The West Coast’s Wackiest Race

Published on January 27th, 2015

If the mission of an event is to maximize participation, the first step might be to throw out the highly refined race management manual. Setting perfect start lines for perfect windward-leeward courses is fine for the hard-core racers, but not as much for the casual competitor.

One race that has hit on a winning formula is the “Three Bridge Fiasco” on San Francisco Bay, which kicks off at 0900 on Saturday, January 31. There are already 325 boats entered, with over 350 expected by the entry deadline on Wednesday (Jan. 28).

The “3-Bridge” is a reverse start pursuit race which begins and ends at the Golden Gate Yacht Club, rounding marks near SF Bay’s 3 major bridges: the Golden Gate, the San Francisco-Oakland, and the Richmond-San Rafael. The marks can be rounded in any order and in any direction. The start and finish line may also be crossed in either direction.

With 5-second intervals between starting times, there are often several dozen boats attempting to start, in both directions, at the same time. Mix in late starters and the race committee has its hands full keeping track of who is starting.

For the racers, the seemingly simple task of starting, rounding all 3 marks and finishing is misleading. With light morning wind and a building 3.7 knot ebb, how you choose to complete the course is pivotal to race success. Also, the demolition of the old San Francisco-Bay Bridge with its extended safety zone forcing boats into the shallows near the Oakland end will add additional interest … if they make it that far!

The overall winner is the first boat back to the GGYC finish line after completing the 21.5 mile course. In addition, many one-design and PHRF division awards are handed out at the Awards Party.

The race attracts large one-design divisions and several hundred PHRF boats. Registered so far are 28 Moore 24s, 18 Express 27s, and large numbers of J-105s, J-22s, and J-24s The slowest boat is an Oday 22 at PHRF 282 that will start at 0900; the fastest is an Extreme 40 at PHRF -111, which starts 2 hours, 12 minutes, and 10 seconds later.

Results can vary and be a wacky as the race itself. In 2014, a total of 3 out of 365 starting boats managed to finish with the winning boat taking 8 hours and 27 minutes. The winner in 2013 sailed the course in less than 3 hours. This year’s wind is forecast to be in the mid-low single digits, so adding in SF Bay’s strong currents, it could be another slow race.

But whatever happens, at the end of the day nearly 350 boats will head for their berths with another “Fiasco” logged into their sailing memories.

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