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November 8, 2021

How the West Was Won at the 2021 Great Pumpkin Regatta

The 2021 Great Pumpkin Regatta welcomed us back with wicked wind shifts, one-design racing, and one heck of a Wild Wild West party.

Medusa was on the upwind leg, a Santa Cruz 27 sailing swiftly with her crew on the rail. We were a crew lightweight in stature, all granola-eating types, two women, young — and on the Berkeley Circle, there was just enough wind to provide an exhilarating ride. While sailing together is almost always fun, this was a nice change from the mid-20-knot winds typical of the summer months. After a brutal 2021 Nationals and some equally breezy Bay races, we were simply delighted at not being overpowered for once.

Great Pumpkin Regatta
Medusa flies an appropriately colored spinnaker.
© 2021 Ros de Vries

Saturday was buoy-racing day at the 2021 Great Pumpkin Regatta and our hosts, Richmond Yacht Club, offered the SC27s their own start. Despite the unusually sparse showing, the two other boats who turned up were a formidable lot. Rick Raduziner’s Lickety Split handily beat us in doublehanded racing earlier in the year. And David Garman’s Giant Slayer had come fourth in the highly competitive Nationals. But we had improved, and were excited to see where we stood in the one-design fleet.

We knew that if the wind stayed steady, we would be in a favorable position. But squalls were moving through the course and the wind was shifting this way and that, moving the ladder beneath us. We tacked just as we hit the layline and almost immediately encountered a 90-degree wind shift. Suddenly, the upwind leg had become a beam reach. I pulled out the spinnaker pole and laughed to myself as we marched what seemed like a mile toward the offset mark. For the rest of the race, nobody really knew which way was up or down; it was unpredictable, wet, and some of the most entertaining sailing I’ve done in a while!

Which way is up and which way is down? It looks as if the tacticians were kept on their toes.
© 2021 Ros de Vries

That afternoon, we duked it out in three races. Lickety Split came first, Medusa came second and Giant Slayer was near third. We were all thrilled to have a day of tactical racing, with Lady Luck occasionally shining through the clouds and fog. Afterward, I was grateful for a cold seltzer, a hot shower and a fresh set of clothes. I stepped out feeling brand-new, albeit dressed as a train conductor. As the post-race awards kicked off, I slipped amongst my crew — two dressed as engineers, two dressed as bandit cowboys. A Nashville belle sauntered up with a tray of jelly shots, just as my friend Maya — sporting a midriff top and Daisy Dukes — threw a literal noose around my neck. This was RYC’s famous Saturday night party, and the Wild Wild West theme was absolutely no understatement.

Were there actually Pumpkin Regattas in the days of the Wild West?
© 2021 Ros de Vries
Dressed up and ready to party, Medusa‘s crew proudly show off their second-place pennant.
© 2021 Ros de Vries

It was no surprise that the fleet hit the course, guns blazing. In 2019, the Sunday pursuit race was canceled due to a gale. In 2020, with the pandemic in full effect, a socially distant pursuit race was held, and there was certainly no party. In 2021, we had finally returned to normal, albeit carrying our vaccination cards and two years of pent-up anticipation.

With the pursuit race, participants have the choice to sail around the San Francisco Bay islands — Angel and Alcatraz — either clockwise or counterclockwise. The “correct” strategy is well debated by all, factoring in winds, currents, and more often than is admitted, “the way the good sailors are going.” Some call it a coin toss, but almost everyone has a thesis behind their educated guess. We chose clockwise, anticipating breeze and a slack current when entering Raccoon Strait. Even when the two directional fleets met northwest of Alcatraz, it seemed that we had made a reasonable choice. Better still, we had overtaken a handful of Moore 24s — every passed boat being a positive in a pursuit race. But it was clear as we sailed downwind past Keil Cove that there were dozens of spinnakers — a true kaleidoscope of nylon kites — tearing past Southampton Shoal and toward the finish line just outside the Richmond Channel. My goodness, we had sailed well, but when you’re going the “wrong” direction, the only place to find victory is inside yourself.

William Pryor captured this video of the start of the 2021 Great Pumpkin Regatta aboard Medusa.

From second in our division to 75th out of 108 finishers — well, isn’t that how it goes? After “rescuing” a floating pumpkin on the course, we docked at RYC to claim our pumpkin pie prize, and enjoy one last celebratory drink. Once more, the RYC patio filled up with racers, happy to see one another, grateful for their crews, camaraderie and yet another exciting day on the Bay. At that moment, we West Coast racers all felt as if we had won a little something during the Great Pumpkin Regatta weekend — and it was wild.

