Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sea Lions of Fisherman's Wharf Mysteriously Disappear

It's a Christmas mystery. Not quite a 'who dunnit' but more 'Where in the world are the sea lions of Fisherman's Wharf?'

From an over-populated growth of more than 1,500 animals in September, the colony has almost vanished.

Latest pictures from Pier 39 taken at midday today shows the floats empty except for one.

Below, are the crowded pontoons in October when six new floats, originally intended as replacements were instead added, raising the number of floats to approximately 40.

On Christmas Day, there was one lone sea lion in the far corner of the pontoons, and one 'family' - pictured - sitting on a jetty on the side.

Sheila Chandor, Harbormaster at Pier 39, said that while there is an element of speculation in the sudden disappearance, she thinks it is linked to the food supply.

"I think the herd had a good feeding source here throughout the summer and have left to follow a food source further south. An indicator is that we only have two herring boats in the bay currently,' she said, and those, she thought, were there to monitor spawn. Herring season had been cancelled this year due to a low herring count, she said.

However, she is confident that the sea lions have not bade permanent farewell to San Francisco.

'This is a long established haul out site so I do not doubt that they will return.This is an unusual event in that we normally have our largest numbers in the fall/winter and smallest in the summer breeding season,' she said.

The sea lions started to congregate in K-dock in January 1990, just months after the October 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. They proved such an attraction they brought prosperity to Pier 39 at a time when the rest of the city was financially depleted, and have continued to entertain millions of tourists ever since.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Union Square Christmas Ice Skating 2009

The Union Square ice skating rink was filled with skaters on the last Sunday shopping day before Christmas.

The opportunity to skate as well as Christmas shop attracted all ages and all abilities of skaters. Some glided elegantly, some wobbled and some tumbled! But everyone was enjoying it.

'It's great! Very well organized,' said dad Philip who was taking his five-year-old daughter, Maddy, around the ice. It was the first time he had taken his daughter ice skating and she was enjoying it.

The ice rink will be there until January 18.

On another side of Union Square, students Brendan and Ryan were trying to raise a few extra bucks by offering a photo opportunity with 'Santa's Sled Dog.' Handsome three-year-old Titan, an Alaskan Malamute, was decked out in a Christmassy harness.

Pics were being charged at $1, only just as Brendan and Ryan were settling down in the corner of the square, they were spotted and moved on by security.

Shining out onto the square, was the four-storey tree in Neiman Marcus, that rises into the stained-glass dome.

And facing the square was Macy's with it's customary wreaths and trees lighting up the store.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Mavericks Close Call

The 24 say 'No!' to an official competition on Wednesday, but some of the finest surfers waiting to compete at Mavericks are still flying over to surf at Half Moon Bay.

'The 24 have voted and the result is no to Mavericks 2009 on Wednesday,' says the Mavericks tweet at 1.50 pm Monday, December 7.

Surfing fans around the world have been waiting eagerly for the result of the surfers' votes that would tell them whether the illustrious Mavericks Surf Competition would be called for this Wednesday. Waves in the region of 40 ft to 50 ft, if not more, are being searched for, and when The Call is made, the 24 invitees to one of the most dangerous surfing sites in the world, will have only 24 hours to get there.

Another tweet continues, 'The guys are telling us that a bunch of them including those in Hawaii will still be on the swell at Mavs. We'll be right there with them.'

The season window of November 1, 2009, to March 31, 2010, is expected to produce some gigantic swells because of El Nino.

For now, though, some great surfing is to be seen this week at Half Moon Bay.

And the waiting continues!

Further info:

pic of the Opening Ceremony by Chris Flowers

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Mavericks 2009/2010 Contest Viewing Options

Breaking news....Mavericks surf contestants are 'still keeping an eye mostly on Wednesday, but need the wind to cooperate. Stay tuned.'...says their latest tweet

While some of the world's greatest big-wave surfers battle out a contest in hoped for humongous 40 ft to 50 ft waves, surfing fans will have a first-time opportunity to glimpse the action from an airship.

Seated warm and comfortably and with a bird's eye view, airborne fans will be able to float over Mavericks, at Half Moon Bay, in the Zepplin 'Eureka.'

It is the world's largest airship and the latest addition to the viewing arsenal being prepared by Mavericks Surf Ventures, organizers of the contest, who are seeking ways to enable millions of fans to watch the action live.

The contest revolves around 24 of some of the world's most elite big-wave surfers who are keeping eyes, some from long distance, on the waves at Half Moon Bay, less than an hour away from San Francisco. When the waves are deemed mighty enough and the contest is called, they will have 24 hours to get there.

Viewing options are essential for the contest as its popularity is swelling and the beach near the infamous Mavericks surf break is small and surrounded by a natural wildlife area.

