funny, it doesn’t look orange…
For those who did not grow up on the Peanuts cartoons and for whom the Great Pumpkin references are therefore a complete mystery, visit here.
The Richmond Yacht Club’s Great Pumpkin Regatta has traditionally marked the end of the San Francisco Fleet’s season and its transition to winter. This year was no exception and Saturday began with “scattered showers” intently focused on not being scattered over the assembled fleet. It rained. Julio Iglesias never said anything about this.
Saturday morning brought winds from the south expected to shift right and an ebb tide. The game was riding the edges and staying in the breeze. Ultimately, the Vikings and token non-Viking aboard Team Norway (aka USA 632 American Lady) did it best: taking bullets in both Races One and Two (Vikings like it rainy).
Race Three saw the westerly come in and a mark set boat that was rather disinclined to reset said marks. Apparently, the Race Committee was just itching to get to the party. Can’t blame them. Same course: one and an half times around, upwind finish. With the wind on our beam and filling in, it was clear that this was going to be a drag race.
The gun goes and we’re off: it’s practice girl (USA 222), BONES (USA 77), mako (USA 201), and American Lady (USA 632) neck-and-neck, power reaching all the way to the weather mark. practice girl rounds in first, BONES tries to set a kite and finds herself heading to Berkeley instead, with mako and American Lady fighting for third. At the leeward mark, practice girl has extended her lead, but her helmsman (me), doped out on cough medicine, fails to appreciate the unique implications of the wind direction on this unusual “leeward” mark and we spank it. Hard. Tactician Tom Rankin, immediately calls for the gybe-tack and we hold on. Working inside we claw our way back, fighting tooth and nail to regain the lost boat lengths against mako and American Lady. We pull even. Then half a boat length. Then in the last twenty seconds a full boat length – taking the bullet. The Vikings were not happy, but consoled themselves over their pagan bonfire later that evening with the fact that they had indeed finished in first for Day One’s one design racing.
Day Two began with a glorious sunrise, clear skies – and no wind. The crew were a little worse for wear after the prior evenings festivities: with Lucien Moore, our spin trimmer, sporting a distinctive rum aftershave and hiding behind his sunglasses all day; Pablo Massana, our jib trimmer, didn’t quite make it home that night and reportedly left the bar with a female police officer; and Mahalynn Lu, on bow, was allegedly only wearing fishnet stockings under her foulies. Tom Rankin and I could only shake our heads in disbelief and the mild envy that comes with age.
The wind gods giveth, and they taketh away. On Sunday, they giveth just enough for the Race Committee to get the Great Pumpkin’s famous pursuit race underway. Essentially, the 175 assembled boats, starting slowest to fastest, have to choose which way to round Angel Island and Alcatraz: clock-wise or counter-clockwise. Your choice. Whoever crosses the line first, wins.
Aside from hitting the rocks off Point Blunt or west of Alcatraz, the only other rule is you aren’t allowed to stop in at Sam’s Anchor Cafe for an adult beverage while you wait for the wind to pick back up at the western mouth of Raccoon Straits. Oh, and if you are over early and fail to restart, you have to help the kitchen setup the hors d’oeuvres for the trophy presentation. Seriously.
With the wind squirrelly from the southwest and a 2.6 knot ebb pushing the fleet down from the start at Southampton Shoals as the North Bay drained, it was going to be tough. The question was whether we would be able to make it across the shipping channel to Raccoon Straits and then follow the tides around the islands counter-clockwise, or whether we should make a beeline to the south and hope that the westerly would fill in and allow us to overcome the tides by going clock-wise? With the wind light and the forecast calling for the westerly not until much later, we decided to try and hoof it to the Straits.
The start was a zoo. And I don’t just mean the costumes. Based on the super-scientific formula of 55 – 0.20833 x handicap (84), the Melges were slated to start precisely 37 minutes and 30 seconds following the scratch boat, the Cal 20s. practice girl flops around in the light stuff near the Committee Boat. Our friends struggle to make the pin. We head for the straits, as does most the Fleet. We extend, but the wind begins to die. The Fleet cuts its losses and heads South, we press on to the Straits and find ourselves amongst the frontrunners headed counter-clockwise.
It’s a struggle to get into Raccoon Straits, but once in, the tide and a pleasant breeze carries us through. With the wind still out of the southwest, we round Point Stuart and begin the reach towards Alcatraz (no time to stop at Sam’s). And then we see it . . .
At the mouth of Raccoon Straits, there is something floating in the water. “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown!” said our bow vixen, Mahalynn Lu. Smiles. It cannot be. Per tradition, the Race Committee scatters pumpkins along the racecourse. A boat that picks up a pumpkin can present the pumpkin at the awards ceremony and receive a “Spiritual Award.” In all my years of racing this regatta, I have never, ever seen a pumpkin.
And this was no pumpkin. As we drew nearer, it became clear that the bloated object floating out to sea at the mouth of Raccoon Straits, was, in fact, a dead raccoon. After brief debate (very brief), it was decided not to haul the furry specter aboard and present him at the awards ceremony. But we decided this was an auspicious sign on Halloween and that our race strategy must therefore be sound.
No sooner had we decided this, then the first of the clockwise boats approaches. Two young oracles (read: children) on the rail begin chanting, “You’re going the wrong way!” Of course we are.
We round Alcatraz, sinking beneath the weight of holiday tourists (I still don’t understand the attraction), set the kite, and begin working northeast towards the finish off the Richmond breakwater — still a long ways to go. However, at least it’s sunny and warm and there is yet no sign of any boats exiting Raccoon Straits to the east. Time to break out an ice-cold Trumer Pils (www.trumerinternational.com).
We work through the doldrums (and the contents of our cooler). As the wind abates, we watch as the clockwise boats get absolutely parked in the distance at the eastern exit of Raccoon Straits. The young oracles were wrong! Our honored dead raccoon was right!
In the end, our Melges 24 finished fourth (out of 175 boats), just behind a Mumm 30, Farr 36, and Archambault 40 RC. The first Melges 24 to finish clockwise was Dan Wilhelm on USA 540 Wilco!, who secured thirteenth place overall. Followed, by our friends the Vikings on USA 632 American Lady in twenty-sixth place. Tied on points and tied on bullets, “The Girl” (USA 222) trumped “The Lady” (USA 632), with her second in Race One.
Thanks to the RYC Race Committee and to all the teams that participated. A special word of thanks to the teams of Smokin (USA 24), Trezentos (USA 300), and practice girl (USA 222) who came together on this special occasion to honor dead raccoons, the Great Pumpkin, myriad other false idols, and sail USA 222 to Melges glory on Halloween! I always believed, Linus!