“So foul and fair a day I have not seen.”
Macbeth (Act 1, Scene 3)
Shakespeare’s doomed, regicidal Macbeth was a soldier, not a sailor, but had the bloody Thane of Cawdor been racing a sailboat in the Santa Barbara Channel on Saturday February 27, 2010 – he could not have described the dichotomous conditions better: fair and foul. And one of the major factors that contributed to this strange day on the water was put in play in a faraway South American country more than 12 hours before the race began.
At 10:34 PST on the night before our second sailboat race of the 2010 season, there was a magnitude 8.8 earthquake in Chile — one of the largest temblors ever recorded.
The head of the University of Chile’s Seismology Institute said the quake was “50 times bigger than the one in Haiti.” That might be true, but luckily, compared to Haiti, Chile was well prepared for such a huge shaker. Only 300 people died according to early accounts – but a seismically triggered tsunami was sent racing halfway around the world.
And some 4,900 nautical miles northward toward Ventura, California.
About nine and a half hours after the Chilean quake, Brad Hall and Darroch Greer arrived at my house at 8:00 AM to carpool out to Ventura Harbor for our race. The network weather witches had been heralding a series of storms sweeping down from the north, and indeed, we drove west on the 101 Freeway in and out of patches of rain. We discussed the quake in Chile – but we had no idea it would affect us that day.
We were more concerned about another factor that would make it an odd race. Our supremely capable and experienced lead bowman, Claude Dubreuil, would not be among our crew that day. That meant that leadership of the foredeck would devolve to me. As I’m a relative nautical neophyte — happier to follow orders than give them.
I had apprehensions that had nothing to do with the weather. Getting the headsail up and down, rigging, flying, and dousing the spinnaker, these were the maneuvers that occupied my mind. I knew we’d get wet. That was a given. I was hoping there would be enough wind – but not too much. I was hoping I could do my job, not screw up royally – and manage to stay in the boat.
When we arrived at Ventura Harbor, I noticed that the water in the harbor was as muddy and murky as the Mississippi River. Usually, as you walk down the ramp onto H Dock, you can see the harbor bottom. I figured the murk must’ve been churned up by the storms that were already passing through.
The weather lifted as we pulled out of our slip and sailed out of Ventura Harbor toward the starting line at Mandalay Buoy. There was a heavy swell that promised a wet afternoon — but on our way to the line, we did a pretty good job of getting the headsail up and deploying and jibing the spinnaker, etc, without Claude’s veteran leadership. Despite the choppy conditions, I managed to stay in the bow and roughly approximate what Master Claude would have done. The few mistakes that I and the foredeck crew made were soon remedied – and we were all feeling pretty good as we approached the starting line
The strangeness began at the start of the race. We were among the first boats to cross the starting line in a crowded, chaotic start. I expected to hear the crunch of fiberglass. Shouts and curses were heard – but miraculously, there were no collisions.
We were among the leaders as we raced toward the first mark, Platform Gail, sailing in and out of a soaking rain.
The promised storms had arrived on cue, drenching the crew most miserably – but also helping to drive our boat, Sprit Decision, at an average speed of about 8 knots to windward. We were sailing on a direct line to Platform Gail – and aside from the rain – it was a great day so far.
It was a good omen when a pod of playful dolphins starting racing alongside us, darting back and forth across our bow.
Alas, our good fortune would not last.
When we got within a quarter mile of Platform Gail – which we would need to sail around before returning to the finish line at Ventura Harbor – we were suddenly becalmed. The wind and water both became eerily still. What we didn’t know was that, about this time, 12:24 PM (PST) – a 3-foot tsunami surge from the Chilean quake was arriving in Ventura. It had taken these waves generated by the 8.8-magnitude quake 14 hours to travel from the temblor’s epicenter to our patch of the Pacific. And somehow, the effect was to leave us slack-sailed and drifting in the lazy swell.
