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Posts Tagged ‘USCG’

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image1We’ve watched from afar as the Watertribe Everglades Challenge went from a wacky little raid to the biggest race of its kind anywhere, and we’ve been massively impressed to see organizer and founder Steve “Chief” Isaac negotiate the fine line between staying off the radar and creating an exciting, interesting format that allows kayaks and canoes to compete with multihull and monohull dinghies.  Isaac made one mistake though – he tried to stay ‘pirate’ when it was time to get along with The Man, and the result is a pissed off Coast Guard, pissed off competitors, and an event that’s now been thrust into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.  Chief has responded in a pretty solid way (and you can see another movie of the event here) but the conversation rages on (with tons of reports, links, and photos to tell the story).

Longtime SA friends Ron White and Mike McGarry were very much on pace to win this Everglades Challenge until it all went sideways – here’s Ron’s story.  Following it is his analysis of the race conditions and organization, and remember: Ron would never tell you so, but he’s one of the key figures behind the undisputed success of the largest freshwater distance race in the world – the Chicago Mackinac.

As a competitor, I can tell you that I am aggravated almost beyond words.  Since last year’s event we have spent an entire year prepping, modifying, and testing our entry, including two training trips to FL.  Just the process of adding a masthead screecher and rowing-seat rig was mind boggling, expensive and fun, but make no mistake: We spent the time and the money to in search of a first-to-finish victory, and we sure wouldn’t have done it just to mess around with my Tornado “for fun”.

Mike and I have a track record of approaching the kind of stuff methodically and professionally.  We can’t afford to screw up since we are both type 1 diabetics.  Not everybody has that dynamic, but for this race, there was nothing surprising or unexpected about the forecast at all.  We knew there would be a flood tide opposing 15ish knots of wind on Tampa bay.  It was a PERFECT day to be on the water, we crushed it at the start and getting out of the Bay, and then we flew down the coast to Stump, arriving at Checkpoint 1 (CP1) 3 minutes behind the Howe brothers at 12:12.  Game on!!!

When we arrived at CP1 expecting to do a 15 minute turn around, we were informed that we had to stay put, and the reasons given were “sketchy” at best.  We then learned that the USCG had “terminated” the race by reading news reports online (more on this later).  We remained at CP1 for about 6 hours with a handful of other sailing competitors, on basis that Chief was trying to get the USCG to allow us to resume racing.

image3The group at CP1 discussed the situation and several decided to continue down the course to Key Largo, not racing, but a cruise.  The Howes (Loudmouth and SailsFast) decided to do the entire course including checkpoints, for the sake of training.  Mike and I decided to skip CP2 (No reason to battle the 10,000 islands if not racing and we’ve been there, done that) and proceed directly to Flamingo.  we left CP1 at about 6:15 PM on Saturday and sailed for about 18 hours to Flamingo.  It was a spectacular and physically grueling sail.  When God invented the beach cat it probably wasn’t intended to race overnight, offshore in 15 to 25 kts of wind and 6 to 8 foot seas! While grueling, it was fun, and the hardest thing was finding a way to sleep.  We switch off the helm every hour, and the challenge was to find the least uncomfortable but still secure spot – settling on the tramp after numerous other failed attempts.  It was wet but secure and you were able to relax in between getting water-boarded.  Waterboarding = torture?  Wimps.

By the time we were making the turn into Flamingo, the wind was building and gusting to 25 plus, we put in a second reef and landed in Flamingo in the early afternoon.  We decided that since the forecast was for the E/SE wind to continue at 20-25 that we had no reason to spend 13 or so hours punching close-hauled across FL Bay (been there, done that, too).  We called our wives and they brought the truck and trailer to us.

The Howe brothers have another incredible story, earned while going for the full EC course.  Their ride – an ARC 22 cat – is a powerful boat, and they were flying as they approached the 1000 islands having rounded Cape Romano.   The Howes were about 10 miles from Indian Key when their rear crossbeam broke in half at the end of the traveler!  Ryan Howe jumped into action, grabbing both ends of the busted beam, holding the boat together while “Super Todd” dropped the main in about 10 seconds.

In 4-6 foot seas and what seemed like about a one-second period, they pulled off the boom, lashing it to the beam as a splint. Under jib alone, with a 145 degree tacking angle, they only had two choices: Marco Island or Mexico. While Mexico would have been an easier ride, neither Howe had their passport with them, so Marco it was!