The airship is a novelty for the very few, carrying 12 passengers for half an hour at a time with an extra 15 minutes at the contest finale. Mavericks organizers have keyed into the accoutrements of the digital age as never before.

Fans around the world will be able to link into live webcasts on the official Mavericks' website, and also for the first time, on Facebook and Ustream, giving an interactive opportunity.

For fans 'on the go,' FLO TV will broadcast on mobile handsets, the FLO TV™ Personal Television and on soon-to-be-launched in-car entertainment systems.

The San Francisco Giants are to host a major community viewing event at their baseball park, relaying the surfers' performances onto the jumbotron and also big screens at Club level.

A smaller, free live viewing opportunity for those in the East Bay will be at Miss Pearl’s Jam House in Oakland.

For the privileged few, there are close-to-the-action boat tours captained by experienced local pilots.

Mavericks CEO, Keir J Beadling, said, 'In an effort to limit crowd impact on the Half Moon Bay area and coastal ecosystems, we are encouraging all Mavericks fans to watch the contest via free live webcast and by attending our live viewing party at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Both options provide a much better viewing experience than the view from the beach.'

For those still wanting to stand on the beach and scan the sea for the action, he asks, 'Please be respectful and cautious of the natural environment, and leave no trace.'

This year, the decision of when to call the contest during the official window of November 1, 2009, to March 31, 2010, is in the hands of the surfers themselves. A contest pow-wow was held just days after the opening ceremony when storms were forecast, but on a close call, they voted against.

Thanksgiving also produced great surfing without a contest.

Reigning champion is Greg Long of San Clemente, who won in 2008, there being no 2009 contest earlier this year due to a particularly quiet Pacific Ocean during the limited 'window' of January 1 to March 31.

Sony Ericsson and Barracuda Networks are presenting the contest with a rollover record prize of $150,000.

For further info:
Tickets for the AT&T Park can be purchased for $20 in advance, $25 at the Giants' AT&T Park, or online at www.maverickssurf.com

pic of the Opening Ceremony by Chris Flowers

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mission Creek Water Show!

On what may turn out to be the last idyllic day of an Indian summer, sea lions, pelicans and other diving and wading birds provided an unusual water show in Mission Creek yesterday.

From early morning a large sea lion was spotted swimming and leaping in the water. His antics drew houseboat residents out onto their verandahs, and as the day progressed, creek walkers lined the bank to watch and take photos.

For some who regularly walk the creek, it was their first sighting of sea lions there, whilst others said they had often seen them. But to see such a large sea lion playing in the water was more unusual.

A second, smaller sea lion bobbed up and down, and pelicans, more in number than usual, swooped in aerial displays and dive-bombed for fish.

They were joined by ducks - this pair below chasing each other - wading birds like the Great Egret, and Western gulls.

Temperatures were recorded at being in the high 70s in the city, but were more likely just tipping 80 degrees at the creek.

The sea lion population lives at Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf. There has recently been a huge influx with numbers swelling to a record 1,585. The Marine Mammal Center who help care for the animals are investigating the cause. Early thoughts are that it is due to food supplies.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dreams of Mavericks Surf Contestants 2009/2010

The Mavericks Surf Contest, a battle of the titans of big-wave surfing, is not just about heroes, its about those who dream of one day conquering the mighty waves with equal dare-devilling skill.

Like 19-year-old Colin Dwyer of Pacifica, who stands in the shadows on the Alternates list for the second year in a row. Described as 'one of the newest hard-chargers!' at the opening ceremony of the 2009/2010 season - see previous blogs - he knows his chances of competing are slim.

Colin - pictured with Mavericks 'Test Pilot' Grant Washburn - is honoured to be on the list and ranks 15th out of 15. With the contest dominated by so many of the mighty, Colin would like to see an age break with waves of opportunity for younger surfers.

Change is blowing through the organization, so he is hopeful.

Would that mean veteran surfers stepping off their boards to allow younger ones in, or new categories? Colin doesn't know. He just hopes that one day his feet will be on his board on the water and not on the beach.

'In a new age of democracy, hopefully sooner rather than later,' he said.

Colin's success would also mean family succession: his father, Steve, is a veteran surfer of Mavericks the place, who twice rose into the ranks of the contest. He would have competed more, says Colin proudly, only the contest was then not held for a few years.

Dreams of competing inspire the other Alternates, like Hawaiian Kealii Mamala - right - who has been surfing the North Shore of Oahu.

'I've been, you know, trying to put my time in as much as I can. It's always been a dream for me to get into this contest sometime...whenever it will happen,' he said.

