Small Stuff

Published: January 2013

Anchor symbol If you haven't been following the America's Cup, you've missed out on some spectacular sailing. But you've also missed out on a furious debate over the difference between tow and salvage. Seaworthy has covered this issue in the past, most recently in January 2010. Salvage is defined as the rescue of a boat from imminent peril, and as that article discussed in some detail, the salvor and the boat owner don't always agree on either the existence of peril or its imminence. That's exactly the debate going on over the rescue of the French Energy Team's America's Cup 45 (AC45) catamaran.

Photo of Energy Team's America's Cup catamaran Photo: Gilles Martin-Raget


On Sunday, September 30, the French catamaran snapped its mooring line and drifted off into the night. It fetched up a mile later on Treasure Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, where it was spotted by Todd Tholke (he claims he is the night watchman at Treasure Island Marina, which explains what he was doing up at 3:30 a.m.). Tholke used his Boston Whaler to pull the catamaran off the shore and take it back around to the Treasure Island Marina, where he handed it over to the French team. The French were so grateful they offered Tholke a ride on the Bay. End of story?

Uh, no. The following Friday, as the French team prepared for a regatta, they were presented with a warrant from U.S. District Court to "arrest" the boat and take it into custody as soon as Sunday's races were over. Tholke's lawyer, John Edgcomb, is well versed in maritime law, and he was seeking a maritime salvage award which he estimated could be over $200,000, or 20 percent of the value of the boat. The account of the rescue from the court filing contends that the catamaran was about to be damaged on the rocks, and that Tholke's Boston Whaler "took on water, its motor cut out intermittently and smoked from overheating, and was nearly capsized on repeated occasions" during the recovery. In other words, Team Energy's AC45 was in "imminent peril" and Tholke incurred grave risks in rescuing it.

Of course, the French disagree. They say it was a perfectly calm night, and they would have been more than happy to retrieve their own boat with no help from Tholke. They also disagree on the $1 million value for the boat implied by Edgcomb's award estimate. The boat is 5 years old, outdated, and about to be replaced by the team's America's Cup 72 catamaran, which they will race in the America's Cup next year. All of this will have to be untangled by the courts. Until then, you can be sure that a lot of people who didn't realize there was a difference between salvage and tow before this incident will be arguing one side or the other on the Internet.

Anchor symbol If you haven't been following the America's Cup, you've also missed out on some spectacular crashes. On October 16, the America's Cup 72, Oracle, pitchpoled when the team tried to bear off and the catamaran buried a bow. If you want to see a video of a 72-foot catamaran with a 46-foot beam and a 130-foot-high mast flip end over end in slow motion, Google "Oracle AC72 capsize." There was no question of tow versus salvage this time -- Team Oracle would deal with this problem themselves. They quickly got lines on the boat from several large RIBs and the towing ensued. Only the Team Oracle boats weren't doing the towing ... the capsized catamaran was.

The five-knot springs ebb tide had the huge catamaran in its grip, and over the next several hours the AC72 proceeded to drag the Team Oracle RIBs out under the Golden Gate Bridge and two miles into the ocean. Team Oracle made no headway until the tide turned and carried Oracle back into the Bay. By that time, the wing mast had collapsed, one hull was submerged, and the other was half full of water. The $8 million catamaran looks to be a total loss. Team Oracle must now rush their second boat into the water and hope they have time to master it before the races begin next fall.

Photo of Oracle Team's America's Cup catamaran capsized Photo: Gullain Grenier


Anchor symbol One last towing (and America's Cup) note. In 2010, a 60-foot catamaran sailed across the Pacific from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia. But this was no ordinary catamaran. Plastiki had been built from 12,500 plastic, two-liter bottles in an effort to raise awareness of the dangers of plastic waste in the ocean and the potential for recycling. The catamaran arrived in Sydney, Australia, in July 2010. Due to damages caused by rough weather on the voyage, Plastiki was set to be shipped back to Oakland, California, but somehow it ended up in Long Beach. It still needed to get back to its home port in San Francisco so it could be put on display for the America's Cup this fall.

How to get the boat 420 miles up the coast without a mast? How about a tow?

Photo of Vessel Assist towing the Plastiki to Oakland, CA Photo: Chase Henderson


Chase Henderson and his team from Southwest Marine Resources, Vessel Assist San Pedro and Marina del Rey, undertook the project. But first, they wanted to make sure nothing would go wrong. They waited until the summer in hopes of getting the best weather possible. In April, they had a brand new diesel engine installed in their preferred towboat for longer jobs, San Pedro. When they set off, they carried everything they could possibly need, including, "gasoline and electric-powered dewatering pumps, 720 gallons of diesel, an extra 1,500 feet of tow line, spare parts for our engine and equipment, enough tools to nearly rebuild an engine, and a lot of food," according to Henderson.

