Copyright 2017 - Woods Designs, Foss Quay, Millbrook, Torpoint, Cornwall, PL10 1EN, UK
  • home built Flica 37

  • plywood Romany 34

  • lightweight 14ft Zeta mainhull

  • Strike 15 trimaran at speed

  • 28ft Skoota in British Columbia

  • 10ft 2 sheet ply Duo dinghy

  • 24ft Strider sailing fast

  • 36ft Mirage open deck catamaran

One Friday in late January we left Port Townsend, Wa, and drove south to San Francisco. On the way south I thought "I wonder if there is any multihull sailing this weekend?"

I checked online and found that indeed there was, in fact the years biggest race in the Bay area was to be held the following day. The Singlehanded Sailing Society organised 2-handed Three Bridge Fiasco already had over 350 entries, including 35 multihulls.

A couple of quick emails and phone calls later and I was on a F27 (replacing a sick crew). I had never met the owner, Drew, before, nor indeed raced a F27, or for that matter, even raced in San Francisco Bay.

The Three Bridge Fiasco is aptly named, for the 21mile course takes boats under/near/round the three main Bay bridges. Including, of course, the famous Golden Gate Bridge, but also the Bay and San Rafael bridges. The race starts/finishes at the San Francisco waterfront, home to this years Americas Cup finals.

What makes it a "Fiasco" is the race format. It is a pursuit race, so boats start at different times, slower ones first, with the intention (if the handicapper has it right) that everyone finishes together. That's fairly common, what make the fiasco unique is that the course can be sailed in either direction and bridges rounded in any order.

So imagine 350 boats, all short handed at the start line, going literally in all directions and no one knowing for sure which way the early boats will go until they either harden sheets or hoist a spinnaker.

Normally wintertime sailing in the Bay is a quiet affair, indeed often only a few boats finish the race. Not this year. 10 knots of NW was forecast and at 8.30 that's what we had as we prepared the boat. But by our start time of 10.15 the wind had started to build, reaching a steady 30 apparent as we beat back, 3 hours later, to the finish in the famous "slot"

It seemed obvious, even to me, that a clockwise circuit would be fastest. It would avoid a long beat, and the tide would be with us on the last leg to the finish. The drawback was an big calm patch between Tiberon and Angel Island, but we could see that even the slow, early starters were getting through (one advantage of pursuit races is that there's someone to show you the way).

So that's what we did,see above track of our race,  a short beat to the Golden Gate turning mark in company with the other F boats and a couple of Flying Tigers which, despite being longer and monohulls to boot, were no faster. Maybe because they lacked "railmeat".

Rounding, we tried the spinnaker on a close reach but quickly dropped it again. With no screecher to worry about we concentrated on the puffs and what the wind was doing. Keeping high seemed sensible and we were the most windward boat as we neared Tiberon. The Green 35 Humdinger had slipped past to lee, but otherwise we were reasonably happy with our position.

Several boats opted for the lee side of Angel Island. "Bye" we said for we knew for sure they'd park up under its big lee. And they did. We slowed as we got to the windhole, but got through without actually stopping, as we had hoped.

The wind was much stronger once past the Tiberon headland and we had a close reach up to the San Rafael bridge turning mark (actually Red Rock island) in maybe 20 knots of wind. I've noticed this before. Monohulls cannot close reach in any wind, they just don't have the stability. So we quickly picked them off one after the other. Better still, we closed the gap on the first two F27s and Humdinger

Rounding the island was interesting as, for the first time in my racing career, we met raceboats going the other way round the mark. Still not sure who has "water" in that situation! No matter, five multihulls rounded the island all overlapped, four going one way, one the other, and, with most of the monohull fleet now behind us, we headed off on the run.

Or did we? Hard to tell in the turbulent wind in the lee of the island. So we waited far too long before hoisting the spinnaker. Once up, we blew it - tactically that is, not the kite, and first headed too high, and then too low as we ran down to the Bay Bridge, picking off the last of the early starting monohulls as we went. By Treasure Island we could only see one monohull ahead, a J700.

Quite bizarrely we also passed a good number of boats beating back to Red Rock island yet still racing the same "course" as us!? We realised that they had all, for sure, made the wrong choice, as we had only a short beat to the finish and they had a long beat and then a 10 mile run still to do. So we knew were were in the hunt for podium places

The wind had steadied at a F6 and we decided it would be prudent, and indeed faster, to drop in a reef for the last beat, mindful of the fact that we'd be sailing close to where both Russell Coutts and Jimmy Spitall had capsized their AC catamarans in similar conditions.

Passing under the Bay Bridge in line abreast with four other trimarans was exciting, but even more so for the crew who left their spi up too long. We clearly saw most of their daggerboard as they struggled to drop the sail. We put the reef in while slowed in the lee of the bridge, it cost us time and two F27s and Humdinger pulled ahead.

Now the race was really on. In the puffs we pulled up, as the other crews started dumping sheets, but in the lulls we dropped back. Our big mistake of the race was the spinnaker run, now we made another, getting in the lee of one of the new Bay bridge pillars, and Sea Bird and Humdinger pulled 200 yards ahead.

As we tacked and headed to Alcatraz the wind increased and steadied and we quickly overtook the F31 and a F27. The J700 might be a fast boat offwind but couldn't cope to windward and dropped way back. Again, I've noticed these sports boats have near multihull speeds offwind, but fall over to windward and are thus real slow.

Despite the reef, I still played the mainsheet while sitting on the windward trampoline. I'd ease it when I saw 2ft of daggerboard showing. One more tack for the layline and we began closing the first two boats fast. But it was not to be. Sea Bird finished first, then Humdinger, and then us just a minute behind the leader, see BAMA photo of the finish, below. Another mile and we'd have got them both.

Still there's always next year, and now I know better what the wind does in the Bay.

So multihulls cleaned up. Some might say - "yes well you had a long run", but it was a circular course and in fact we overtook most boats on the close fetch/beat north to Red Rock.

Congratulations to the winners. Grateful thanks to my skipper Drew, and of course to the race committee.

I will be back

More photos here

https://skydrive.live.com/?cid=16fa8d944f627867&id=16FA8D944F627867!10789