Perhaps two of the most rueful Alternates are Brazilians Alex Martins, now living in San Francisco, and Danilo Couto, who top the list. They made it onto the competitors' roll call last year when injuries plagued Ben Andrews and Nathan Fletcher - who are now back on form. Dreams of displaying their skills were shattered by a perverse Pacific Ocean that flat-lined during the season window of January 1 to March 31.

Alex - left - is doubly pleased to have the contest running for another year and to see the extended opening of the season - from 1 November - 'because we missed the best swell of the year!' he said. As last season rolled pitifully to an end, the surfers could only stand and reflect on some of the best Mavericks days that had fallen over Thanksgiving.

As for living in San Francisco, Alex said, 'I love it, I kinda got used to the weather, it's different from Brazil!' The Pacific Coast is not a surf scene, the water is brutally cold, it doesn't have perfect point breaks, and that makes it a 'very unique' place, he said.

His replacement, Ben Andrews, had injured an ACL ligament in his knee. 'It's been a long haul trying to get back in shape,' said Ben - pictured with legendary surfer Dorian 'Doc' Paskowitz. He started surfing again in June.

How does he feel now?

'I'm stoked! I feel better than ever!' he said.

Other competitors, who don't have to dream of being in the contest but are looking forward to the challenge are Kenny 'Skindog' Collins, pictured holding two-year-old son, Koa, with 'Doc', and Darryl 'Flea' Virostko - below.

'I'm ready this season to go again. It's been a while since I've been in the winners' corale!' said 'Flea.'

The only Mavericks' hat-trick winner - in the first three contests in '99, '00 and '04 - he has been shaping up in Santa Cruz.

What lies behind his surfing image of 'the crazy man!'

It's raw courage. There isn't a wave he won't launch into, he said. 'I don't limit myself when it comes to surfing.'

pics by Chris Flowers

Bay Bridge Now Open

The Bay Bridge opened at about 9 am today, after being closed for emergency repairs since last Tuesday evening.

But by 4.30 pm tonight - pics above - the bridge was still

quiet with a much reduced flow of traffic. Many commuters had travelled to the city this morning by BART or on ferries.

Early this morning KRON4 reported that repairs to the bridge were being tested and that Caltrans were 'very optimistic' of it opening later today. Though not in time for the the morning commute.

Camera shots showed vehicles being driven on the bridge as part of testing.

The problem engineers were working on, reported KRON4, was preventing steel rods from rubbing against each other once the bridge is back in use.

During the closure BART trains have carried record numbers of passengers and have run overnight services on Friday and Saturday. Ferries across the bay have also had increased numbers of travellers.

For further info: KRON4.com

Judging Mavericks 2009/2010 Surf Contest & Heat Selections

Holding the Mavericks Surf Contest is one thing, judging who on a given day out of the world's top big-wave surfers is the best performer, is another matter.

'It's an honour to be chosen to head the judging and pick who's going to be the winner. It's one of the most challenging big-waves in the world,' said Head Judge Gary Linden - pictured

He was on Mavericks Beach at Half Moon Bay on Friday, taking part in the opening ceremony of the contest's Waiting Period - see previous blogs - and at the celebration party afterwards when heat selections were drawn.

With all the indications with warm water this late in the year, he said, 'I think it's going to be a great year and I think it will give us ample opportunity to pick big waves and great conditions.'

'Anyone on a given day could end up a winner!' he said, of the 24 invitees. Defending Champion is Greg Long of San Clemente.

Their performance on the day depends on a combination of skill and Mother Nature. Points are not only given for the way the surfers ride the wave, but on the size of the wave itself. Ten for a great wave, but half that with the wrong wave, said Gary.

They need an 'uncanny ability' to get the most critical take-off on the biggest wave possible.

In the first-round heats, six surfers at a time have 45 minutes to 'be in the right place at the right time.'

Without the right wave, 'you're cooked!' said Gary.

(Jamie Sterling of Hawaii pic left)

While Gary has his eye on the contestants, another man with a different eye on the scene will be Deputy Harbourmaster, Cary Smith, who will be one of those responsible for policing the event with its expected 40,000 crowd.

Cary was quietly patrolling and chatting to people at the opening ceremony. There are hundreds, maybe even a thousand, people working behind the scenes to organize this event, he said. Basically, its 'crowd management' including provision of medical teams, he said.

But, he pointed out, even with 1,000 people, that makes one person per 4,000 people. 'It gets pretty crazy!' he said.

One restriction they have to enforce is to stop fans getting onto the top of the cliff behind the beach, as in a past year rocks fell down on someone.

Cary's primary responsibility is on the water, to ensure everyone's safety from the contestants to the flotilla of rescue jet skis, and small craft bearing media and safety equipment.

He's confident those plans are 'pretty good!'

