explained that the purpose of their voyage was to help establish a new democratic international order based on economic justice and environmental responsibility. Not surprisingly, they were often referred to casually as "those crazy Italian guys."

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Too Much Teen Spirit?

 

So now the fat is in the fire. We have two pubescent girls on the loose bound non-stop around the globe via Cape Horn and the Southern Ocean with all the world watching and cheering them on. Abby Sunderland, age 16 (in the photo above), departed Marina del Rey in Los Angeles on Saturday, and as I write is west of Ensenada heading south down the Mexican coast. Meanwhile, her rival, Jessica Watson, also 16, of Queensland, Australia, who already cleared Cape Horn on January 13, suffered multiple knockdowns over the weekend while riding out a 70-knot gale. During the worst of these her boat, an S&S 34 called Ella's Pink Lady, was reportedly inverted at a 180-degree angle. Jessica's EPIRB was ignited, though not intentionally, and both she and her boat are purportedly in good shape.

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Global Plumbing

 

Here's an oceanic news flash from the realm of geoscience: the Bering Strait is a valve that can play an important role in global climate trends. Open the valve (its current position; see photo) and the northern hemisphere tends to get cooler. Close the valve and it tends to get warmer.

No, this intriguing bit of climatological wisdom will not prove useful next time you have to dismantle your marine toilet...

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Some Catching Up To Do

 

Happy New Year, sports fans. I'm just back from a post-Xmas family cruise on Lunacy down in the W'Indies, of which more later, but today I wanted to give you some quick updates on three evolving stories we were following back there in the tail end of 2009.

First up the Cup. Ernie Bertarelli has fortunately succeeded in getting his boat Alinghi 5 to Valencia for next month's America's Cup showdown. No information yet on how he managed to smooth things over in RAK, but presumably some species of time-consuming negotiation was involved. RAK, after all, is much closer to Valencia than San Diego, and in the end the two super-sized AC multihulls arrived on their respective freighters within hours of each other this past Sunday.

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Yachts of Titan

 

NASA's Cassini probe, currently in orbit around the planet Saturn, has in recent years confirmed that there are large liquid lakes of methane, ethane, and propane on the s urface of Saturn's moon Titan. (The radar image seen here was gathered by Cassini in July 2006.) Titan also has a dense atmosphere, which, believe it or not, makes it more like Earth than any other planetary body we know of. Might it make a decent cruising ground? One group of scientists, led by Dr. Ellen Stofan of Proxemy Research, is dying to find out. Last week at the American Geophysical Union's Fall Meeting in San Francisco, Stofan presented details of her proposal to land a boat on one of Titan's largest methane lakes, known as Ligeia Mare, which is believed to be about the size of the Caspian Sea.

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Teen Sailor Busted

 

Theory has it that publicizing teen suicides just encourages more kids to off themselves. So I've been a good little blogger and have kept my laptop shut about this neverending kids-who-want-to-sail-around-the-world-alone-and-break-a-record story. But this past weekend the whole phenomenon went beyond weird when the youngest and most enigmatic of the current trio of contenders, Laura Dekker, age 14, escaped from the watchful eye of the Dutch government, which effectively had her under house arrest, and lit out for St. Maarten.

By plane, that is. The rather small boat, a 26-foot sloop named Guppy, that she would like to sail around the world solo is still sitting on its mooring in the Netherlands. Apparently Laura went missing last Friday, an international APB was issued, someone spotted her yesterday in SXM, and now she has been detained and is being sent home under a police escort.

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Wing Nuts And Lawyers

 

There have been a few developments since my last tongue-in-cheek post about the America's Cup, so I thought I'd bloviate a bit more on the topic. Don't worry. I'll try hard to be serious this time. You've probably heard yesterday's news that a New York appellate court shot down Ernie Bertarelli's appeal of a lower court decision ruling out RAK as a race venue. I'm sure you know, too, that Larry Ellison last month unveiled a very impressive hard wingsail that has been tested successfully on his BMW Oracle trimaran. Both wing and tri have just been loaded on to a freighter in San Diego and are now en route to Valencia, Spain, for the final showdown with Ernie's Alinghi catamaran in February. Many are acting now like the legal rumpus must be over and there's nothing left to do but (finally!) have a sailboat race, but I'm not so sure it will be that simple.

For one thing, Ernie's cat is still in RAK and it's not at all clear he'll be able to get it out. It seems very likely the only reason he appealed the lower court's anti-RAK ruling was to propitiate the powers-that-be there. He has also promised that if he wins this match the next America's Cup will for sure be held in RAK. But the sheikhs in RAK have already spent $120 million preparing for this America's Cup and probably feel like idiots for ever believing Ernie could make good on his initial promise to race there this time around. If I were those sheikhs I'd seize that cat with the quickness and shake down Ernie for some cash reimbursement.

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Longest Solo Voyage

 

As of Saturday December 12 this past weekend my friend Reid Stowe has broken the record for the longest non-stop solo ocean voyage ever made.  The previous record (658 days) was set by Australian Jon Sanders when he completed his non-stop triple circumnavigation over 20 years ago in 1988.  Reid's "Mission Control" shore team, which administers and maintains his 1000 Days at Sea website, has also more-or-less officially announced that Reid will finally be returning to dry land in late June of next year and is taking the first steps to organize a homecoming welcoming flotilla.  If you want to participate, just follow the link in the previous sentence and get in touch with Mission Control.

For those with short memories, allow me to refresh your recollections.  Reid first set out from New York City aboard his home-built 70-foot schooner Anne way back in April 2007.  He had one crew-member aboard, a young female photographer, Soanya Ahmad, who had exactly zero sailing experience.  Reid's stated purpose was to stay at sea for 1,000 days.  As of today he is up to Day 966, thus is a little more than a month away from reaching his original objective.

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Wounded Boats (And Folk) In Bermuda

 

As I mentioned in the last edition of the Lunacy Report, sailing to Bermuda from New England in the fall is always the hardest part of getting south for the winter season in the Caribbe an.  This year was no exception.  Though Lunacy made it in good form after a delayed departure (knock on wood for that), I encountered a few other vessels in the anchorage at St. Georges last month that weren't so lucky.  At the top of the list was a strong 52-foot steel cutter, Cha Cha, skippered by Rich Littauer.  If you examine today's lead photo closely, you'll notice Rich is sporting a rather scraggly scar on the upper portions of his noggin.  It represents only one bullet point on the long list of his misfortunes.

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