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The Flying Tiger Centomiglia's Italian flag spinnaker catches the sun as a pack of racers emerges from the shadow of the Bay Bridge's eastern span. ©2012 norcalsailing.com
January 30, 2012
Saturday's Three Bridge Fiasco began early, at 0900, with glorious sunshine, a chilly northerly, and enough breeze for the earlier starters to make a controlled getaway from the Golden Gate YC start line. The pursuit race kicks off the Singlehanded Sailing Society's season for doublehanded and singlehanded boats. The three marks are Blackaller Buoy east of the South Tower of the Golden Gate Bridge, Red Rock south of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, and Treasure Island/Yerba Buena Island at the Bay Bridge. You can round the marks in any order and in any direction. You can also start and finish in any direction. Hence the name "Fiasco."
This year's edition garnered probably more starters than ever – 307 out of the 334 signed up – and why not? The weather and currents were certainly attractive.
Unfortunately, the breeze softened as the morning wore on, and a few boats trying to make it to Blackaller as their first mark called in to say that they had to start their engines. Pat Broderick, singlehanding the Wyliecat 30 Nancy reported that, "Anita Rock got me." (Anita Rock being a restricted zone off the beach at Crissy Field.) Soon after, another Wyliecat 30, Dazzler, reported the same thing. A strategy of getting away from the beach and out into the ebb to get to Blackaller worked better, although the temporary mark set to replace the errant buoy looked closer to shore than the usual position.
For those who continued on in a clockwise direction, the next choice was to go all the way to the North Tower before tacking over to head toward Angel Island, hoping to catch a counter-current, or tack over some time earlier. Going all the way over appeared to work to the advantage of some.
Nothing in the rules says you have to go through Raccoon Strait, and some boats chose to take Angel Island to the south instead of the north. The clockwise boats that went through Raccoon found lighter breeze with big headers, but flooding current. The steady, moderate northerly picked back up in the North Bay. But what was with the current? The predictions called for a flood there at midday, but instead, it was ebbing in the North Bay.
One conspiracy theorist – who wished to remain anonymous for obvious reasons – wondered, "Are they dumping water to make it look like we're having a drought so they can build their peripheral canal?" The ebbing water did look suspiciously clean.
Some of the clockwise boats did a button-hook around Red Rock, taking it to port. Just south of Red Rock was the most troublesome restricted zone of the day. The Richmond Long Wharf, a fueling station for tankers, is off-limits, delineated by three encircling buoys. However, boats went in there anyway, perhaps unaware of the restriction, or perhaps because they'd drifted in there by accident.
A brisk easterly, the most wind of the day, filled in for the southbound clockwise boats, only to die completely right at the Bay Bridge.
The south side of the Bay Bridge provided the biggest parking lot of the day. Boats drifted around it before getting back into the wind on the north side of it.
The first boat to finish, the Howard Spruit-designed D-Class catamaran Rocket 88, sailed by Brendan Busch and Ian Klitza, crossed the line from the west at 14:21:27. The first monohull, a Wyliecat 39 named Checkered Past sailed by Kim and Anna Desenberg, finished at 14:45:00, coming from the east. The first singlehanded boat, Dan Benjamin's Wyliecat 30 Whirlwind, crossed the line at 15:04:27.
When the biggest clump of boats (50 or so) were coming up the Cityfront around 1500 hours, a couple of captains in the Blue & Gold Fleet of tour boats laid on their horns, then got on the race's working channel and began to complain about sailboats "failing to give way," hindering their passage in and out of Pier 39.
Twenty-eight boats dropped out, but Ben Burbridge and Jeff Arcuri on the Hunter 30 Bon Chance hung in there to be the final finisher at 18:33:32, a comfortable margin before the deadline of 1900.
Some of the trailerable boats hauled out at St. Francis YC and prepared their boats to hit the freeway for home. Just as they were leaving, we caught Sean McBurney and Matt Vechionne, whose Santa Cruz Moore 24 Paddy Wagon finished 26th out of 26 Moores. "It was a Fiasco! For us anyway, as we went the wrong way. We went to Red Rock first, then Treasure Island and Blackaller. We tried to get around TI from the start but realized it was a bad idea and took off for Red Rock. We were stuck at TI twice…" Simon Winer and Back Hackworth on Gruntled won the Moore 24 division.
Further down the parking lot, Craig Smith and John Curren were preparing to trailer their Santa Cruz 27 Don Quixote back to Santa Cruz as well. They had a much less dour demeanor. "It was an amazing race! We haven't figured out how we finished yet but it was a great day. We went to Blackaller (clockwise) this year. And we went around Pt. Blunt instead of Raccoon. We think we passed some boats coming out of Raccoon." This year's race was their third Fiasco. "This is going to be a regular event for us; we love this race." Turns out they finished 28 out of 32 boats in the Doublehanded Sportboat Division.
First-timer Scott Cyphers of Napa sailed his Cal 29 Hatikvah singlehanded in the non-spinnaker division. "I was shocked that I came in second. I made some mistakes after rounding Blackaller and heading into Raccoon by going up the middle against the ebb instead of looking for relief near the shore. From Raccoon to Red Rock I battled with the Santana 22 Zingaro and thought, there is no way they should be keeping up with me. I got away from them finally on the reach to Treasure Island, but then they caught up in the hole and the battle was on again from Yerba Buena to the finish. But the wind died about 500 yards from the finish so I was sweating it out to the end."
"We beat, beat, beat, bobbed, beat and bobbed across the finish line," said Marianne Armand, crew on Zingaro. "Thank goodness it was still ebbing along the Cityfront at 4:30. Such a stellar day!" Skipper Jennifer McKenna added, "My one regret is following the other two Santana 22s to the south of Angel Island. I think Raccoon was the much better option."
So in the end, was clockwise or counter-clockwise the "right way" to go? For the definitive answer, go to the awards meeting at Oakland YC on Wednesday, February 8, at 1930, and see if you can figure it out from the stories the division winners will tell. See www.sfbaysss.org for more info and (very preliminary) results. You can also view our photo gallery here.