In all, there were 15 pumpkins to be collected while sailing. The Medusa crew pose with their pumpkin, which the race committee had dropped off their starboard bow, “while we had the spinnaker up, while racing — and we had to coordinate between foredeck and cockpit to get close enough to retrieve it.”
© 2021 Ros de Vries

The Baja Ha-Ha Tracks Its Way to Turtle Bay

The Baja Ha-Ha‘s Grand Poobah checked in to let us know that all is well with the Ha-Ha fleet in Turtle Bay. Here’s the report that we received:

The fleet had its best turnout ever for the charity baseball game, with many dignitaries joining in. [We read on Facebook that the head of tourism for all of Baja was planning to go to Turtle Bay to welcome the Ha-Ha fleet.] The generous donations exceeded demand with 100 new and used baseball gloves being given away to the Turtle Bay community.

The fleet of 150+ boats and 500+ crew are all anchored peacefully. There were a few dropouts and a few incidents reported. Tumbleweed had a problem when its alternator caught fire, but the fire was extinguished and the captain and crew are carrying on. A broken rudder was also reported and had received a proper repair. Onboard Profligate there was a minor incident when the Poobah neglected to hydrate properly. Beware of wicking thermal layers and drink more, he advises.

Profligate also reached 19.8 knots as it surfed its way down the beautiful coast of Mexico.

The relationship between the Ha-Ha cruisers and the people of the Turtle Bay community is one of the greatest reasons to join the fleet.

Disclaimer — This report was received over a very long-distance cell call by a deaf guy driving a convertible at 80 on Highway 1. So if some of the facts are fuzzy, don’t shoot the messenger. (This is our favorite part of the entire story!)

Now that you have an update of the passage to Turtle Bay, here are a couple of AIS tracking photos sent to us by Doug Samp, USCG’s 11th District search mission coordinator, in Alameda.

Ha-Ha AIS tracks
This AIS screenshot shows the Ha-Ha fleet in the vicinity of Cedros Island on November 2.
© 2021 Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard District 11
The fleet anchored in Turtle Bay on November 4. It looks just a tad squashy.
© 2021 Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard District 11
It looks a little less crowded when the image is zoomed in. But remember that not all the boats in the Ha-Ha will have AIS.
© 2021 Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard District 11

Like many of us, Samp is blown away by the number of boats sailing in this year’s Baja Ha-Ha! Fortunately for each of those vessels, the Coast Guard is on standby to help any mariners in need of assistance. Even more fortunately, the Coast Guard was not required to help Tumbleweed last week.

Excess for Jeff Bezos, Not Enough for Students

We were speaking with Steven Woodside, executive director of Call of the Sea, when he commented on one of the great challenges facing all our terrific local community-outreach sailing programs — transportation. Soccer and softball are pretty easy sports to run out the back door of a school, but if you want to get kids some really eye-opening, life-enhancing, experiential outdoor learning opportunities, you have to get them away from the four walls of a classroom and the rectangular lines of a ball field.

Many organizations like Call of the Sea have so much to offer kids, but the challenge remains the cost of transportation to get kids from schools to the waterfront. It was here that our minds started to wander as we remembered the money Jeff Bezos had spent to send the 90-year-old TV sci-fi star William Shatner into space. Imagine how many kids could have a life-changing opportunity if they could go sailing!

Jeff Bezos and William Shatner
Space travel is cool and of great value when launching weather satellites and other useful scientific instruments, but does launching senior citizens into space make more sense than getting kids to the waterfront?
© 2021 Youtube

It’s not that Jeff Bezos isn’t also into sailing. His alleged new 127-meter/417-ft three-masted schooner, dubbed Y721, has just rolled out of the shed at Oceanco in the Netherlands. Its cost is estimated to be above 500 million dollars and it will become the world’s largest sailing yacht when launched in 2022. Whoopee.

Credit: Guy Fleury

It’s just hard to square the wretched excess of so much of the world’s resources being squandered for the jollies of one person for whom there is never such a thing as enough. At least on this planet.

While we do admire people who have worked hard to achieve stunning successes, we then have to watch what they do with their success. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” The gap between the resources expended by technocrats and aging TV stars on themselves, versus the students who are the future, is just too large to ignore. Couldn’t some of this help kids grow with the lessons available from sailing?

Warm the Winter Blues in the Caribbean

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Cruise with fellow Bay Area sailors and Q&M Travels for a hands-on adventure, complete with private instruction from professional sailors.
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