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Five Questions for Latitude 38’s John Arndt, founder of Summer Sailstice

DATE POSTED:June 2, 2020
Any day out sailing is a good day for Summer Sailstice founder John Arndt.
Any day out sailing is a good day for Summer Sailstice founder John Arndt. (Courtesy John Arndt/)

As the coronavirus continues to change and reshape the world as we know it, Cruising World is reaching out to contributors, our partners in the marine industry, and other sailors to get their take on where they are and how they’re doing. We’re asking five questions to each of them, and in this installment, we’re checking in on Latitude 38 publisher and Summer Sailstice founder John Arndt, who plies the waters of San Francisco Bay aboard his Ranger 33.

1. California felt the effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic early on. How has it affected your day to day life? What’s it like living in the Bay Area these days?

I was in Puerto Vallarta for the Pacific Puddle Jump kick-off party and returned March 5th for our Latitude 38 Crew Party. We thought about canceling as concern was mounting. On March 16th the governor told us all to shelter in place. We packed up, left the office and have been working from home ever since. Members of our yacht club were two weeks in quarantine after returning from the Diamond Princess in Japan.

It’s been tumultuous and amazing as we sensed the gathering pandemic storm but didn’t know what it would be like until we were in it. It felt a bit like an approaching hurricane, and you wondered where the eye of the storm would land. It turns out the eye of the storm was in New York but California, despite the early action, continues to suffer with the loss of life and business.

California is a great place to live but, when sheltered in place, your situation is so dependent on your particular circumstances and neighborhood. Traffic is down, the air is clearer, the noise is down and it’s springtime. Despite the anxiety, we are lucky relative to most. Everything is changing week to week, and is affecting everyone differently. Mary Ewenson of Spinsheet saw a comment saying, “we’re all in the same storm but we’re not all in the same boat.” That sounds right.

2. Latitude 38 has been a longtime publication for northern California sailors. What are you and the team doing differently because of the pandemic? Has the magazine changed its focus at all? What sort of sailing stories are people wanting to read in print and online?

Beyond working from home, many Zoom calls and all the rest, we are simply sailing less and working more. We increased our communications with print, digital, social and the phone to stay in touch with readers, advertisers, magazine distributors, yacht clubs, the Coast Guard, community sailing and many others. It’s helping us understand everyone’s circumstances and what we can do to help both sailing and business.

We’ve also had many other reporting changes. With a 12-month sailing season, we always have events to cover. The year started with us reporting on the over 300-boat Three Bridge Fiasco, various midwinter regattas and the Big Daddy Regatta. Then all the racing stopped. We attended the Pacific Puddle Jump kick-off party on March 4th at Paradise Village Marina in Puerto Vallarta just before they began the 3,000-mile sail to the Marquesas. Then the Pacific Ocean closed!

Racing his Ranger 33, <em>Summer Sailstice</em> is just one of the many ways that John Arndt finds to just go sailing.
Racing his Ranger 33, Summer Sailstice is just one of the many ways that John Arndt finds to just go sailing. (Courtesy John Arndt/)

No regattas. No cruising. What could we possibly cover? As we’ve always known, there’s a story in every slip. The sailing has paused but we’re surrounded by great stories and sailors. We hope to have a story in July about two brothers who’ve owned the same boat for 46 years. It’s a locally built Farallone Clipper, launched in July 1940! This July is its 80th anniversary. Shockingly, it appears we’ve never written about the boat or them before. Our June issue has a story of an artist who sailed his Pearson Commander solo up the Delta in March doing oil paintings along the way.

We’ve also written about people who have “suffered” by sheltering in place in places like Nuku Hiva, Sea of Cortez, Fiji and Tonga. It sounds idyllic until you learn you weren’t even allowed to swim from your boat in Nuku Hiva, and Cyclone Harold threatened cruisers in Tonga and Fiji.

We hope to be covering more regattas and cruising stories soon. But we find plenty to write when we’re just “Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay” (written by Otis Reading while on a houseboat in Sausalito in 1967.)

3. What’s the Bay Area sailing scene like as spring turns into summer? Are the yacht clubs open? Is there racing? Are clubs finding any unique sorts of events to get people out on the water?

One of the reasons I love living in California is 12 months of sailing. Starting January 1, the 2020 sailing season was great up until early March, when the weather improved but the pandemic got worse. I raced in our club, February midwinter races, and then didn’t sail again until early May, when my wife and I went for an afternoon sail. Generally, there has been very little sailing, though it has been increasing as the weather has improved, the pandemic is better understood and health guidelines were updated.

For a while, it was illegal to sail on San Diego Bay, while San Francisco Bay never actually closed. We were all limited to “essential travel,” leaving room for debate on whether we were allowed to go to our sailboat and sail. Now that we’re all junior epidemiologists we’re part of the forever-fluid debate on appropriate behavior. It has upset us when counties issue guidelines on parks, golf, tennis, fishing and kayaking but don’t mention sailing.