Eventually, we got enough of a puff to push us around the oil platform and fill our spinnaker for a downwind run home to Ventura Harbor. As we approached the harbor, our cell phones began to ring with calls from our wives concerned about a tsunami warning. What tsunami warning? We didn’t feel any tsunami…
Then, as we got within a few hundred yards of the harbor mouth, a Coast Guard ship ran out to intercept us. A Coast Guard officer on a bullhorn advised us that we could not enter the harbor because of a surge that was coming out of the harbor. In my three years of sailing in Ventura and Channel Islands, I’ve never heard of a surge coming out of the harbor – the surf and the tide is usually pushing toward the shore – not out to sea. But the tsunami surge from Chile was hitting the coast and bouncing back out, back and forth — and the two currents were smacking into each other just inside the harbor’s breakwater. It looked like the confluence of two mighty rivers. Strange conditions, indeed. In fact, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department reported minor damage at the harbor from several buoys getting washing away.
After about 10 minutes of waiting outside the breakwater, the Coast Guard (timing the surge interval) gave us the okay to proceed into the harbor. It was weird to sail into the harbor against such a strong current. And it was yet another lesson in how small – and interconnected — the world is.
As we pulled into our slip, the rain had stopped and the sun was coming back out. Foul was fair again. It was as odd a day on the water as I’d ever experienced.
And I loved every moment of the adventure.
What follows are more photos that Brad Hall, our loblolly boy, took on our voyage.
10 More Rays of Sunlight
With earthquakes, tsunamis and meltdowns in Japan, House Speaker John Boehner and the GOP Teahadists threatening to shut down the government, and fabulous Pia Toscano getting voted off “American Idol” — things can seem pretty bleak. But, as I’ve said before, it’s does no good to retreat into the darkness of despair. We must seek the light. No matter how black the landscape appears at night — there are rays of sunshine rising just below the horizon. Here are 10 rays of light that, for me, provide illumination in the current gloom
1. Boehner Plummets in the Polls
Speaker John Boehner, meet Speaker Newt Gingrich.
It didn’t take very long for John “Crybaby” Boehner to lose favor with the American people. Blubbering Boehner’s approval rating has fallen 18 points since early January. Weepy John celebrated the New Year with a 35% job approval rating. Three months later, his approval rating is falling like bitter tears – down to 25%. And that’s before he blunders into a government shutdown. Americans actually seem to be paying attention to just how bad a job Boehner is doing of governing. Boehner and Gingrich. Together forever.
2. The NBA Playoffs
The real pro basketball season is about to begin: the NBA playoffs. Let’s face it. The regular season is just an 82-game tournament seeding process. Now things get serious. And this could be one of the best NBA playoffs ever. The first four teams in each conference all have a legitimate shot. (Okay, maybe not Dallas.)
The storylines could hardly be more compelling. Will the aging veteran Boston Celtics reach the finals and deny retiring Lakers’ coach Phil Jackson his fourth and final NBA title three-peat? Will LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and the star-studded Miami Heat deny the Chicago Bulls and MVP candidate Derrick Rose a return to their first NBA Finals since the Michael Jordan era? And you can’t ignore the consistency and professionalism of the San Antonio Spurs or the explosive youth and athleticism of the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder.
3. Survivor: Redemption Island
I am an unabashed Survivor fan – and this season is shaping up to be one of the best. The Redemption Island twist has added a new and intriguing wrinkle to what is already the best television game show ever produced. Bringing back classic villains Russell Hantz and Boston Rob didn’t work out as well as the producers might have hoped – but, then again, did anyone expect to see bad boy Russell reduced to tears?
Boston Rob & "The Former Federal Agent"
Boston Rob seems to be in charge of the game, but if Bible-toting Matt can return from his second stint on Redemption Island, he may yet be a factor. Meanwhile, Phillip the “former federal agent” just might be the craziest character in the game’s history. Will the girls ever turn on Boston Rob? Damn, I love this show.
I’ll go tally the votes. The tribe has spoken.
4. Baseball Season Begins
All I need to say is this: at this moment in the 2011 Major League Baseball season my Cleveland Indians are in first place in the AL Central.
There’s a whiteboard hanging in Indians manager Manny Acta’s office upon which is written, “The road to success is not a freeway. It’s a tollway and it’s always under construction.” The Indians are a work in progress, indeed. They’ve got a young roster and a parsimonious payroll – but they just swept the wealthy superstars of the Boston Red Sox with bunches of home runs and a suicide squeeze bunt. However, even if the Tribe finishes the season with a stunningly unlikely World Series victory, I’ll never refer to The Jake as “Progressive Field”.