Heat 1: Evan Slater, Darryl 'Flea' Virostko, Ion Banner, Dave Wassell, Grant 'Twiggy' Baker, Tyler Smith
Heat 2: Peter Mel, Shane Desmond, Zach Wormhoudt, Nathan Fletcher, Matt Ambrose, Anthony Tashnick.

Heat 3: Brock Little, Tim West Jr, Kenny 'Skindog' Collins, Josh Loya, Greg Long, Carlos Burle.
Heat 4: Chris Bertish, Grant Washburn, Ryan Seelbach, Ben Andrews, Shawn Rhodes, Jamie Sterling

pics by Chris Flowers

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Caltrans Still Adjusting Repairs to Bay Bridge - about to Stress Test

Caltrans engineers have been 'custom-fitting and fine-tuning' adjustments to repairs of the Bay Bridge today, said a spokesperson.

Stress testing is about to begin anytime now, she said, in a press conference just given and streamed live on kron4.com.

But the spokesperson refused to give any target time for the opening of the bridge or to make any commitment to it being open for Monday morning.

Safety is the priority, she said.

'This is a really unique situation and things are being customized,' she said.

Designs to the repair involving an eyebar and the fitting of four steel rods has been evolving, with adjustments made as the work is done, she said. Asked why the eyebar, that has a repaired crack in it following planned maintenance on Labour Day Weekend, is not being replaced but shored up back in place, she said that would be too difficult.

The crack had not been affected by the accident of the eyebar and two of the steel rods crashing down during the Tuesday evening commute as a result of vibration, she said.

Stress testing is expected to take about three hours, and will be followed by anti-vibration dampeners being installed, and then extensive inspections by outside agencies.

These are the Federal Highway Administration, the Seismic Peer Review Board and independent inspectors.

'Once that bridge is deemed safe, that's when we can open the bridge,' she said. In the interim, BART are running a limited overnight service to 14 of their stations.

For further info: sign up for official BART news updates, follow a BART RSS feed or follow @SFBART to keep up with the latest.

pics show the fog lifting off the bridge at midday, and a Coastguard helicopter making a more unusual flypast under rather than over it.

Grant Washburn on Calling the Mavericks 2009/2010 Contest

With the opening of the official Waiting Period for the Mavericks Surf Contest, the question that now hangs in the salt-sprayed air is: when will 'The Call' be made?

'The Call' that will have 24 of the world's greatest big-wave surfers and 15 Alternates rushing at 24 hours notice to a beach just off Pillar Point at Half Moon Bay, with an expected 40,000 surfing fans in their wake.

While millions more will prepare to be glued to webcams on computers, or TVs, or dash to the San Francisco Giants' baseball park in San Francisco, to watch one of the world's most thrilling and dangerous big-wave surfing contests.

That vital decision must be made between tomorrow, 1 November, and 31 March, 2010, now that the opening ceremony for the 2009/2010 contest Waiting Period has been held - see previous blog.

The responsibility for deciding when there is a momentous enough swell rolling in from the Pacific Ocean, rests with the surfers. None are more qualified to judge than veteran Mavericks surfer and San Francisco resident, Grant Washburn, who has been surfing the spot for 20 years.

'Hopefully, this will be a good season. All winters aren't created equal,' said Grant at the celebration party at the Oceano Hotel yesterday after the ceremony.

Grant has been surfing there for 20 years and has made a record of what the waves were like on every day of those 20 years. He is also a three-times contest finalist and documentary filmmaker who has coedited a book: 'Inside Maverick's: Portrait of a Monster Wave'.

The 'stats', never mind the surfing, are breathtaking. Of those 20 years, three have been exceptional, three or four have been 'horrible', and most have been in-between, he said.

'People don't appreciate how difficult it is to get a good day.' In one good year, he said, there might only be 30 good days, so when it comes to calling the contest, the surfers are at the mercy of the ocean.

Which is why the last - and shorter - season petered away without a contest. But this season is starting with a rosy aspect. He remembered good El Nino years in 1997 and 1998, and the long-range forecast gives a chance of that happening again.

Given the prospect of El Nino rooting for the contest this season, how are the surfers going to know when to make that magical call? If they paddle out at the first huge swell, will they bypass a chance of more tumultuous waves later?

If they wait, will they end up chasing elusive waves with a look-back at what might have been?

It's less likely, in fact not very likely, that the surfers will make 'The Call' when the waves are too small, but they might, said Grant surprisingly, 'pick a day when they are too big!'

The standard of surfing has risen over the last ten to 15 years with younger surfers 'really pushing the sport,' said Grant - pictured here with Colin Dwyer 'one of the newest hard-chargers!'

Pause the interview while two young girls came up for an autograph! Autographs were a feature on the beach (pic below)

So what are 'small' waves and 'big' waves?

