Charter Fleet Survives Tsunami

A U.S. West Coast company and its sailing school dodge the worst of the waves.

Pacific Yachting and Sailing

The charter fleet at Pacific Yachting and Sailing crashes into the docks in rolling waters.Pacific Yachting and Sailing

The 5 a.m. call came from his brother, in Tokyo, Japan.

“ ‘A tsunami’s coming. Watch out!’ he told me.”

But Marc Kraft, president of Pacific Yachting and Sailing in Santa Cruz, California, was, well,_ Californian_ about it.

Kraft, who started the business nearly 30 years ago, has presided over the growth of a fleet that now includes more than a dozen Beneteaus, Catalinas, and Hunters. “I figured, come on, we’ve had these warnings before,” he says. So on March 11, 2011, he wandered down to the docks “pretty nonchalantly,” as he recalls, at about 9 a.m.

By 9 p.m., in the far-ranging aftermath of Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, everything had changed. But Kraft feels lucky. The damage to his boats, which are used for charter, instruction, and corporate team building events, is comparatively minimal, $5-6,000 worth, to three models.

“We’re fine,” he says. “Three out of fourteen isn’t bad. Let’s get back to business. I am bound and determined to get going.” Pacific Yachting kicks off its return to normalcy on March 25, when 10 of its boats set off in a corporate team building event for Google executives.

In an eletter to clients and students of the American Sailing Association-affiliated school, Kraft elaborated on the day’s events.

“Fortunately, with the help of many of our captains and boating neighbors, we continued to replace breaking dock lines and fend off floating boats as much as possible during the event (over 6 hours),” he wrote.

“Often, it was far too dangerous to actually be on the docks, making it terribly frustrating. The scene was jaw dropping, intense, treacherous, and gut wrenching. To watch the strong possibility of our entire fleet almost get washed out to sea and have no control of what was happening was quite trying.

“The currents were similar to watching white-water rapids, charging through the harbor with the strength of 10 locomotive trains. Fortunately for us, the upper harbor (behind the bridge from us) received the most of the damage. A few of our boats on the end tie received minor damage from a loose powerboat and debris that rubbed against them.

“We truly appreciate your concerns and look forward to having a great sailing season ahead. For now, our hearts and prayers go out to the people in Japan and we wish them a rapid recovery.”

Watch a YouTube video of Kraft—that’s him running down the dock in the left of the screen—while the waves rolled in and shook the fleet.