Jim Sullivan sails past the Marina del Rey Breakwall towards an 8,000 mile journey to the Philippines, or so he thought. Sullivan experienced problems along the way that eventually thwarted his dreams.















This past year, like any given year on the Marina del Rey boating scene, lots goes on. From local sailors undergoing major journeys that risk life and limb on the open ocean to the mysterious world below the surface of the water, much happens in this little spot on the map. With this in mind, I thought it’d be interesting to look back on some local boating highlights from 2012, a year that soon will be floating in our collective wake.
At the beginning of the year I got wind of a local fellow who was planning a record-breaking adventure aboard an older but very fortified 30-foot sailboat. Jim Sullivan, a man who had been rescued at sea during another similar adventure, was about to cast off for an 8,000-mile single-handed, engineless, non-stop sail to the Philippines that he dubbed XPAC 8000. He held a press conference in front of local television news cameras posing with famous dolphin advocate Ric O’Barry. Sullivan later sailed his Elusive Spirit for the good of O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, which was painted on the side of the boat. At the press conference held moments before his departure, he proposed via cell-phone to his fiancé, in the Philippines who accepted and he waved goodbye to the crown gathered at Del Rey Yacht Club.
The story that wasn’t told was that after he left that day Sullivan had problems with both his boat and his own mental state and repeatedly departed and returned at various harbors down the California coast. Sullivan eventually sailed safely not to the Philippines but to Hawaii. It was a reminder that these types of undertakings are not for the faint of heart and can be terrifying experiences if a sailor is not prepared physically but moreover mentally.
On the other side of the coin, the same month Sullivan departed, sailors from the Pacific Single-handed Sailing Association raced the 600-mile Guadalupe Island Race from Marina del Rey to Mexico’s Guadalupe Island. The association’s racers quietly rise to some of the most daunting challenges this area has to offer. The race involves a 300-mile upwind beat on the return leg, which can be and usually is absolutely battering. In preparation for the marathon, many of the racers in the club participated in the Catalina to Port contest earlier in the year. For that they voluntarily set sail in gale force winds and went at it. A tough bunch.
Two of the single-handed sailors in the Guadalupe Island Race went on to participate in the Single Handed Transpac, a solo race from San Francisco to Hawaii. Marina del Rey’s Jerome Sammarcelli and Whithall Stokes spent nearly two weeks at sea alone in their small boats crossing the Pacific. Sammarcelli made the trip in a diminutive 21-footer (smallest in the race) and Stokes, a very avid solo-skipper, came in second place overall and first in class in his 30-foot Tartan, Slacker.
Long adventures like these can make for nervous family, friends and shore crews. Life on the water is not without its risks and 2012 like most years, served up a few tough blows for local boaters to swallow. The worst of which was probably the loss of the Aegean, a sailboat out of neighboring King Harbor in Redondo Beach.
Racing in the famous Newport to Ensenada Race in docile weather, the boat with a crew of four local sailors ran into the jagged rocks of one of the Coronado Islands in the middle of the night, killing all on board. Event organizers and sailors all down the Southern Californian coast were shaken to the core. There had never been any loss of life in the long history of the contest. The tragedy raised issues of false security with navigation electronics to proper watch protocols and much more, but more than anything, it reminded boaters of the sport’s inherent risks.
Locally, a powerboat split ran straight through a rowing skull, splitting it in half in the marina’s main channel when a skipper let his guard down and stopped paying attention to what was in front of him. Rowers were left swimming but no one was seriously hurt.
This past year also brought substantial change for local fishermen. After a long build-up, the first Marine Protected Areas came to be implemented in the beginning of the year. In addition to closures on certain targets of species, scientists and fish stock authorities have decided to close off entire areas to fishing access.
Many marine biologists believe that this manner of management is a more efficient way of replenishing stocks. Many fishermen hate the idea, but it is now the law of the land and time will provide the ultimate report of its effectiveness.
The year closed with the Marina del Rey Holiday Boat Parade celebrating its 50th year. The half-century mark for our own little floating Rose Parade was a solid reminder that while Marina del Rey is still relatively young, it is indeed molding its own history.