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controlled chaos

controlled chaos

SurfCityCatamarans checks in from one of our favorite events, the Bridge To Bridge.  For some footage from the air of this waterborne melee, check out this clip at the 18footers.com.au site.


Bridge to Bridge


Unless you’ve seen the Ronstan Bridge to Bridge Race Hosted by the StFYC, it’s really hard to describe the controlled chaos. With winds blistering over 25 and a bubbling, boiling ebb maxing out at the start, it’s really a stretch to call it ‘controlled’ anything. The course of the B2B is from the Golden Gate to the Bay Bridge, and is held in conjunction with the International 18 Skiff Regatta off of Crissy Field. According to Alan Prussia from Ronstan, “This year was the 12th annual race of an event that started out as a race between the 49ers and sailboards, which at the time were a new Olympic class.” The B2B is almost 8 miles of down-wind blasting and is race number 8 in the Skiff event, and only about half of the 57 entrants finished.  After race 7 was a complete yard sale and abandoned, a lot of the competitors called it a day. Most of the fleet ended up on their ears as the wind at Point Blunt peaked above 30.  According to sources on the beach, this was the first time in 12 years that a race was cancelled to high winds. There were a few broken bits and broken dudes. The skiff sailors took their lumps and rested up to hit the water again.

Even before the races started there was some trepidation, and as my friend Paul Allen, a long time skiff sailor said, “A lot of people are rigging to NOT go out.”  Allen, a sailing powerhouse out of Santa Cruz, races occasionally with Pegasus Racing. He’ll sail anything fast, and gave us the rundown on these potato-chips-with-huge-sail-area that they call i-deenfoodas. Lots of carbon, faux wood, and even bamboo make up these incredibly quick boats. John Winning (Woody), the grandfather of the fleet, has been sailing skiffs since before he bought his first one in 1975. Winning has sailed all of the B2B events except one where he broke a rib the day prior to racing a few years back. Early in the day he was thinking about his race strategy for the heavy conditions, “They all go down the bottom end for a hot ride, and we’ll stay up here for survival. We’ll push a lot less tide.” There were lots of wide-eyed competitors as the puffs kicked up clouds of sand on the beach, and a lot of worried expressions on the sailor’s faces, hoping they make it back in one piece. Off the beach they go.        

At the start it’s mass chaos as a handful of skiffs, kites, formula boards, and this years special guest, a Trifoiler with a kite, jockey for position. In the past, the fleets have been separated, but due to advantages and disadvantages of the pin vs. the committee end, the fleet started as one group. It’s amazing me that the whole thing doesn’t just instantly end up in one giant Dyneema yarn ball.

The majority of the kites and boards chose to start on the port end, while the skiffs took it right up the middle. There was a collision between a couple of the 18 footers just before the start, and several kites were downed, but the sequence continued on. The Trifoiler, helmed by Don Montague started a bit late, but when it got up to speed, it simply hauled the mail; accelerating up onto its foils and jetting off like a missile in the powerful puffs. I had my money on the foiler, but as the wind eased toward Yerba Buena Is., the boat lost its foiling ability and dredged a giant hole in the water. They finished 26th overall. The Trifoiler was a treat to see, but in the lighter winds toward the finish line the skiffs had the upper hand, and as Prussia notes, “I think every year the equipment keeps getting more dialed. This year the finish time was 17minutes and 54 seconds, making an average speed of, what, 24 knots?” I think Alan’s close, and you add a 3 knot ebb in there, and regardless, it’s fast!

The middle of the course really paid off and the traditional trek up the City Front to seek refuge from the ebb also saw refuge from the huge breeze mid course. I don’t even think the 18s are affected by tidal flow, there’s only about 6 inches of centerboard and rudder in the water for the entire downwind run, so the breeze won out. At the end of the 16 plus minute run, an i-deen-fooda skippered by Michael Coxon took the honors, followed by another skiff helmed by Allex Vallings, and Woody in 3rd. The first non-skiff was in the 4th spot, a kite sailed by Chip Wasson. Several late finishing kiters even had to swim for it, and eventually were picked up by the chase boats. More pics here, and the results are pretty interesting to look at.

Radical conditions and radical boats!