We have lots of miles and dozens of races under our belts sailing both with and against the Howes, and they are simply some of the best, toughest sailors and watermen we know.  It took them 12 hours to sail back to Marco, and the entire way they had no idea if the boat would hold together.  True professionals, fully in the spirit of the Watertribe, there was no way they were going to summon rescue unless it was the only option.

The Everglades Challenge provided us with a truly momentous challenge to finish first, which has always been our goal.  Part of our disappointment stems from the fact that given our boat’s potential and the Howe’s situation, we were actually in a position to accomplish that tough goal – a tiny window that opens rarely and for this year, closed immediately.  Because there was no race.

Some conclusions for now:

1. The weather in no way warranted terminating the event, and conditions didn’t deteriorate, they actually went from great to better.  The Watertribe rules call for participants to be “expert” paddlers or sailors, not for them to acquire their expertise during the event.  This is really tough to police with any major event.  At the start we and our wives and friends observed several competitors that appeared ill-prepared for the conditions, but the vast majority were fine.  Given the forecast it was clear how one needed to be dressed and prepared.  The Tribe has to figure out a better method of screening entrants and a better process of pre-race inspection.

2.  I in know way blame the USCG for their action.  Given that there was no Marine Event Permit, and that apparently a  911 call initiated that resulted from an unknown source, when the coast guard arrived and were surprised by what they saw and absent satisfactory answers a decision was made.  I have personally applied for 4 separate MEP’s involving the Mac and worked with the USCG for years.  The Mac relationship with the USCG is fantastic.  We honor them at our events, and thank  them officially for their service before and after.  Even when the shit hits the fan as it did a few years ago, they simply work with us as a team to improve when it is necessary.  Facing the truth, there are lots of chuckleheads and morons on the water, and all of us have stories about idiots who don’t follow the rules.  Law enforcement at any level deals with them on a daily basis and has a conditioned response, call it boater “profiling”.  Had the USCG been informed of what was happening, I don’t believe they would have panicked at the sight of 130 or so small boats and kayaks crossing a major shipping channel.  They would have put out information releases to mariners and even policed the area and kept the path clear while the congestion was a factor, which is a relatively brief period.  Some will argue that law enforcement is a bunch of armed jack-booted thugs with an attitude.  I hate generalizations, and that is just not fair.  Maybe in the past the old system has worked but this “perfect storm” has changed the landscape, and there is no question that for the event to survive the USCG will have to be involved and changes will have to be made.

2.  I am a big fan of the “Chief”.  He has proven to be a visionary and created something that is now legendary and is watched around the world.  That one guy has carried the load virtually singlehandedly all these years is truly remarkable (no disrespect intended to the many CP captains and folks who assist).  I I stated in my pre-race memo, the event has literally changed my life in regards to the physical conditioning and training I have done to participate.  I would encourage anyone who has the ability to set a goal and go hard for it to make a plan and try it.  However, the event is at a point where it needs a more professional level of management, not to replace the Chief, but to support him.  It is ironic that Chief is now up to his armpits in alligators, but he has posted a very contrite acknowledgment and is already working with the USCG to resolve the issues and make the event survive.  He’s a standup guy and he now needs our support.  I have lots of suggestions and will save them for Chief.

And Swampmonkee and ChainSaw will return next year to accomplish our goal…and earn another sharks-tooth necklace.

Coastie and Clam Counter just arrived at the dock in Key Largo at 11:20 AM today 3/10.  We were their welcoming party.  All is well.


March 11th, 2015 by admin

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UPDATE 1: Here’s a shot of the boat just before leaving the dock.

UPDATE 2: Here’s yet another crew rescued off the East Coast this weekend, this time from a Condor 40 trimaran.  Details in the thread.

Like a well-written tragedy, the story of Reg and Jason McGlashan starts off from with a feel-good, family friendly triumph and ends with a near-death experience.  From the Newport Daily News:

The younger McGlashan has sailed since childhood from the port city of Port Macquarie, located between Brisbane and Sydney on the east coast of Australia. He first set eyes on Sedona when it appeared on eBay, the online auction site. He bought the sailboat with a winning bid of $10,000, U.S. currency.

He already had a racing boat that needed work, McGlashan acknowledged, but Sedona’s lines were too beautiful and her asking price was too good to pass up.

“I like to shop local as much as the next guy, but so many things are so much cheaper in America,” he said. “A sailboat like this back home, in the condition it was in, would go for $150,000 American, at least. New, we’re talking $300,000, easily.”

Having spent months here renovating the ‘classic plastic’ N/M 43′ Sedona from Carroll Marine, completely done with all the insane snow,  the McGlashans set off from Rhode Island into the teeth of this weekend’s blizzard.  And a day later, with the sails in tatters, the engine broken, and no options left, the boys in orange hoisted the father/son crew through near hurricane-force winds and blinding snow, into the waiting arms of a MH-60 Jayhawk crew.

