Tuesday, May 24, 2011

More thoughts about the Chesapeake Sailboat Tragedy

How many NASA rocket scientists does it take to capsize a sailboat?

Sadly, that has a tragic answer: "Ten, but two of them have to die."

I feel terribly sorry for the survivors and families of the victims. Yet the bottom line is that this horrific accident was entirely preventable and the talented, bright young men were lost needlessly.

No, the truth is these two didn't have to die. At every step they could have made different decisions -- not to sail at night after partying, not to overload the boat, to wear life preservers, to have and be able to use other safety and distress signalling gear, to stay with the boat and each other. Sigh.

Thought: If the brains of NASA rocket scientists can't keep them afloat, what chance do the rest of us have without a life preserver?
Of course, you might argue that they have denser brain tissue, but I suspect there's not a statistically measurable difference; we're probably all equally dense in this area.

So, the lesson learned here is that brains will only keep us afloat if we use them.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Dead in the Water... Again, Sigh!

Sigh. Another overloaded sailboat capsizes.
And more death results.

A 22-foot sailboat, overloaded with ten people at night, none of them wearing life preservers, capsized in the Chesapeake Bay during a "late night cruise". One died, one was missing until his body was recovered several days later.

It gets worse: the dead men and their friends were more or less NASA rocket scientists!

San Diego CBS8 article

WTOP FM update on second body

The first dead man "was an associate research engineer for the National Institute of Aerospace, which does research in conjunction with NASA's Langley Research Center." The other nine people on the boat were six graduate students working at the NASA research center and three NASA contractors. The second dead man was one of the grad students, a "University of Maryland graduate research assistant working for the National Institute of Aerospace, which does research work in conjunction with NASA." The second dead man and his roommate apparently were the boat's owners.

What has become of NASA rocket scientists? Guess they aren't what they used to be. Was it smart for ten people to board a small sailboat at night (thought to be a Venture-MacGregor 22), none of them wearing life preservers, and then capsize?

Enough beating up on foolish rocket scientists. While rocket scientists making abysmally stupid decisions is far too tempting a target to ignore, the suffering of the survivors and families is very real and terrible and deserves sympathy and prayer. This is a horrific tragedy, and made worse because it follows hard on the heels of another terrible capsizing of an overloaded MacGregor 26 sailboat earlier this spring in San Diego. In that tragedy, an overloaded sailboat belong to the midwestern Heart of Sailing charity capsized, resulting in two deaths. No life preservers were on those victims, and boat appeared to have not had its water ballast tanks filled and appeared to be grossly out of trim and unbalanced.

An advisory group to the US Coast Guard has recommended expanding the number of people who are required to wear life preservers. Although many sailors resent being told what to do, if the stupidity and avoidable carnage continues there will surely be a reaction in the form of more rules and less individual choice.

For what it's worth, here's the profile picture of the surviving co-owner of the boat, who was aboard for the tragic night:
Looks like these guys know how to have a killer good time. In 2007, the Virginia Legislature passed a law requiring motorboat operators (including operators of most sailboats) under the age of 40 to pass a boating safety class. Unfortunately, this requirement won't be phased in until July 1, 2013 -- two years too late for these bright young men. (Eventually the requirement will be phased in for all Virginia boaters, with very few exceptions.)

"...one of the unanswered questions is whether the boat was large enough to safely have 10 people on board". Duh. It certainly wasn't safe for rocket scientists... overloading a small boat... cruising late at night... in 57-degree water... without anyone wearing life jackets. The moral of the story is that no one is too smart to get by with ignoring basic safety. Where's your life preserver?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Seahorse serendipity

Divers participating in program in main kelp forest tank at the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Clinic/surgery with docent giving presentation about marine creature medicine

Seahorses. One of the nice little surprises waiting for us in the aquarium was the sight of seahorses in a miniature kelp forest environment. They are quite graceful and fun to watch.

An even closer view of the seahorses

Swimming with the Sharks

Sharks in the water. Most sharks, especially these well-fed captive sharks, are quite mellow. The visit to the Shark Tank (not the one in San Jose) was a highlight of the visit to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. Our visit was made all the more fun by the enthusiasm and curiosity of "Silvergirl", who joined us for the visit and then led us to one of her favorite Orange County beach restaurants.

Sharks in the water. That reminds me of a lawyer joke.

Sawfish and shark shadow. The sawfish once had her saw bitten almost off by a shark; the aquarium's vet was able to repair it with epoxy.

Manta ray and sharks.

The story was that a sailboat once came to grief trying to pass over a bar through a reef surrounding a tropical island. Instead of passing the bar, the boat was driven onto the reef. Its raft was torn up when the crew attempted to launch it. A crew member would have to swim through the shark-inhabited water to reach land and then hike to a village for help.

Manta ray and hammerhead shark.

So, the captain dove in and swam toward the island but was soon surrounded by first curious, then aggressive, then hungry sharks. As he struggled through the water he began to flounder and panic; then he was attacked and disappeared. Most of the rest of the crew was understandably reluctant to try the swim. Except for one.

"Silvergirl" styling with the sharks.

One middle-aged sailor swore that he'd be able to swim the shark gauntlet without a problem. And, amazingly, he did just that. Not only did the sharks not attack him, but it almost seemed to the other sailors that the sharks formed a wedge to escort him all the way to the water's edge. The crew were utterly amazed.

"Silvergirl" and friends, including manta ray

Later, the successful swimmer returned with fishermen from the village to rescue the remaining crew members. After they reached land, the crew all wanted to know how he had successfully swum with the sharks to land and so they plied him with questions about what had happened and how he'd managed the shark-strewn swim.

