News & Views

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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Off The Boat, Boy

 

In yesterday's post on the boats abandoned in this year's ARC I mentioned how improved comms technology has made it easy for modern ocean sailors to bail out when the going gets tough.  In most cases, as with the ARC boats, the question is whether the crew instead might reasonably repair or jury-rig the vessel in question.  But better communications at sea can have all kinds of weird implications.

Take, for example, Bernt Luchtenborg, an extremely competent German solo voyager who was five months into a projected non-stop double circumnavigation aboard his 52-foot cutter Horizons when he smacked into something, probably a whale, and broke off his rudder on November 24 about 430 miles west of New Zealand.  Luchtenborg is the real deal.  He didn't believe he was in any danger and went straight to work building a new rudder out of a cabin door.  But he also let folks on shore what was going on and in the end was brow-beaten into abandoning ship by his wife and insurance company.

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ARC Boats Abandoned

 

Organizers of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, the Big Daddy of all cruising rallies, with 223 boats currently en rout e from the Canary Islands to St. Lucia, announced Tuesday that a participating boat, a 53-foot Bruce Roberts cutter named Pelican (pictured here prior to the rally start), was abandoned Monday about 325 miles west of the Cape Verdes.  This is the second ARC boat abandoned so far this year, the first being a 53-foot one-off race boat, Auliana II, which was abandoned November 23, just 36 hours after the rally start in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

I always hate to second-guess decisions like these, because you never really know what the situation was unless you were right there onboard.  But I also know that modern communications technology can make it easy to get off a boat before it might really be necessary.  This is definitely one of those hard calls I pray I personally will never have to make.

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Stored Power, You Say?



Having already altered the America's Cup racing rules to permit the use of "stored-power" on competing vessels, Ernesto "the Alinghi" Bertarelli is now hard at work trying to figure out what sort of stored-power system will best help him retain the Cup.  Our spies in Europe tell us he has recently tested a radical new system featuring an aerodynamic internal combustion engine that turns a circular series of "rotor sails."  The engine reportedly will be tethered to the deck of Ernesto's new super-duper catamaran (appropriately named Alinghi 5) by a series of cables.  Team Alinghi designers and tech heads are rumored to be worried that the new engine/sail system may in fact generate enough lift to carry the boat into the air.  The Alinghi's lawyers are therefore hard at work seducing the ISAF into further revising the racing rules to delete a provision requiring competing vessels to remain in contact with the water.

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Storm Porn

Don't you love it???

Not the storms themselves, of course.  I'm talking about the images, the luscious satellite photography that lets us view glorious atmospheric blemishes like hurricanes from the ultimate POV.

The most attractive North Atlantic storm of 2009 (so far), IMHO, was Hurricane Bill, seen here on August 18 far from land just one day before before he maximized to Category 4 status.  Subsequently he brushed past the Eastern seaboard before degenerating into a warm wet blob that moseyed on east to molest northern Europe for a bit.

Thankfully, at least as far as us sailors are concerned, the North Atlantic hurricane season has been a dud this year (knock on wood). Seems like the first in a long time.

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