Another nice one from the USCG.  Full rescue story here, with pics. And a thread to talk about it here.


February 16th, 2015 by admin

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We first got to know Chris Branning when he was barely out of diapers as part of Disney’s Morning Light program, and as a former shipmate of Mr. Clean (poor kid – ed)), and as he’s gone from grommet to sought-after offshore navigator to helicopter rescue pilot, we’ve seen what an incredible young man he has become. And when Charlie and Mark from Team Alvimedica brought him aboard their Volvo 65 during tryouts, we were extremely excited to see it – and not for Branning’s sake.

We see the US-skippered Alvimedica as having a genuine chance of really impacting the sport’s perception here in America, and Branning would make that about a hundred times easier.  Branning is the anti-yachtie.  He’s soft-spoken but extremely bright, wears his heart on his sleeve, is tall and good-looking without being intimidating, and he just oozes honesty and character.  In other words, he’s a media dream.  Add to that the fact that his job as pilot of a USCG Search-and-Rescue chopper makes him one of the only human beings on Earth that this divided America unanimously loves; the most ignorant redneck fisherman on the Florida panhandle is just as much of a fan of USCG rescue pilots as a Wall Street investment banker sailing his Concordia out of the NYYC.

Which makes this video all that more poignant, because no matter how much we wish it was, is isn’t a crew profile.  Rather, longtime SA videographer and now VOR moviemaker Sam Greenfield put this movie together to show us that best intentions are not always enough, and that life can sometimes get in the way of the perfect opportunity; thanks to his demanding job saving lives, Branning will be watching this VOR from afar.

As you’d expect from a guy of his character, Branning is still 100% supportive of his friends, and he sent a few words over to share his thoughts on what they’ve done:

“I think it will take years before what the sailing world realizes what Mark and Charlie have done. For sailing to progress as a commercially viable sport, to compete against the mainstream sports especially in the USA, the process of fund sourcing had to shift. Sailing doesn’t need another watch captain, skipper, rigger, or trimmer; though we greatly appreciate the talents of those roles. Sailing needs “board-room” sailors. Educated, professional sailors who can take off the foul weather gear, put on a suit and walk into the board room to pitch, present, argue, defend, convince, cajole, and earn the money to go sailing at the highest level. That is what our sport needs. Few people can fathom the amount of work and risk that takes.  Charlie and Mark, in their mid-twenties, did just that.

“They brought another boat to the starting line of the Volvo Ocean Race, and in the process, they paved the path for younger sailors to do the same.  Did they change the sport forever?  It’s too early to know that.  But they did something no one has ever done here, and I salute them for it.”


August 27th, 2014 by admin

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Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 9.56.00 AMUPDATE:  The US Fifth Fleet Public Affairs Office got in touch with us on Thursday morning to confirm that indeed an Iranian motorized dhow was the boat fired on.  Not a sailboat.  And for the 200 millionth time this year, American journalists prove they are idiots.

Sailing made the major international news last night when news sites everywhere began reporting that the a RIB from the USCG Island-Class Cutter Monomoy fired a single warning shot at an Iranian ‘sailboat’ yesterday in the Arabian Gulf, though we suspect that, as usual, they’ve got it somewhat wrong – at least the part about the sailboat.  As far as we can tell, the US 5th Fleet reported only that a tender to the Monomoy fired a warning shot at an Iranian dhow in response to the boat pointing a .50 cal machine gun at the RIB, which was approaching the Iranian boat for an inspection.  While there are certainly sailing dhows in the area – some of them pretty awesome – we suspect that stupid reporters and editors are behind this one; a quick search for the word ‘dhow’ could certainly lead a moron reporter and editor to think the US was trying to sink a sailboat despite the fact that there are far more non-sailing dhows than sailing dhows.

Of course the USCG is pretty useless, too.  When we tried to verify the dhow story with the Commander responsible for media inquiries at USCG HQ, we found his voicemail to be full – and this is the guy whose primary job is to field phone calls from reporters.  We’ll update you if his e-mail inbox isn’t over its limit.



August 27th, 2014 by admin

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SA’er Clove Hitch shares a less-than-satisfactory story of the ‘folks who keep us safe.’

