Fog, angry winds, and the J/24 Class

Published on January 24th, 2022

In his January column for Seahorse magazine, Paul Cayard described San Francisco Bay as “a treacherous piece of water off the otherwise peaceful Pacific Ocean. On a summer afternoon, with the current going at 2kt out the gate and the 59° wind pushing in at 25kt, what you have is the Octagon of Sailing.”

Here are some memories from fighting on this canvas:

Jim Burns:
We did the J/24 North Americans and the J/24 Worlds in 1997 and 1998 with St. Francis Yacht Club as host but the race course on the Berkley Circle was a seven mile trip. We would leave the Club before 9:00am and sail downwind under kite for over an hour in lovely, light air conditions to get to the Circle, pondering on the journey whether it would be Genoa or Jib for the first race.

We learned that you could determine the likely wind strength by the temperature difference between the City Front and Sacramento, with 20 knots as a given on a clear day. Then after two very wet races with full gear, you would not even ease sheets after going through the finish line as you had a one hour buck, straight uphill on starboard tack, back to the club.

The real danger was sailing past the lee of Alactraz as the wind swirls with dramatic changes in direction (30 degrees or more) in a heartbeat. More than a few boats were caught with sheets cleated, everyone on the rail with a beer in hand (thumb over the hole to prevent “saltation”) and be “tea bagged” as the wind shifted and the boat was knocked down to windward.

Once back at the club, you would stand there if full gear and would be hosed down to get the salt off. Great memories.

Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt:
I haven’t kept many trophies, but near my desk is the tenth place mug I got at the 1982 J/24 Worlds. Just too many memories I never want to forget. One was how Tom Linskey had designed two sets of luff snaps on our Ullman genoa which allowed us to change the sail shape to increase its wind range (the class outlawed it afterwards).

The regatta format included a distance race that went out the Golden Gate Bridge in which the fleet was swallowed whole by fog. The wind was light, the current was ripping, and we all somehow guessed our way around the weather mark. After rounding we passed back under the bridge into the bay, the fog lifted and we could finally see again.

Aside from the shallow Berkley Circle course offering gut wrenching chop, it was a long ways from St Francis Yacht Club, and by the end of the day the wind was snorting for the upwind grind. The moment we crossed the finish line, it was a crew race down below, with the slowest left to helm back to club. As foredeck, I lost that race more than once.

Do you have stories from the Chesapeake Bay? Narragansett Bay? Great Lakes? Send them to editor@sailingscuttlebutt.com.

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