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When a fiasco is a good thing

When a fiasco is a good thing

Published on February 2nd, 2015

raccoon straits-7

Three hundred sixty-eight doublehanded and singlehanded entrants were signed up the annual San Francisco Bay mid-winter classic, The Three Bridge Fiasco, on January 31, 2015. The early morning hours witnessed a strong northerly clearing out the tule fog which had be lingering for far too long, the stage was set for a possible record run in speed as well as entrants. The early birds, aka high raters which began starting at 9:00 AN were blessed with nice winds and the remnants of a flood which, for all intents and purposes, opened the door for the small boats to kick some ass.

Course refresher: Three course marks are YRA 16 (“Blackaller” a yellow cylinder 0.2 nm east of Fort Point), Red Rock, and Yerba Buena Island. Boats shall round these three marks in any order and in either direction. Race distance is approximately 21.47nm. Chart below.

The various forecasts were all over the place and even the most seasoned vets had trouble reading the tea leaves and deciding the best route for their particular boat and start time. For those who departed the Golden Gate Yacht Club starting line before 10:00 AM, the concept was to get either across the main bay before the ebb, or get Yerba Buena in the rear view while the wind was northerly. A great concept in practice, and it was working. For a while…

The counter-clockwise crews had a very nice spinnaker ride toward the Bay Bridge and looked golden, hugging the west side of Treasure Island for relief until the breeze lightened, then went NW. The lucky who had not committed were blessed with more consistent wind mid channel, and wisely avoided much of Yerba Buena’s wind shadow and eeked under the eastern span in good shape.

Meanwhile, the clockwise contingent split between getting east as fast as possible or getting Blackaller off the check list. Those going for Blackaller early and many of the post 10:00 AM starters saw the breeze ease, and the ebb build. The later starters had trouble even getting to the starting line, as the VMG was less than the magic carpet ride to the Farallones. A large contingent found themselves being swept near to or past the Golden Gate. If not intimidating enough, the Vessel Traffic folk would broadcast a brief description of vessel right of way and priority hierarchy, which the recreational sailor is at the bottom of, regardless if they could maneuver or not. Sometime the wind god’s just like to mess with you.

Those who rode east, and got to the shores of the Bezerkely Flats and headed toward red rocks had a good game plan. But the boats with the low ratings had a hard time getting “Up River” and they to, were left to decide on pulling the plug or toughing it out and hoping the westerly’s filled. It was the “Miracle Nooner” the saved the day as the westerly filled 10-12 knots and gave the bots hope that their race could be salvaged. And while logic said the shortest route from the North Tower to Red Rocks is Raccoon Strait, the pesky current and swirling winds can be detrimental.

Meanwhile, even the early starters who got east and into the general area of South Hampton Shoals, found the once abundant northerly get scarce and the currents more abundant. It was like being a yo-yo, more than a few crews explained. “Gain some, lose some” was mantra of the day. We asked numerous boats if they were seeing any signs of the NW filling in and the answer seemed to be a unanimous “negatory”.

The Miracle Nooner continued to build over the Central Bay, and with it, the masses all began to pile into the North Bay, and while flying their kites nicely, the VMG again could not easily overtake the still building ebb, and as you closed in on Red Rocks, the wind got even lighter. Advantage ultra-lights and multis.

Adrenaline, The D-Cat, Bill Erkelens ongoing project boat, rounded Red Rocks just after 2:00 PM, the first of their 3 waypoints, but with the westerly now increasing to the high teens in the slot, they were in great shape to leave the fleet behind as the reached in fine fashion to Treasure Island and then up the City Front to Blackaller before a glorious run down to take the first to Finish, the gun firing at 14:46:37.

David Albright loaned his Moore 24 CAL to friends Mike Quinn and Larry Nelson who sailed her to class victory.

In all , the record warm temperatures with highs hitting the high 70’s on the Bay made the 2015 3BF for all of the 354 starters (just 14 DNS’s) a pleasant afternoon. Of course it was far more pleasant for the 57 finishers, and probably eased the pain for those who were just short of the finish line when the race committee closed shop at the 19:00 cut off time.

Report and photos by Erik Simonson.

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