At present, recreational sailing is fine for members of the same household. Organized racing remains closed down, as are six-pack and tour-sailing charter operators. Guidelines vary by county, though two of the Bay Area’s six counties are allowing limited racing under restricted conditions. Race committees in those counties are working to craft appropriate sailing instructions. The Cortez Racing Association has pulled off a Race Your Household regatta on San Diego Bay, so we’re trending in the right direction.

Yacht clubs are mostly closed since they have the same challenges faced by bars and restaurants. Many have maintained some activity with curbside food pick up and also the now ubiquitous webinars and Zoom yoga fitness and cocktail hours. In the long run, we see all this as a huge positive for sailing. After eight to 10 weeks of video cocktails and webinars teaching us to be masters of mainsail trim, we’ll never want to see another computer screen as long as we live. Sailing (with well-trimmed mainsails) will be how we spend the rest of our summer.

4. You were the founder of Summer Sailstice how many years ago? What’s on tap for this very different solstice celebration on June 20? What’s this year’s measure of success?

2020 will be a magical year for Summer Sailstice. Just like the last 19! It was founded in June 2001, as a global celebration of sailing, to happen annually on the weekend closest to the summer solstice. So this is the 20th year and it happens the actual solstice falls on a Saturday, and is June 20, 2020. That wasn’t planned in 2001!

While sailing is not known for diversity, how people sail is incredibly diverse—Beetle Cats on Cape Cod, outrigger canoes in the Pacific, double-ended cruisers with tanbark sails, Sunfish, kiteboards, schooners, and scows. Some people are happy pottering around a lake, some thrive on racing and others feel compelled to sail through the ice of the Northwest Passage. That’s what makes sailing both incredibly cool and very difficult to unite. Summer Sailstice is a day for all sailors to celebrate the escape, freedom, chaos, and joy of sailing together, while we’re separated by both distance and unique sailing passions.

Turns out a pandemic is perfect for Summer Sailstice. We’re not traveling and we’re not stuck with our kids at the softball or soccer field. This year we can actually all do something together as a family, and sailing is perfect. On San Francisco Bay, we’ve created a treasure hunt for racers, cruisers and everyone to go sailing together while remaining apart. It’s easy for clubs, classes and anyone to set up. You can see the event we’ve posted with the local Yacht Racing Association of San Francisco Bay, including a link to instructions, here.

This event is completely disorganized. If organized it would need a permit. You can start from wherever you want, at any time you want and sail anywhere you want. Participants take the prescribed photos to post on Instagram with unique hashtags and, from those, some lucky winners will be chosen at random for prizes.

This year’s Sailstice is June 20.
This year’s Sailstice is June 20. (Courtesy John Arndt/)

Success is more people sailing. We’d have more non-sailors discover sailing, not through glitzy, high-tech, big-money events, but by seeing how most sailors sail most of the time. The world will see how, if everyone lived like a sailor, it would be a better place. Finally, it would be having the entire staff of Cruising World and Sailing World and all their readers signed up to start their summer of sailing “together” on Summer Sailstice.

5. On a personal note, what sailing (or other activities) are you looking forward to this summer? How are you planning to get out on the water, and where might those adventures take you?

Rich Jepsen of US Sailing recently quoted Tom Blackhaller once saying to him, “Why would anyone ever just go sailing?” This is going to be a good year for everyone to rediscover that simple pleasure. Even if you sail a foiling Moth. I’m fortunate because while I love our Friday night and local club racing, I also love “just going sailing.” I keep our Ranger 33 (named Summer Sailstice) very simple to rig. My wife and I can go from slip to sailing in 15 or 20 minutes. Our big hope is we’ll find a way to restart bringing non-household members.

I remember when the Ranger 23, the J/24, Pearson Commander and the Santana 22 were introduced. At the time, the brochures all showed pleasant, well-cushioned, porta-potty and camp-stove equipped interiors. Those and most boats were racer/cruisers, and families actually went weekend cruising in them. People are going to rediscover the cruiser part of their racer/cruiser, and we will be doing the same on our Ranger 33. We run a Bay Area cruising rally called the Delta Doo Dah and sign-ups are already up over 50 percent this year.

I grew up sailing in Maine on a Turnabout and Rhodes 19. We go back every summer to see family and sail our Pearson Ensign. That may be our big loss this summer. Maine still has a two-week quarantine and I’m still a bit skeptical about getting on a jet or sprawling family reunions. However, whether we end up in Maine for a couple of weeks or stay on San Francisco Bay, I’ll start my summer of sailing by sailing together, with everyone worldwide, on Summer Sailstice, and then enjoy lots more of just going sailing all summer long. After all, more sailing is a good thing.