For Mavericks, a 40 ft face is smallish, 'a little disappointing', he said. But a 'perfectly clean' 50 ft -plus wave, one swelling with a smooth surface, no ruffles, in nice weather....he is dreaming of the perfect wave.

Over his 20 years of documenting the waves, he would estimate there have been two perfect days. About once a decade, he said, breaking it down.

Then there are the 60-footers. In his estimation, too big for the most part. Grant, in his early forties, doesn't relish such towering waves, but considers that 'right now the guys would probably go for it!'

A jaw-dropping prospect.

In the interim, what do they do while they wait to make 'The Call'?

Some will stay in California, while others will be across the world, South Africa, Brazil, Hawaii. One surfer yesterday was about to leave for Australia - pic shows Ryan Seelbach, Alex Martins, Chris Bertish

Sponsorship money plays a role in how they live out the next few months, said Grant. They have to figure out how to budget their money, take into account the cost of following swelling seas around the world and leave enough to get back to the Pacific Coast in a hurry.

Pack into that travel fatigue, the tight time schedule - 'you can barely do it from Cape Town' - plus frustrations of lost boards by airlines, and some are surmounting challenges before they even set sight on a wave.

As the party began last night, though, in the warm air with fire-pits and a marquee, a gently-lapping ocean in the background, there was the excitement of another Mavericks season underway.

pics by Chris Flowers

Mayor Gavin Newsom Quits Race for Governor

The surprise news to hit San Franciscans yesterday afternoon was the announcement that Mayor Gavin Newsom is no longer to run for governor of California.

He cited family reasons and the need to concentrate on running the city.

NBC11 quoted from the press release issued by his campaign:

'"I have found it impossible to commit the time required to complete this effort the way it needs to - and should be - done," Newsom said. He said he regretted being unable to continue, but the decision was in the best interests of his wife, young daughter and the city of San Francisco,' reported NBC11 on their website.

Journalist Heather Knight in the San Francisco Chronicle wrote:

'Plagued by low poll numbers and anemic fundraising, and with a newborn daughter at home, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom dropped out of the governor's race on Friday.'

Mayor Newsom had only recently been endorsed by former President Bill Clinton and had been campaigning with him in Los Angeles.

Bay Bridge Closure Continues Over Weekend - BART Trains Run Overnight

Shrouded in fog this morning, the Bay Bridge is to remain closed for the weekend and it is uncertain whether it will open on Monday morning.

In a press conference yesterday afternoon, Caltrans spokesman, Bart Ney, said they needed to prevent the new rods that have been put in place from rubbing against each other and causing metal fatigue.

Metal fatigue from vibration was the cause of the accident during the Tuesday evening commute when two steel eyebars and a crossbar weighing thousands of pounds came crashing down.

Engineers first need to carefully 'back out' the new rods, said Bart Ney. 'We're grinding the areas where there is potential for steel on steel connections. We want them to be very smooth.'

But it would be slow work to prevent the rods being 'nicked', otherwise work on installing the four new rods would have to start over again, he said. After that, they will stress test the rods and 'complete enhancements to minimise movement' of the rod system.

He emphasized that 'safety is the priority.'

Caltrans will be giving another press update this morning, and full coverage is on kron4.com.

In the interim, BART had another record-shattering day on Thursday, beating Wednesday's new record. They carried 442,000 riders, 260,600 of those travelling between San Francisco and the East Bay.

BART have also extended their service to run overnight to 14 designated stations, something they originally said they would not do due to maintenance needs. They ran trains last night and will do so tonight over Saturday and into Sunday morning.

However, they are not so far planning to run an overnight service over Sunday into Monday morning.

Tonight is Halloween, and there are expected to be more travellers to the city. It is also the night when the clocks move back one hour, ending Daylight Saving Time at 2 am.

For further info: sign up for official BART news updates, follow a BART RSS feed or follow @SFBART to keep up with the latest.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Opening of 2009/2010 Mavericks Surf Contest Waiting Period

In perfect weather on a small, sandy beach at Half Moon Bay, the opening ceremony of the 2009/2010 Maverick's Surf Contest Waiting Period took place this afternoon.

From across the world, many of the world's greatest big-wave surfers gathered for the ceremony that included a blessing and paddle out into the bay for a time of reflection.

On a calm, sparkling ocean, the surfers formed a circle and ended their reflections with a ceremonial splashing.

Most of the 24 specially invited contestants and 15 alternates were there. And about 100 other people joined in the celebrations on Mavericks Beach.

The surfers lined up against their surf boards to be introduced by Frank Quirate, Mavericks photographer. But first, tribute was paid to former Contest Director and Mavericks pioneer, Jeff Clark.

'He's in our hearts and in our minds,' said Frank. Everyone looked forward to a day when Jeff would be back on the beach, he said.

