Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Proper Fiasco

It stormed for days—flood watch, high wind warnings—and then, for the sailing of the Three Bridge Fiasco, the winds on San Francisco Bay went quiet and the skies went dry without losing their gray. That was the weekend in Northern California, and calm spots here and there combined with a change of tide during race time to divide opinions, big time.

In this race you can round your three marks in any order and in any direction, and darned if we didn't have boats finishing clockwise and counterclockwise at the same time. Once again the wackiest race of the year is the biggest race of the year (sorry, don't know the official number of starters/finishers just yet).

Here's the San Francisco cityfront showing the finish line at Golden Gate Yacht Club, and yes, the port-tack upwind boats are finishing; so are the starboard-tack boats coming downwind under spinnaker. It's a good look, for a Fiasco.

Numbers were still being crunched on Sunday afternoon, but the organizers, the Singlehanded Sailing Society of San Francisco Bay, had highlights, and darned if Melinda and Bill Erkelens haven't won overall for the second year in a row and their third time, in three different boats:

1st overall, 1st Sportboat: Bill & Melinda Erkelens, The Word, Mumm 30, finished at 14:39:58.
2nd overall, 1st Express 27, Will Paxton & Bryan Moore, Motorcycle Irene, 14:45:21.
3rd overall, 1st Moore 24, Andy Schwenk & Charlie Guildnek, Lowly Worm, 14:46:26 - down from Seattle area.

1st singlehanded, 23rd overall, Jonathan Livingston, Punk Dolphin, Wylie 39, 15:44:30.

All the top finishers went counterclockwise.

Ray Wells sailed the F-27 trimaran Wingit with wife Francie (regular skipper Amy Wells was sidelined for the day) and his experience speaks for a multitude. Ray sent his race story out to the Bay Area Multihull Association mailing list. He decided to go clockwise, the minority view, but he had his reasons. Picking up his account part-way in, after rounding Blackaller Buoy at the Golden Gate Bridge and Red Rock at the Richmond Bridge:

Now the long slow slog to Treasure Island began, up-current and into a dying southerly. Spent the next year short-tacking along the edge of the current (and wind), judging progress from boats way outside and way inside. It was bad. I remembered a similar trial off Chicago on Lake Michigan after a storm came through... there were flies to battle in that instance. (It could always be worse.) We approached TI and the lead boats in our direction got through the bridge, but the ebb had kicked in and the boats began to stack.

Deja-vu. We did this last year. This time it took longer,
but we finally inched forward and through. The rest never made it.

The fickle wind, having been from the south, east, west and north, was now somewhere over near Alcatraz. We headed towards Pier 39 using the ebb to generate a drifting reach. Lots of boats had finished - but we were not giving up. Slowly we slatted past Aquatic Park and bravely tacked in the slop to make it look like we were trying as we drifted across the line somewhere after 5pm. I still can't believe it didn't rain.

You can read a full account of the 2007 race (think of it as an attempt to explain this fiasco phenomenon right here). One thing I know. It's Sunday as I write, the race was yesterday, and the cats and dogs are hitting the roof again.

Sail-Assisted Commerce

I wrote recently about the cargo ship MS Beluga SkySails, 132 meters long and equipped with a kite to reduce fuel consumption at some wind angles. I did not have as much information as I would have liked, but the company confirms that the ship left Bremerhaven on schedule, last Tuesday, for Venezuela. More as it becomes available; you can find the original post under About Time (and money).

French Take the Weekend Off

Not from sailing, from reporting.

Last week we left the giant French trimaran, Gitana 13, in the South Atlantic, bound for Cape Horn and then the Pacific in the first attempt in ten years on the New York-San Francisco record. They sailed 5,000 miles on port tack but were expecting rough weather ahead and enough changes to put an end to their port-tack slide. And that is where we must leave them again. As in, no update since Friday.

Other French Keep Working

From another giant tri, Groupama 3, the updates kept coming as they worked through a zone of frustrating changes and hoped for steadier going ahead.

This is from their web site:

"Ca s'en va et ça revient..." (It comes and goes), a song by French singing legend Claude François, perfectly reflects the end of this weekend off the Canaries! One moment they have air, the next calms, all of which is enveloped in an atmosphere laden with clouds, as skipper Franck Cammas explains: "The squalls enabled us to make headway quickly last night but they were fickle, with the wind jumping from thirty to three knots with a 60° shift... We're longing for established tradewinds. Here, the skies are cloudy, as we are in the axis of a ridge of high pressure close to a depression. We're trying to slalom between the squalls."

22,000 miles to go. The goal: beat the 50-day existing circumnavigation record for a fully-crewed boat. I remind you, Francis Joyon is still barely home and recouping after setting a new solo record of 57 days. Amazingly close to the fully-crewed record. These efforts just keep getting faster—Kimball