Way back in 2005 over a few craft beers too many, a fellow by the name of Ken Crawford announced to his Lake Washington Sailing Club cronies, “Why don’t we run a pursuit race all the way up that b*t%# of a ditch from Rio Vista to the club? First one makes it to the club dock at the turning basin gets what? A rubber duckie.” For a rubber duckie, they were all in, as many as 40 showing up for the challenge. The race itself is a matter of endurance, sailing 32 miles through a mostly-straight 40-yard-wide ditch on a reach to dead downwind.
The logistics for this year’s event on August 18, organized by George Biery, were a bit of a challenge if not a nightmare at times, with shuttles and trailering galore. Bouncing around in a Whaler for 32 miles in heavy chop just to get to the start line was indeed a nightmare. The race committee pontoon boat had waves washing over it, like those photos you see of the maxis rounding Cape Horn. And then, in the start area, the wind dropped. It was like traveling to the slopes in a snowstorm only to arrive and find dust on crust, but the mid-day breeze drop is typical for the Delta. We towed most of the boats from Hidden Harbor Marina out to the start line in three groups, requiring the Rio Vista Bridge to be raised each time.
Each sailor, along with two masochist windsurfers, started at their pre-determined time based on handicap. The wind picked up along the way to a moderate 10-15 knots. An El Toro led for the first part, until the Thistles and then George McKay’s Hobie 20 took over and pulled away to finish in 6 hours, 26 minutes.
Among the six Thistles, it was neck-and-neck between Mike Gillum and Steve Hale, with Hale (6:35) finally breaking the lock in the last miles. Not far behind was Dan Clark, course record holder in 2009, when it blew 20-25 knots throughout.
Dave Suder (6:46) was impressive on his Laser to win that fleet.
Doug McWilliams won the Open Spinnaker division in the Flying Dutchman (6:46), and John Mathias (7:03) the windsurfer. Anne Hammond got the Most Perseverant Award in her Pico, timing her finish perfectly with the sunset and an infectious smile (7:48).
When asked before the race what his expectations were, McKay said, “I just bought the boat, so I will be happy to just finish the race.” Needless to say, he exceeded his expectations.
We are a little reluctant to say that any sailor is in the homestretch — especially a circumnavigator who has been sailing around the world for going on a year now. But we’re not sure what else to call Jeanne Socrates’ position other than the final leg of a long lap around the world with home well and truly on the horizon.
On her final Pacific leg, Socrates has dealt with quite literally every type of weather, including a pair of tropical storms around Hawaii. Now, she’s battling through light winds on her approach to Victoria, B.C. “If we head directly for the ‘barn door’, it seems we’d end up becalmed again in the next high coming along in a few days’ time,” Socrates wrote on her blog.”Better to keep heading more north to keep away from its center and in better wind. Will make as much easting as possible, but will try to avoid those light winds.”
But last weekend, Socrates was dodging lows. “Wind got up and we’ve been making good speed — but with no reefs in, feeling ‘at risk’ so I need to start reefing down. The low is supposed to be moving quickly so I don’t want to be caught out with too much sail.”
More than a hot shower, we bet Socrates just wants a steady breeze.
It’s not clear to us how close Jeanne Socrates is to Victoria, and, again, we’d be reluctant to say anyway. But regardless, the now 77-year-old Englishwoman has put together an amazing, grueling and awe-inspiriting circumnavigation. We wait with bated breath for her to set foot on land.
After having met Maiden and her crew at their arrival in San Francisco on Monday, we were pretty excited to learn that we’d be joining them for a sail on Thursday. Like Christmas for a 10-year-old, Thursday couldn’t come soon enough.
But the day did arrive and with it came San Francisco’s habitual fog, and not a breath of wind. As we gathered on the dock ahead of the safety briefing there was the buzz of excited anticipation. We’d all seen Maiden, the movie, and nearly all of us were sailors. We were ready to cast ourselves in the roles of the ground-breaking women we’ve come to associate with Maiden.
