No Rules Except Unwritten Rules

Published on September 1st, 2017

It is an iconic race for the high speed crowd where they test the limits on the hectic and heavy air playground of San Francisco Bay. But it’s not all ‘balls to the wall’ as Steve Bodner reports.

The annual Ronstan Bridge to Bridge Race hosted by the St. Francis Yacht Club on August 31 had 39 foiling boards, kites, cats and moths. Its an all out drag race from the mouth of the San Francisco Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge downwind to Yerba Buena Island at the foot of the Bay bridge. Anything can happen and it usually does.

Bring what you’ve got and run it hard is the motto of the race. There’s no rules except for some unwritten ones if you want to finish this race.

Rule #1- Get to the starting line.
At the last minute I switched from the foiling kite to the windsurfer as getting to the starting line was the main priority. With super sketchy winds at the beach and a 3 knot flood tide, anything less than a 13m kite wouldn’t get you close.

I rigged up my Avanti 9.2 rig on the Mikes Lab 89cm wide board with 59cm kashy fin. That was enough to get me to the bridge with plenty of time to take a few downwind runs across the start line. A few weren’t so lucky – a 40-foot cat flipped just inside the gate and turtled within a minute and several of the foil kites went down in the lighter breeze outside the gate.

You can’t win the race if you can’t get to the starting line!

The race started in 10-12 knots and quickly filled in to the low teens as the fleet approached the middle of the bay above Alcatraz Island. The foiling kites sent it the deepest, looking like they might do the whole race in one tack. I tried to keep up with the foiling windsurfers but they too were sending it 10 degrees deeper than I could on my xl slalom set-up. As the puffs filled in from behind, I was able to catch some but this race would be won at the end.

Rule #2- Stay out of trouble.
Two of the foiling windsurfers just in front of me tried to cross each other on the downwind but that’s where it ended as carbon, monofilm, and bodies collided. Sometimes it’s just better to duck than to keep yelling starboard. On the foils, boards are traveling faster and decisions are split second. Two more down; let’s see who else I can catch.

On the approach below Alcatraz to the Bay Bridge, two outbound freighters were splitting the fleet with an extra blue and gold ferry in the mix for additional chop and traffic. I reminded myself, “Stay out of trouble and just keep on the tack that takes you towards the finish line.” Sure enough I connected a few puffs from behind and was right up there in the mix with Xavier on the foiling windsurfer.

Rule #3- Get to the finish line.
The top kite foilers looked like they were just making it across the finish line but for the rest of us, this was still a race. I sailed through a graveyard of downed foil kites a quarter mile from the finish line as the wind bubbles above Yerba Buena Island, leaving most of the kites high and dry. I realized the only chance is coming in hot from the outside.

I gybed back to line myself up for the last move of the game. If I could call it right and catch the final puff, I’d go from zero to hero. Chris Radkowski on the F4 foil and windsurfer had the same idea and was coming on strong behind me as the puff carried us down to the finish. Within 10 seconds, Xavier, Chris, and I all crossed the finish. It was a bit anticlimactic slogging across the finish line as the second windsurfer but that still beats not making it across at all.

With only 18 finishing the race, the light wind and flood tide proved to be too much for many. The 11 minute barrier still stands as Johnny Heineken, Daniela Moroz and Joey Pasquali took the line honors on the foiling kite boards & 15m+ kites.

A huge thanks to Ronstan and the St. Francis Yacht Club for continuing the tradition.

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