It’s wild out on San Francisco Bay

Published on January 27th, 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.”

Ian McClelland, RRO/MBO, reflects on his time in the ring:


I’m sitting here on the Indian River (aka ICW) along Florida’s East Coast, enjoying my favorite rum-based libation and the rekindling of memories in Scuttlebutt. The commenters got me reminiscing of my days as Mark Boat Officer (MBO) and PRO for events on San Francisco Bay. It’s wild out there and you have no idea until you experience it.

Over five years, I was blessed with working with just about every club and sailing organization on SF Bay. The Mark Boat Officers in each of those clubs and organizations offer unique expertise to the PRO who is trying to run a successful regatta. So, while PROs think two dimensionally with course axis and distance, the MBOs add “depth” to the equation as they consider varying depths around the Bay.

Different depths mean different scope. Furthermore, they need to know the seafloor state. Do we use Navys? Danforths? River Anchors? The sands of the City Front are different from the hillsides of Arch Rock, Shag Rock, and Harding Rock off the west side of Alcatraz, which again is different from the mudflats of the Berkeley Circle. Different sea floors require different anchors.

And what works in a flood, might not work in an ebb. On a starting line, one side may be in ebb…and the other in flood. At the windward mark, 5-10 degree wind shift requiring a move of the mark, could require a ground tackle change to address a different scope. It ain’t Biscayne Bay with its fairly constant depths of 8-12 feet’ where course axis changes in shifty winds are smooth exercises requiring very little time.

And wait, there’s more. These MBOs, after marks are set, become safety boats rescuing kiters, windsurfers, dismasted J/105s, and capsized dinghies heading out the Gate on an ebb while a freighter is coming in. Yes, that is why many Mark Boats have AIS and monitor Vessel Traffic Services on Channel 14.

It’s wild out there on SF Bay and a hell of a lot of fun.

Have a story to share from your home waters? Send them to editor@sailingscuttlebutt.com.



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