Legendary surfer and doctor, Dorian 'Doc' Paskowitz then spoke a specially-written blessing over the surfers.

'I don't have the right to walk the same ground as these gods of surfing. They've ridden waves I can only dream of,' said Doc before the ceremony.

During the ceremony, four of the surfers spoke briefly.

'These are the best of the best,' said Peter Mel from Santa Cruz, paying tribute to the calibre of his fellow surfers as men. During their time of reflection, he said, they would be honouring 'fallen comrades' including Mark Foo, a young Hawaiian who died there in 1994, and Californian surfers Jay Moriarty and Peter Davi.

Reigning champion Greg Long of San Clemente said, 'It is always an honour to be here.' Many of the surfers, he said, were guys he 'idolized' from a young age. 'I see it more as a brotherhood, a bond so special you won't see it anywhere else in the world.'

Surfing, he added, is 'such a special gift.' Greg won his title in January 2008, there being no contest last season due to lack of a Pacific swell.

Hat-trick winner, Darryl 'Flea' Virostko, of Santa Cruz, said it was 17 or 18 years ago when he began to surf, and 'Man! It was the best feeling in the world!'

Flea recalled 'getting beat and nearly facing death,' but going straight back out there. It's like life, he said. 'Life throws weird things at you.'

Other speakers were Anthony Tashnick, a 2005 champion, and Head Judge Gary Linden.

One notable surfer missing today was Grant 'Twiggy' Baker from South Africa who, Gary said, was back at home waiting for a bigger swell!

With the contest season officially opening on November 1, all that remains is to wait for the Pacific Ocean to produce a massive enough swell between now and March 31, 2010. The decision to call the contest, giving surfers only 24 hours to get there, will be made by the surfers themselves, one of several changes made in the running of the contest from previous seasons.

In honour of Jeff, said Katherine Clark, Jeff's former wife and Mavericks Matriarch, the surfers decided not to replace him with another Contest Director but voted to manage the competition themselves. One decision they made in the summer was to continue with an elimination-style contest rather than change to another format, she said.

Peter Mel is one of the most experienced surfers at Mavericks, described as one most deserving of winning though the championship has eluded him. What did he think of his chances this year?

He laughed off his Mavericks bio. 'Who's deserving! It's got to be that guy for the day,' he said. 'I've been here since the beginning, yes. I'd like to think that I surf the place pretty well, but on the day of the competition it has eluded me. I think for me it's still about surfing the place, it's not necessarily about the prize.'

He continued, 'I have been able to put my life on the line every year and I have had a lot more enjoyment than trauma.'

On such a beautiful day, the dangers were invisible. But it is one of the most dangerous surfing areas in the world, notorious for its enormous swells, currents, rocks and chill waters, dangers that the surfers always have at the back of their minds.

'We all know it. We don't like to talk about it,' said Peter. When Mark Foo died, there had been worse wipeouts, he said.

For today, though, they were there to concentrate on celebrating the opening of what will hopefully become the seventh Mavericks contest to be held, and to enjoy a private party afterwards at the nearby Oceano Hotel.

video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8tcBMuEgyI
more interviews to follow in next blogs

pics by Chris Flowers show the line-up for the introduction and blessing; the surfers' private time of reflection; paddle out; Doc meeting Jamie Stirling of Hawaii with Katherine Clark; Greg Long, Darryl 'Flea' Virostko, Anthony Tashnick, Peter Mel; brothers Rusty and Greg Long

California's Next 50 Years of Transportation

A mileage fee on road travel is 'probably the path we're headed towards,' said a transport expert yesterday, speaking at a conference addressing the transport needs of California over the next 50 years.

But Steve Heminger, Executive Director of MTC - Metropolitan Transportation Commission - admitted that responses to that idea were 'almost radioactive!'

A mileage fee 'has a lot to do with the issue of privacy,' he said, ie the government tracking where motorists go. 'I think it's a very significant hurdle.'

The sort of news that taxpayers beleaguered by the credit crunch don't want. Nor to hear that the state will need about $250 billion dollars over the next 50 years for transport, and expects to get only 25 per cent of that based on current revenues.

The conference, titled 'The Next 50 Years Addressing California's Mobility in a Time of Financial Challenge - Fixing Mass Transit!' took place yesterday afternoon at the Commonwealth Club of California, in San Francisco.

The harbinger of financial doom was Norma Ortega, Interim Chief Financial Officer of Caltrans, who outlined predicted spending against a backdrop of shrinking revenues. The credit crunch had caused a decline in taxes, especially sales taxes, and had affected State budget spending, she said.

Just to maintain the current system will cost $5 to $6 billion, and if maintenance is not kept up to date, major repairs further down the line will cost 'six times as much,' she said.