The captain for the San Pedro area, Captain Shawn Slusser, accompanied Henderson on San Pedro. One of the Vessel Assist deckhands, Clint Perdue, and the Plastiki expedition coordinator rode on Plastiki. The two crewmembers on each boat alternated shifts on the two boats every four hours for the four-day tow. The run back took only 24 hours.

Would Henderson do it again? "Absolutely," he said.

Anchor symbol In July, Seaworthy reported that the Supreme Court had agreed to hear Lozman v. the City of Riviera Beach, Florida (No. 11-626), which will attempt to draw a clear distinction between a house and a boat. If the court finds that the structure in question is a boat that will vindicate the town's actions in seizing and destroying it under maritime law. The decision in the case will affect more than 5,000 Americans who own floating homes as well as 60 floating casinos in the United States, and numerous floating hotels and restaurants.

Photo of a floating hot tub

Photo: Hot Tug

Oral arguments were conducted in October with some interesting exchanges between the justices and counsel. David C. Frederick's argument for the city that a vessel is something that "floats, moves, and carries people or things on water" didn't seem to convince the justices. Chief Justice Roberts pointed out that an inner tube or inflatable raft would fit that description. Justice Stephen Breyer held up his coffee mug. "A cup doesn't float," Frederick said.

"Oh, well, this is lighter than you think," Breyer retorted.

We couldn't help wondering what the justices would make of the Hot Tug, a new offering out of the Netherlands The Hot Tug lets you take your hot-tubbing on the road ... er ... water. The deluxe version is equipped with a stainless steel wood-burning heater, an electric motor, 400 AH of batteries, and a battery charger, all for something over $20,000 at current exchange rates. We can be pretty sure the justices wouldn't consider the Hot Tug a house. But is it a boat? The Supreme Court is unlikely to weigh in on that one, but the house versus boat decision will be rendered in January.

Anchor symbol Our West Coast article in the October issue brought back fond memories for Louise Merrick: "I am originally from close to Cape Cod but moved to Bradenton, Florida, and then the San Francisco Bay Area. (There was a common theme about bridges falling down, but that's another story for another time.) Once while living in the Delta on Bethel Island, California, I was fortunate enough to be the 'admiral' of a small fleet. I had a dated houseboat at my dock behind my house that I used for my office. I had a sailboat that I was learning to sail. I had a little skiff, Aqua Kisses, a '70s Crestliner that was my favorite and the one I would hop in and take to the Rusty Porthole for brunch or dinner. And lastly I had a 1978 wood Trojan that I managed to sink twice (I thought that boot issue WAS resolved!). These were some of the most wonderful days of my life -- discovering the hidden tributaries in the 1,500 miles of the Delta. Now, I am back on an island off Cape Cod and docks are not allowed on this island, but moorings bring their own set of special challenges."

And, no, we couldn't let that comment about bridges go by. Louise responded to our query with this story: "When I was commuting over the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge, a ship hit it and it came down. Then I relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area and Loma Prieta hit and down came the Bay Bridge while I was commuting from San Fran to San Mateo. Then I relocated to Cape Cod and I keep looking over my shoulder as I commute across the Bourne Bridge!" So if you live in that area, you may want to avoid the Bourne Bridge when Louise is around.

She ended her note with a theme that resonated with the Seaworthy editors. "My life would have never been the same without the oceans, lakes, rivers, and marinas I have encountered! I owe it all to my Dad who propped me up behind the helm of his little Whaler when I was 4 years old and nudged me to steer toward the Vineyard!"

We also owe our watery lives to our Dads, so here's to all Dads (and Moms) everywhere who take their kids out on boats.

Photo of Forespar's TruPlug emergency plugs

Photo: Forespar

Anchor symbol Keeping your boat safe means keeping the water out. Seaworthy has often discussed how quickly a boat can be overwhelmed -- a 2-inch hole in your boat one foot below the waterline would jet in enough water to fill a 55-gallon drum in 40 seconds, exceeding the capacity of most bilge pumps. The holes in the boat below the waterline are protected by seacocks, which can mean a very bad day if one fails. That's why most experts recommend keeping a tapered, wooden plug near each thru-hull. But wooden plugs have a lot of disadvantages. They are difficult to see in the bowels of the bilge. They rot. They cannot be used for irregular openings. Forespar's TruPlug overcomes these problems. A temporary emergency plug made from a proprietary foam, coated with a flexible, international orange sealer, TruPlug can stop flooding from circular, oval, or irregular holes up to four inches in diameter.

Anchor symbol When it comes time to renew your insurance, if you need to submit forms or provide photos, that process just got a lot easier. You can now do so online at Click "upload photos and docs" in the lower left-hand corner. Put your policy number in the first box on the next page and follow the directions from there. This will save you from having to mail anything in, and it will speed up the renewal process.

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