The Friday evening of Memorial Day weekend, my buddy and I headed out on our little shitbox modest yacht in the Chesapeake. It was steady 14 with gusts to 21 and building; we were under a no. 3 job and a reefed main but still overpowered. We headed north  to the Bay Bridge, warming up a bowl of chili I’d made the night before. It was the kind of glorious nighttime sailing I’d so missed: Clear skies, bright stars, big wind, and other than us, no one around.

Except, of course, the US Coast Guard; and here’s a poem about what happened.

On a moonless night with faded stars
10 billion candle power seen from afar,
throbbing white, flashing blue, red, green and bright
the Coast Guard approaches with search lights.

They boarded with a bash or two and a bonk,
muscle-bound youths tatted with nautical-themed sleeves,
more ink than had my Grandpa that served on the Gleaves.
We lingered in irons while they sniffed about

and put their boots in chili they had spilled,
cabin sole covered, aluminum bracket killed,
paint torn off, though they gave us a touch of theirs.
You mariners on the whale-road beware:
your knowledge, gear and skill are no shield
to the Coasties you must always yield

when they come in the night blazing ignorance.
They came up to leeward and there was on audible “crunch” when they bashed into our transom/side, while two guys scampered on. One coastie had more badass ink than I’d ever seen: His name in signal flags, anchors, and so on, and all of 22 years old. His buddy plops down in the cockpit with his check list, slapping the seat with his hand.  ”This is wood, right?”

I’ve heard people say the CG doesn’t know much about boats, but I never really believed it until then. We told him it was fiberglass. Next, he asks about our auxiliary power. “We have a 6 horse,” my buddy says.

“You have twin sixes?”

Uh, no. Sure don’t.

I dug around and we got through their little safety check. They were polite, but seriously ignorant, and seriously damaging. The next morning we noticed that they took off some of our shiny new paint, giving us some of their own as is to say, “Our bad, have some of our paint since we took some of yours’.  They had also crunched an aluminum bracket on the transom that holds on the rub rail/hull-deck joint cover.

UntitledNow, some might say, “It’s fine to talk shit about the Coasties, but they are out there saving lives, so have some respect, and STFU.” To this, I offer a humble retort: When I was an ambulance crew chief, if we ever damaged stuff on our way to a call we’d catch all kinds of shit. Hell, even blazing lights and sirens on our way to a sick infant, some townsfolk complained that we were being bullies on the road and our chief had to give us some grief. Now, just imagine if we were playing bumper cars because there was somebody sick? Would that fly?

All I can say to my fellow sailors is that if the CG is going to board you, spring into action. They may or may not wait for you to get your main sail down, they may or may not wait for you to get fenders rigged. But if you do have time to deploy fenders, put every fucking one you have out.


May 31st, 2014 by admin

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After our massive disappointment in the Robert Redford stupid-fest ‘All Is Lost‘, our ears pricked up when the New York Times Sunday Mag printed a long and brilliantly written piece on a NY fisherman’s near-death experience last Sunday.  Like Redford, the NYTMAG has millions of fans, and the story has been the most clicked-on thing over at for 8 days now.  So what’s the problem?

Author Paul Tough, recent author of a book touting how ‘Grit’ helps children succeed, romanticized moron fisherman John Aldridge so heavily in an effort to make a good story that he gave millions of fisherman – most of whom still haven’t heard of personal EPIRBs or sleep deprivation – hope that somehow, their ‘grit’ and a good pair of sea boots are enough to get them past working practices that make their job one of the most dangerous in the entire world of employment.  We understand how an author might want to leave this out of his story; just like in the Redford moronopic (or any one of ten thousand hack-n-slash movies), if a tragedy is easily avoided but for ignorance or hubris, it’s hard to cheer for the protagonist.

The Anarchists are already on it, but so was outspoken safety consultant (and ex USCG SAR-dude) Mario Vittone, who published a snarky response to the piece on Thursday called ‘Trying Very Hard To Die”.  It ain’t the first time Mario and SA have agreed on something, and we consider his piece on kids and drowning from 2010 to be required reading for every parent on the planet.  Here are his ‘five responses’ to the ‘inescapable danger’ that, according to the Times, today’s commercial fishermen face.  Hit GCaptain for the full article.

1. Never work alone on the deck of an open boat while 40 miles offshore when the boat is on autopilot.

2. If you are going to work alone on the open deck of a boat while 40 miles offshore in the dark, consider wearing a life jacket.

3. If you go offshore for a living, consider spending about $275 on a Personal EPIRB.

4. Try to sleep more than zero hours every 24.

5. If you work on a boat where one person is awake while the rest of the crew sleeps, then 1. Reconsider that arrangement, and 2. Spend five dollars on an alarm clock

January 6th, 2014 by admin

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