Local knowledge goes a long way after you’ve been sailing the same course since 1978. "It was a good advantage to be screwed before," noted Chip Wasson who’s the only sailor to have won the event on a windsurfer and also a kite board. Chip took both the SF Classic & Ultra Nectar Challenge this year beating the rest of the 35 board fleet of kite boards & formula windsurfers with an elapsed time of just over 2 hours on the 50 mile + tour of the San Francisco Bay.
The legend begins not with Mr. Wasson but within the annals of windsurfing history.
The San Francisco Classic dates itself as one of the oldest continuing running long distance windsurfing races in the world.
The start is off Crissy Field with the first leg to windward around a huge nun buoy beyond the south tower of the golden gate bridge where a washing machine of eddies and waves churn. Next the reaching begins- off to starboard to a stationed boat near the north tower and then back to the city front. (In 1982 a second triangle around the above course was added.) The course crosses the Bay 8 more times. Racers must sail either below Alcatraz to Blossom Rock and then close reach back to the nastiest mark on the course- Point Blunt on the southern tip of Angel Island. There the wind accelerates to 40k amidst swirling currents and standing waves. After Blunt, it’s all down hill broader reaches and easing winds, except that the racers are usually too spend to appreciate it. The final insult comes when the wind lightens so much that pumping is required for the last 1/2 mile reach to the finish at the eastern most gap in the Berkeley Pier.
The story goes, that after winning year after year and waiting for the rest of the fleet to finish at the bottom of the Berkeley Pier, Robby Naish casually sailed back upwind to the St, Francis Yacht Club while the rest of the fleet hoped in their waiting cars with their boards strapped to their roofs crossing the Bay bridge back to city and the prize giving.
There lies the start of the next challenge or aptly named- "The Ultra Nectar Challenge."
Racer’s finishing time for the SF Classic is their starting time for the UN Challenge. The course is a free upwind leg with no marks except for the finish line set in front of the St.FYC on the San Francisco city front.
Its the only race I know of that requires you to sail a 22 mile downwind slalom course in order to start the next race.
An epic feet of proportions any way you look at it
This years race was no exception. With a full moon just days before the flood tide was raging at almost 4 knots under the Golden Gate Bridge.. The Red Nun looked like it was being towed upwind with waves stacked up on its windward side.
Any experienced racer of the SF Bay will tell you its equally about playing the wind and the currents and this is how the race was won- just 5 minutes into the 2 hour + journey.
At the start of the race, it was only 8-12k and a glassy smooth up swelling but that would change just 10 min into the race when racers had to gybe around a hellish field of voodoo chop at the north tower with puffs already into the high 20’s
Both Chip and Tom Purcell lead the charge and sailed up through the gap between the South Tower and Fort Point getting some relief from the 4k flood pouring in through the gate while the rest of the fleet (myself included- d’oh) sailed almost twice the distance in the hardest part of the flood tide. By the time they rounded the first mark they had practically already won the race as they had a 4-5 min lead coming into Anita Rock for the downwind reaching trip to Berkeley.
Full race report, results & photos at www.stevebodner.blogspot.com