We left the dock, and as the crew collected fenders and readied the sails, we were met with a dredging barge occupying the deepest part of the channel. Skipper Wendy Tuck was on the helm, and despite the barge crew’s estimation of depth, we felt the familiar nudge of ground beneath the keel. It seemed that would be the extent of our outing until the barge offered to move and let us through. Even then Wendy called the falling numbers as Maiden’s almost-11-ft draft brushed the mud below.
Once in the Bay and clear of all obstacles, it appeared as though the sailing gods had conspired to give us the best day possible. The curtain of fog had cleared the Bay and sat politely in the wings as though waiting for us to exit the stage. The crew called for volunteers to help hoist the headsail and man — in this case, woman — the grinders. Unfortunately, as with all boats, Maiden needs regular maintenance, and her mainsail was off the boat for repair. Despite this, we picked up a nice breeze and set of for a circumnavigation of Alcatraz, imagining ourselves crossing wild oceans under the pressure of race conditions.
Fortunately, we did not have to lash ourselves to the wheel or don our foul weather gear only to still be cold and wet. There was plenty of time to move around the boat and chat with Maiden’s amazing and very competent crew. The girls onboard hail from Finland, Spain, Australia and the USA, and among them have amassed several decades’ worth of offshore and race-sailing experience. We were certainly in good hands.
To add to the day, Oracle came by for a visit and sailed alongside as we headed toward the Bay Bridge, and after tacking to head north, we could pretend that we were indeed racing as the two famous boats held the same course. At one point while cruising at 7.1 knots — this under only one sail, and in a light breeze — we again could only imagine ourselves racing across oceans challenging sailing’s earlier prejudices.
The most inspiring factor in Thursday’s experience was not the sail. We can enjoy sailing on almost any boat, and with any reasonably competent crew. The biggest influence was The Maiden Factor itself. Tracy Edwards didn’t become the first woman to gather an all-female crew and compete in the 1989/90 Whitbread Round the World Race (now called the Volvo Ocean Race) to then slide into obscurity and do nothing. Tracy has continued to challenge boundaries, and today, Maiden is on a world tour to bring hope and help to thousands of girls and young women around the world.
As we headed back to the dock and watched the fog drape its curtain across the Bay, we felt as if we had become a part of this amazing journey.
If you have the opportunity to go see Maiden — the boat, the movie, the crew or all three — we recommend that you do. The boat will be open to the public this weekend as follows:
Maiden’s Bay Area Schedule
Saturday, August 24 — Open Boat Tour at St. Francis Yacht Club. Maiden will be open to the public. You’ll find on the club’s guest dock in the San Francisco Marina. Come aboard and meet the crew from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Maiden’s San Francisco Open Boat was originally planned for South Beach Yacht Club. But, due to the tides at Pier 40 and the keel’s draft, it’s been moved to StFYC.
Sunday, August 25 — Opening Day at Richmond Yacht Club from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Friday, August 30 — Maiden Departure from St. Francis Yacht Club from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
After leaving San Francisco, Maiden will sail down the coast to L.A. and then continue her voyage around the world via Cape Horn.
Voting is open for the US Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame. Among sailors nominated is two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Mark Reynolds, 63. Reynolds won gold in the Star in the 1992 Barcelona Games and the 2000 Sydney Games, after winning silver at Seoul in 1988. He was also the Star World Champion in 1995 and 2000, and the North American Champion in 1998 and 2002. In 2000, he was recognized as both the ISAF World Sailor of the Year and the US Sailor of the Year. Reynolds hails from San Diego and sails for SDYC.
The voting is for several sports; you may recognize Jonny Moseley of Tiburon among the athletes. Coming from a sailing family, he dominated Freestyle Skiing in the late ’90s and the turn of the millennium.
Cast votes by September 3 for your favorite five Olympians, top three Paralympians, and one team at https://awards.teamusa.org/vote. Learn more about the Hall of Fame at www.teamusa.org/hall-of-fame/about.