Sharks below

"Well, it's terribly simple," he answered. "Just professional courtesy. I'm an attorney and my finny friends and I are all members in good standing of the bar association."

Apologies are offered to the Shark Anti-Defamation League. Note that no sharks were harmed in the making of this bad joke.

Sharks in the tank. The sharks in this tank do not play hockey, unlike the somewhat more skilled shark pucksters of San Jose.


Transpac Exhibit

Pac Cup 1950s

A nice surprise along the Long Beach waterfront near the Aquarium of the Pacific was a series of signs commemorating the Transpac Race that is held every other year from southern California to Hawaii. Shown here are a couple of examples of the signs that chronicle the history of this long-distance (more than 2000 nautical miles) ocean sailing race.

Detail of 1950s Transpac highlights

1970s Transpac highlights

Helter Sailor

MacGregor 26 takes a sinkin' but keeps on floatin'

When I sink to the bottom
I float back on the top of the tide
Where I crash and burn
with a hole in my side
Till I sink to the bottom and I see you again
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Do you don't you want me to sail you
I'm sinking down fast but I'm miles above you
Throw me throw me throw me the hawser
and you may own a boat but you ain't no sailor

Grounded sailboat (US Power Squadrons image)

Go helter skelter
helter skelter
helter sailor
Glug, hu, hu
I will you won't you want me to sail you
I'm sinking down fast so don't let me sail you
Throw me throw me throw me the hawser
You may own a boat but you ain't no sailor

Captain Smith of the "virtually unsinkable" Titanic had the same problem as many modern sailors -- going too fast for conditions (image via National Geographic)

Look out
Helter skelter
helter skelter
helter sailor
Yeah, hu, hu
Look out cause here she comes

Yellow boat, not in banana tree (via dashpointpirate)

When I sink to the bottom
I float back on the top of the tide
Where I crash and burn
with a hole in my side
Till I get to the bottom and I see you again
glug, glug, glug

Santana 22 "Yachtsea" playing in the surf by Fort Point, San Francisco Golden Gate (via Chuck Laintz)

Well will you won't you want me to sail you
I'm sinking down fast so don't let me sail you
Throw me throw me throw me the hawser
You may own a boat but you ain't no sailor

Amorita classic yacht, the unfortunate victim of being run down from behind by the much bigger Sumurun, whose afterguard had a slight difficulty in obeying basic sailing rules.

Look out
Helter skelter
helter skelter
helter sailor
Glug, hu,

Helter Skelter
She's sinking down fast
Yes she is
Yes she is
sinking down fast

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Gerald and lorikeet companion

Gerald found a companion in the lorikeet exhibit at the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Words to live by -- with a bite

A sharkish attitude. How would you apply this to your competition? Or to driving among rude, aggressive freeway drivers? Artwork was near the Aquarium of the Pacific shark tank, of course.

Sailboat, with a Queen

Portrait of a Queen; Long Beach's iconic former transatlantic passenger liner dominates much of the view the shoreline.

Sloop passing in front of the Queen Mary. The geodesic dome behind the Queen is part of a passenger boarding terminal but was originally built to house Howard Hughes' gigantic amphibious airplane.

The Queen Mary has now spent half of her life in Long Beach, serving as a hotel, museum, conference center, and site for restaurants and gift shops.

Different Boats for Different Folks

Last Saturday (May 14, 2011), we strolled along the harbor near the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific while waiting for a friend. We saw quit a variety of large boats, including a faux riverboat designed for booze cruises and various harbor tour and wildlife-watching boats. One of the more interesting was the three-masted schooner shown here, the American Pride. She is a 130 feet long, 200-ton boat owned by the Children's Maritime Foundation, and originally was a working fishing boat in the US northeast.

The schooner is used for a variety of educational programs as well as being available for charter.

Views from Point Fermin

Point Fermin view. Pt. Fermin is a rugged headland in San Pedro, California, which stands guard over the northwestern approaches to the Port of Los Angeles-Long Beach, one of the world's busiest commercial ports. The harbor also embraces marinas for many hundreds of pleasure boats.

Pelican of Pt. Fermin. The behavior of these pelicans was quite interesting as they took advantage of wind currents to make a great circular rotation over the ocean below Pt. Fermin.

Rocky shore below Pt. Fermin

Pelicans approaching projecting cliff at Pt. Fermin. Further back from the cliff is the site of the Korean Friendship Bell. More immediately at hand is an enjoyable park with great shade trees and walkways to enjoy.

And another row of the pelicans of Pt. Fermin. After our visit to the point, we then enjoyed a hearty meal at the San Pedro Brewing Company, which we'd not visited for several years.

Pt Fermin pelicans over kelp bed

Excursion boat "First String", probably out on a wildlife and whale-watching cruise. Although it was late in the season for the northbound grey whale cow and calf migration, we sighted several spouts and double spouts and heard that some blue whales had been sighted in the area that week.

View west along cliffs showing dramatic headland in front of Pt. Fermin light

Point Fermin Lighthouse

Friday the 13th of May was our day to explore and re-visit a chunk of the Los Angeles county coast in southern California. After visiting Marina del Rey and King Harbor, we proceeded further south and east to Point Fermin in San Pedro.

Pt. Fermin's lighthouse and setting are scenic and enjoyable. We were also treated to sightings of whale spouts, rotating pelican flights, and the distant sound of barking sea lions.

West side of Pt. Fermin lighthouse, with part of garden. We have yet to catch one of the tours but hope to one of these days.

Sign behind Pt. Fermin lighthouse in San Pedro, California. Because the light was situated atop a high cliff, it did not need to be especially tall.