5. NU Dance Marathon Sets Fundraising Record
It’s not just that I’m proud of my daughter Emilia and her fellow NU Dance Marathon emcee Jesse Swedlund for keeping more than 900 student dancers moving for thirty straight hours in early March — although their energy, enthusiasm and good humor were prodigious, indeed. But to top off the whole experience, the 2011 Marathon raised over a million dollars for The Children’s Heart Foundation. ($1,019,130 to be exact.) It was inspiring to go back to campus and see so many great young people having so much fun working up a sweat for a worthy cause.
6. Glenn Beck Leaving FOX
What could be better than the news that Glenn Beck’s god-awful show will be off Fox News Channel later this year? It’s like Christmas in April. It’s like an early birthday present. (April 16th, by the way.) Beck’s ratings have sunk 30% from their peak, and an advertiser boycott also took its toll. Crazy Beck was reduced to hawking gold coins and dubious workout products. Of course, FOX softened the blow, saying they’ll still be in business with Beck, starting with some Beckumentaries — but no longer having to endure a daily dose of Beck’s chalkboard ravings is reason enough to smile.
7. Casey on American Idol
I was shocked when Pia Toscano got voted off, but I’m glad that “Idol” judges Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler had already used their one and only save to keep Casey Abrams on the show. I dig Casey’s style, his voice, and his groovy bass playing. He’s unique. In fact, Casey’s so cool, I’m amazed he’s still in it. It’s gratifying to know there are so many “American Idol” watchers with good taste. (Even if they did make a mistake booting Pia.) But, seriously, Paul McDonald? Really? That dude’s raspy, one-octave voice is wearing as thin as his smile is wide.
8. Michelle Bachmann for President
The fact that Michele Bachmann, the wacky Tea party darling and GOP Congresswoman from Minnesota, is seriously considering running for the Republication Presidential nomination is a gift that will keep on giving. I can’t wait see her on the GOP primary ballot in Iowa. Man, I hope she wins in Iowa. Then, she can ride her crazy train to New Hampshire. With Michelle ranting and raving on the extreme right wing, just imagine how far toward the fringe Newt and Huckabee and the Donald will have to go. And could there be room on the GOP crazy train for both Bachmann and Palin? How about Palin-Bachmann 2012? Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! Could anything that fun actually happen? It would be the death of satire, true. But it would also spell doom for the Republican Party.
9. The Vic & Paul Show Goes to Chicago
After a 22-year absence from the Chicago area stage, my wife Victoria and I will perform “The Vic & Paul Show” at The Prop Theatre from June 9-12. It’s going to be great fun doing comedy in Chicago again – and even more fun to be doing it with the brilliant Steve Rashid at the keyboard. If you don’t have your tickets yet – don’t wait too long. It’s a limited engagement (5 shows) and The Prop’s an intimate space (70 seats). For reservations, go to: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/169351
10. Easter Will Soon Be Here!
For untold centuries, after the darkness and cold of winter, human cultures have celebrated the return of life and light in the spring. That’s why The Easter season is such a profound holiday. It’s a celebration of life’s annual victory over death. Which is why it’s fitting that Christians celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection at this time. This is one of those years when “regular” Easter and Greek Easter are on the same day. Since my wife is Greek Orthodox, we always enjoy a big Greek Easter dinner with our close circle of friends. Legs of lamb on the barbecue grill, dyed red eggs, pastitso and baklava. Oh yeah, some Ouzo, too. I’m in heaven just thinking about it. Opa!
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Tagged as American Idol, Boston Rob, Casey Abrams, Cleveland Indians, Easter, Emilia Barrosse, Glenn Beck, Greek Easter, Jesse Swedlund, John Boehner, Lebron James, Michelle Backmann, MLB, NBA, NU Dance Marathon, Paul Barrosse, Pia Toscano, Redemption Island, Steve Rashid, Survivor, The Vic & Paul Show, tsunami, Victoria Zielinski