The conference, despite its title, focussed on the philosophy of transport and not specifics. With an audience of about 50 people and a representative also on the panel from the Federal government, questions and discussion were about principles.

And, as Steve Heminger said, 'if we don't know what to buy, how can we talk about figures?' Ideas, he said, 'usually come from a wish list of projects that get dusted off' when funding appears to be available. The problem with public acceptance for anything, he said, whether for bridges, schools or transport, is that the 'public is skeptical because they don't know what they are going to get.'

One of the key questions, he said, is if something new is built, will the public use it? Traffic congestion is usually the 'number one' problem, and, in his view, gas/petrol tax and toll charges today are 'relatively cheap' still. The toll on the Bay Bridge when it opened in the 1930s in today's currency would be 20 bucks, and gas tax today is 'much cheaper' than it was in the 1950s.

If the price of gas stays below $4, ridership of public transport is unlikely to increase, he said, unless more residential and mixed-use accommodation is built near stations.

Baby boomers, like himself, came in for a hit. The public will only get the transportation they're willing to pay for, and the problem with baby boomers? 'My generation are happy to live off the current system.'

He quoted Prsident Obama, quoting himself from 'The Good Book': 'It's not too late for us to set aside childish things.'

In other words, a refusal to look the financial implications in the eye and grasp the nettle, will either lead to a deteriorating transport system or, with borrowed money, impose a severe burden
on the next generation.

'We will continue to postpone and evade that responsibility at our peril,' he warned.

US government representative, Therese McMillan, Deputy Director of USDOT - US Department of Transportation's Federal Transit Administration - said that funding had been 'dramatically coloured by the recent recession.'

The government, especially where projects run into millions and billions of dollars, are expecting 50 per cent of non-Federal dollars 'to be added to the picture,' and are now examining the viability of both building and maintenance costs.

At question time, the first question not surprisingly was whether funding had affected the Bay Bridge. Norma Ortega said she didn't think funding was a factor. Mr Heminger agreed, and said the eastern span was 'showing it's age,' and further commented that 'without political interference' the new part of the bridge would be open today.

Funding wise, the Bay Area has $200 billion for a 25-year plan, but they could spend it all on maintenance without new projects. 'We have aging pains and growing pains and we can't afford to simply address the one,' he said.

Both he and Ms Ortega supported private funding partnerships, but Mr Heminger said this was of limited value as 'no-one from Goldman Sachs' would want to pay for a backlog!

Other 'tools in the toolbox' included tolls, freight charges, 'fast lane' passes, congestion fees, increasing bicycle and pedestrian paths, and for motorists to pay for their insurance at the gas pump. Ferries had some role, but Mr Heminger relegated them to a romantic past, dismissing a proposal made a few years ago for a ferry to bring travellers up to San Francisco from Half Moon Bay on the Pacific Ocean!

He also referred to high-speed rail as having something of a romantic image, and being less of a solution than assumed.

Ms McMillan pointed out that major projects often lasted for decades, and with population changes, the need was to have some flexibility to reduce obsolescence.

Environmental issues, the panel agreed, were another factor to be taken into consideration.

A second conference on identifying funding resources will be held in spring 2010.

For info on Commonwealth Club events including free podcasts: http://tickets.commonwealthclub.org/

pic: Moderator, Dr Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Director of MTI's - Mineta Transportation Institute - National Transportation Finance Center; Norma Ortega; Steve Heminger; Therese McMillan

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bay Bridge to Remain Closed for Friday Morning Commute

The Bay Bridge is to remain closed for the Friday morning commute tomorrow, Caltrans have said in a press conference early this evening.

The bridge closed on Tuesday evening when two steel rods and a crossbar crashed onto the upper deck

of the bridge, striking cars but fortunately causing no serious injuries.

Dale Bonner, Secretary of California's Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, said it was possible the bridge would open later on Friday but it would depend on the repair work being finished and the right weather conditions to

produce a sufficient means of testing the new fittings.

The work is scheduled to finish by 10 am Friday, and then to need a minimum three-hour testing period by outside experts as well as the Caltrans - State of California • Department of Transportation - engineers who have designed the repair. The Federal Highway Administration and the Seismic Peer Review Board have been involved in the design stage and will be in the testing.

The accident was caused by vibration on the bridge that led to metal fatigue in one of a group of four eyebars from a total 1,680 eyebars. The bar came loose, bringing down the second bar and the crossbar with it. Caltrans say that high winds probably contributed.

Because of this, engineers will be waiting for windy conditions in which to test the bridge.

The eyebar had had a crack in it, which had been discovered incidentally during maintenance inspections on another part of the bridge over Labor Day Weekend. That crack had been repaired - it was the cause of delayed reopening of the bridge - and this accident was not related to the crack, said Mr Bonner.

