Posted by Tall Ships America on September 24, 2014
To a native New Englander, an impending hurricane means dark skies, wind gusts with the potential to knock over trees and power lines, and torrential rain. But in Southern California earlier this month, as Hurricane Marie headed out to sea, Hurricane Norbert intensified off of Baja, and Hurricane Odile remained a rumor from Hawai’i, the temperatures were mid-70s and the weather was sunny with blue skies and a gentle breeze. The only hint that hurricanes were off the coast, aside from the murmur amongst the tall ship captains of marine weather updates and worrisome weather faxes, was the surge in Dana Point Harbor.
A surge is “a sudden powerful forward or upward movement, especially by a natural force such as the waves or tide” (Oxford English Dictionary). In the case of Dana Point Harbor, it was a cyclic upwelling of water within the harbor, impacted by current as water flowed up the channel or cascaded over the jetty and intensified by an extreme high tide. Such was the situation at 1600 on Friday, September 5th, as a dozen people stood on Ocean Institute’s new floating docks, watching seven moored tall ships strain against their docklines as the water swelled and fell beneath the vessels. We had gathered a half hour earlier to discuss the last minute details of that evening’s Sunset Parade of Sail. But as the sea state worsened before our eyes, the prudence of getting underway with passengers was now in question.
We not only had to consider boarding passengers – many of whom were unfamiliar with a shifting gangway and rolling deck – but what the sea conditions would be like upon disembarkation. At sea, riding the swells, the vessels would be fine. Upon returning to “safe” harbor, however, they would be met with a rising tide to exacerbate the relentless surge. Those waiting to drop off passengers would find it near impossible to hold station in the channel, with the wind catching the bow of the ship. Tying up would be difficult, and prolonged; hauling enough slack out of the docklines to disembark passengers would be harder still. Once securely moored along the three hundred foot long dock, as the ships were at the moment of our disquieted discussion, we would again have to consider the combined potential force of rafted vessels yanking on a small number of well-placed docklines. (To this end, we later set out bow and stern wraps from the offshore vessels.) And lastly, the dramatic roll of the vessels even at the dock launched concerns that the rigging of the smaller ships would tangle in the rigging of the taller ships to which they were rafted, or that the heavy hull of one might send over many pounding blows into the hull of another. All this before the high high tide peaked at more than a fathom in a cove that only charts a mean depth just over two fathoms at mean lower low water.
Throughout this deliberation, as I listened and attempted to absorb the points that these experienced captains were making, I noticed something very impressive. The opinion and decision of every captain regarding the limits of his vessel and crew was considered and respected. Then, in solidarity, having all weighed in, this team of captains determined that the prudent choice was to cancel the sail. It was Integrated Safety Management at its finest. And the best part – they then presented their decision to the public, as a united, visible front, and the public understood. They agreed.
The 30th Annual Toshiba Tall Ships® Festival would continue throughout the weekend. The vessels never would leave the dock with any passengers, although a few captains would eventually decide to leave the cove with their vessels and seek calmer waters elsewhere.
In the end, it was a wonderful festival, complete with maritime exhibits and local musicians (including several well-attended performances by Captain John Kraus); stellar merchandise from N&D and Ocean Institute; a REACH Scavenger Hunt presented by US Sailing and their partners; delicious lunches and an after-hours potluck for ships’ crew; and a fleet of tall ships as the focal attraction.
Thank you to all of the ships, their captains and crew, to Ocean Institute, and to the public, for maintaining such a positive attitude and such composure as we overcame another reality of sailing tall ships in the modern world.
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