Morgan and I were very happy to compete once again in the double handed Three Bridge Fiasco in SF Bay. The 3 Bridge Fiasco is exactly what it claims to be and nothing less: A fiasco, albeit a fun and exciting one. The beauty is that you can sail the course any way you like as long as you round the three marks: Blackaller by the Golden Gate Bridge, Red Rock Island at the Richmond Bridge, and Yerba Buena/Treasure Island. This means that boats in the same start can go in opposite direction as they head to their desired side of the course. It starts in pursuit race fashion where the boats with the highest PHRF rating go first. Imagine over 300 boats jockeying for a good start on either side of the line. This can make for very exciting conditions! Morgan and I decided that we would go Blackaller, Red Rocks, Treasure Island, and finish. Turns out it was the popular direction, so off we went along with some 250+ other boats.
The Start (Paxhias with the red kite)
Three Bridge requires a lot of mental stamina to not constantly second guess your choices. One of the many decisions to make during the race is whether or not to go through Raccoon Straits. This passage goes between Tiburon and Angel Island and is known for fluky winds and current (kind of like the Niagara River but more wily). It is a shorter distance and is often the best route, but given the wind direction and tides, we decided to go around the east of Angel Island up to Red Rocks. This was not the popular way to go, but we dug in and went for it. We spent the time sailing around the island nervous that we had made a huge mistake. We focused on playing the currents along the shore and ended up… gasp… almost exactly where we were in the fleet when we parted ways with them at the straits. We were now en route to Red Rocks fighting a building ebb with several hundred other boats and a large container ship making its way by us. Sound like a fiasco yet?
Rounding Red Rocks (look out!)
We rounded Red Rocks and set the chute. We had beautiful breeze and reached over several big boats including a J/105. Feeling very confident, we continued onward toward Treasure Island. We saw only one boat heading in the opposite direction- a Moore 24, and chuckled at the thought of them trying to get around Red Rocks in such a strong ebb. Just as we were nearing Treasure Island, someone turned off the wind and cranked the tide up to 11. It was around 1:00 p.m. We turned around to see a massive fleet of spinnakers collapsing and boats compressing as they ran out of air. Morgan and I scooted out for whatever clear air we could find and tried everything to get up to Treasure Island. It’s moments like these that I truly feel the benefits of growing up sailing in Youngstown. Your tolerance for light air and frustrating currents is rather high compared to others. We watched a lot of people get increasingly irritated and overheard a number of boats drop out as we sat and waited. We too had our own moments of expressed disdain for the conditions, but we knew patience was the only way to salvage the situation. After nearly two hours, the tide had shifted just enough to form a back eddy up the shore of the Treasure Island. We had been stalking this area for some time and were one of the first on the elevator. We stayed very close to shore just as the breeze began to fill in and the fleet started moving again. The old Bay Bridge is still being demolished. Consequently, our course was restricted to sailing between the bridge’s first span and Treasure Island. This created a monumental bottleneck of sailboats like I’ve never seen before. Morgan and I continued to sail close to the shore supplementing our downwind angles with wing on wing to maintain a line of relatively clear air. Yet, the fleet had a host of issues as boats bumped into each other, forgot about port and starboard right of way, ran into the docked Coast Guard cutter, or simply appeared to beach themselves (late lunch break?). We had to do some serious bobbing and weaving while trying to keep the boat sailing. The saga continued as we made our way around the island and coasted into its wind shadow. We were feeling the stress of running out of breeze when we caught a tiny personal puff. Somehow, this little puff pushed us back into the ebb which flushed us out under the bridge and back into the breeze. We were tracking the other J70s around us and cautiously optimistic that we passed them during the precarious rounding. We could make out a few of them behind us and stuck with the tenets of Racing 101: keep yourself between the competitors and the finish. We popped the chute and took off. Nearly seven and a half hours after starting, we crossed first in our division and finished 50th overall on corrected time. Oh, and the Moore 24 we snickered at sailing in the opposite direction? Turns out it was the very favored way to go. I’m certain he and his crew had the last laugh as they sat at the bar enjoying a cocktail while we crossed the finish nearly an hour later. The Three Bridge Fiasco always impresses and humbles me, and this year was no different.
Working down the backside of TI (lots of kites everywhere!)
More photos here: http://www.rockskipper.com/Sailing-Galleries/2017-Three-Bridge-Fiasco/There-Bridge-Fiasco/
Tags: J/70 Update