The crack had not widened.

'We're not today anywhere near anything close to a catastrophic failure. What we are doing is moving quickly to nip a very small problem in the bud to keep a small problem small,' he said.

The repair involved replacing all four eyebars as a precaution, making sure the rods were 'centered' so unable to vibrate and cause metal fatigue, putting in additional high-strength steel rods and strengthening welds and bolts.

Journalists at the conference pressed him on several points. Why, asked one, had this happened when vibration was not new to the bridge?

'I don't want anyone to think that the structure itself (is at risk), (or that) there's been any change in the condition of the bridge,' he replied.

Another said commuters were worried that '5,000 tons of steel did fall down.' Some people would say that was catastrohic, the reporter added, and if the bridge couldn't withstand wind, how would it cope in an earthquake?

'I was confident then and confident now that the bridge itself is safe,' Mr Bonner replied. The problem with the design of the repair is that the Bay Bridge is a 73-year-old structure with an obsolete design. They had to have engineers 'go to the drawing board to make a design that will work.'

Journalists had been talking to critics of the design of the bridge. Were Caltrans listening to their critics and were they open to criticism?

Yes, said Mr Bonner, but they were 'not aware of anyone who has suggested a better design.'

Caltrans, said another reporter, were aware two weeks ago of movement with the eyebar fixture. Why had they not closed the bridge earlier?

'Hindsight is 20/20,' said Mr Bonner.

Will the repair pose a risk?

Mr Bonner admitted they could 'never be absolutely certain,' which is why from now on there will be continual inspections.

To repeated questions about the timing of the opening, Mr Bonner reiterated that experts will be given as much time as they needed to complete thorough stress testing.

The press coference was held in Oakland and after which journalists and TV crews were escorted onto the bridge by the CHP - California Highway Patrol - for examination, photos and filming.

A full viewing of the conference has been posted by KRON4: www.kron.com

For further updated info from Caltrans: http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist4/

And for travel info from BART: http://www.bart.gov/

BART say they are not running trains overnight as they need the time to maintain their trains, especially with the extra workloads.

pics show the silent span over the bayside of San Francisco, and police officers guarding the on-ramps to the bridge.

Bay Bridge Closure Brings Record Numbers of BART Travellers

While the Bay Bridge is closed for emergency repairs, BART - Bay Area Rapid Transit - are celebrating a record-breaking bonanza.

A record 437,200 people crammed onto BART trains yesterday producing the highest ridership day in the 37-year history of the service. Compared to an average Wednesday, the trains carried 90,800 more people, representing an extra 26 per cent.

The Bay Bridge closed on Tuesday evening after metal fatigue caused by vibration caused an eyebar to break loose and bring another eyebar and a crossbar down with it. The accident happened at about 5,30 pm, steel hitting cars but without causing serious injury to commuters.

On the route covered directly by the Bay Bridge linking the East Bay and San Francisco, BART had 253,400 riders, an above-average 87,500 or 53 per cent.

And this morning up to 10 am, BART are reporting a 60 per cent rise to an approximate total of 88,000 passengers.

By 4 pm this afternoon, travellers were already queuing at Montgomery Station in the financial heart of the city above the Embarcadero - pictured above.

BART have achieved their record numbers in part by running longer trains and also extra transbay trains. Their service appears to be appreciated by passengers.

'It hasn't been bad. I like it, I can rest,' said Marie, who normally travels by car from Pittsburgh.

Walter, who usually drives in from Berkeley, had likewise found the train service good and had got to work at his normal time of 9 am. The difficulty, he said, had been finding a parking spot near the BART station - something that has affected thousands of commuters - and the inconvenience of having to walk six or seven blocks once he had arrived in the city.

'This is the first day I did it,' said Tracy of her BART commute from Oakland. 'The morning was fine and this seems to be okay.' She usually travels into the city in a car pool and returns by bus.

Another Oakland commuter, Eileen, - pictured - said, 'It's taken me twice as long.' Instead of 30 mins it had taken her 1 hour and 10 mins to get to work. But the problem wasn't BART, it was the MUNI train that she needed to transfer to that took a slow, meandering route to her place of work south of the city, she said.

'BART's pretty good,' she opined. 'I would take it every day if it wasn't for MUNI!'

The previous ridership record was 405,400 in September 2008 when there were two sporting events in the city, the Raiders vs. Broncos and Giants vs. Arizona.

The next highest numbers are 395,300 in September of this year when the Bay Bridge had a planned closure on Labor Day for maintenance inspections; 394,370 in June 2008 for Spare the Air Day; and 391,900 on the day of the controversial Olympic Torch Relay, and the Giants played San Diego.