The Maritime Report: For June 27, 2013

The Maritime Report: For June 27, 2013

Dave Bloch

Blind sailor Mitsuhiro Iwamoto at the 2012 California Invitational Blind Sailing Regatta in Alameda. Photo courtesy of the Island Yacht Club.


A friend e-mailed me a newspaper article on Sunday with the dateline Sendai (Kyodo) Japan. The lede reads:

Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force on Friday rescued a blind sailor and his supporter in the Pacific off northeastern Japan after their small yacht was flooded with seawater, the Japan Coast Guard said.

The article talks about the rescue of blind sailor Mitsuhiro Iwamoto and his sighted supporter, newscaster Jiro Shimbo. They were caught in a storm several hundred miles west of Japan, about two weeks into their trip to San Diego in a 40-foot sailboat.

I know very few folks from Japan, and even fewer sailors. But I, along with more than 100 other sailors and friends, know this one. "Hiro," as he's known, has been here in Alameda twice for the California Invitational Blind Sailing Regatta (CIBSR) put on by the Marin Sailing School Blind Sailing Program and hosted by the Island Yacht Club. In the first regatta held in 2010, Hiro received the Sportsmanship Award for his always-smiling, always-helpful presence.

Those of us who had never seen blind sailing before found the regatta to be (pun intended) an eye-opener. The teams are shown where things are on the sailboats exactly once by placing their hands on them; those locations are not forgotten. A local craftsperson created a tactile map of the Alameda-Oakland Estuary so they could "see" with their fingers this area where they would spend two days racing.

On each boat, there was a blind helmsman and a blind sail trimmer. Two sighted sailors also went on each boat, to be lookouts and help in case of emergencies, but they did not do anything that had to do with sailing the boat. The teams from Japan, New Zealand, Boston, Canada and San Francisco competed as hard against each other as in any regatta we had all ever seen. The 2010 regatta was a great event; the 2012 version repeated the success.

So now, from this article, I again have my eyes opened and consciousness raised. These folks go way beyond racing small boats in protected waters. Hiro was out there to sail 6,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean, and the storm that stopped him could have stopped any advanced ocean sailor.

We're all really happy to hear that Hiro is safe back home, and look forward to him being back on our Island (flying here will be fine) for the CIBSR next year.


The Saturday press release was entitled "Mediation Makes Good Progress but Ends Without Final Resolution."

The four teams have been meeting with mediators to iron out how to implement the 37 recommendations issued by Regatta Director Iain Murray after the Artemis Racing tragedy several weeks ago. If they can't do it all in mediation, then the decisions go to an "International Jury" to finalize the rules.

In the meantime, heads of some of the teams have been loud and critical of the Cup organization and, in some cases, of each other. More people are being more vocal in their criticism of the decision to sail the AC72 (72-foot) catamarans in San Francisco. Speaking to Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle, Artemis CEO (and Bay Area native) Paul Cayard called San Francisco "one of the windiest venues in the world."

"But that's a good thing if you've got the right tool for it," Cayard added. "It's a horrible thing if you've got the wrong tool. Right now we've got the wrong tool. We've got a boat that's made for San Diego (where the winds are much lighter), and we're trying to race it in San Francisco." In particular, he's angry that the height of the wing was increased six meters (nearly 20 feet) after the original rules were written.

Those of us who sail here feel those winds every week in the summer. While our sailing colleagues in the East, or down in San Diego, get pretty excited when the winds come up to 15 knots on a summer afternoon, we're accustomed to heading out towards Angel Island with more than 25 knots coming across the boat. (A knot is just a bit faster than 1 mile per hour.)

Anyway, the AC34 is coming! There is a press briefing going on about when you may be reading this on Thursday, and I hope they'll pass on some useful information for those of you who want to see some of the July races. It should be a very interesting summer!