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Chasing the Moon on San Pablo Bay

San Francisco Bay Area sailors raced from the Central Bay to Benicia in the Jazz Cup on Saturday, and we’ll have a report and photos from that warm fun run in the October issue of Latitude 38. But did you know that the destination and co-host, Benicia Yacht Club, has an active year-round racing program? Stephen Dale filed this report from their Chase the Moon Race, held under a full moon on Friday, August 12. He sailed his Hunter 320 Playpen II. Stephen called the race the most challenging of the year in the club’s Beer Can Series.

“This is a 22-mile round-trip race, from the Benicia Marina, to marker “R8” in the middle of San Pablo Bay and back again. The race is timed to round the mark about sunset, and then return home in the dark. There were four other boats in the competition this year: Captain Dan Carnahan’s Santana 22 Sail la Vie, Chuck Hooper’s Contessa 33 Warwhoop, Greg Spencer’s Saga 409 Black Swan, and Noble Griswold’s Moorings 38 E-Ticket. The start was a reverse start. Start times depended on your rating. The first boat was Sail la Vie at 6 p.m., followed by us at 6:19 pm.”

Playpen II crew
The Playpen II crew.
© 2022 Playpen II

“Dan took off like a rocket, and we never could close the gap. I had been watching all the different weather apps all week. I will confess I tend to focus on the ones that give me the result that I want. Unfortunately, San Pablo Bay does not subscribe to the same apps, and the winds and swells were a little bit more challenging than I had anticipated. Because we were sailing in a building ebb, the winds were going the opposite of the current, which tends to create some pretty challenging chop. Fred piloted the boat for much of San Pablo Bay. Gary congratulated him for not missing any of the big swells. We plowed through the chop, overpowered as usual, a wave over the bow baptizing us from time to time.”

E-Ticket on the upwind leg.
© 2022 Stephen Dale

“As we finally rounded marker R8, we went from 20 mph apparent wind on our nose to less than 10 mph for the return home. To compound this, the ebb current that helped push us to the mark now was against us for the return, so our speed over ground was 2-4 mph. Doing the math, with 11 miles to home, there was a good chance we would not finish until after midnight. Waaayyyy past my bedtime!

“Anyone who has ever sailed at night, especially in a body of water surrounded by city and nautical lights, knows it is easy to get disoriented. There were certainly a lot of distractions, not the least of which was a steady stream of commercial ships coming and going. After we passed the sea wall, I turned the wheel over to Andy. He did a great job staying on course with an ever-changing set of challenges.”

Carquinez Bridges
The Carquinez Bridges on the return home, with the full moon over Crockett.
© 2022 Stephen Dale

“About the time we passed back under the Carquinez Bridges, Black Swan was right behind us, so at least we had another boat to visually compete against. To add to the challenge, a car carrier was right behind him. By that time the current had reversed, and the challenge was to stay in the middle of the channel where the currents would help push us home without getting run over by a seven-story ship. If that wasn’t enough, as we came to Benicia Point, the winds dropped to 3-4 mph, barely enough to keep the boat in control. Another car carrier was leaving the Port of Benicia. So here we were with one car carrier going one direction, a second going the other direction, with Black Swan and Playpen II in the channel trying not to become roadkill. I will say — when you are right next to the behemoths, they are a lot larger up close.”

E-Ticket spinnaker with full moon
The full moon rises beyond E-Ticket’s spinnaker.
© 2022 E-Ticket

“We managed to survive that challenge and literally drifted over the start line at 11:49, just behind Black Swan. We then went though the routine of putting the sails away, with Andy at the helm. I was on the foredeck with Randy. We focused on trying to find the red and green lights at the mouth of the marina. We puzzled about why we could not find them until we saw the sea wall to the marina entrance right in from of us. We all started yelling, ‘Go left — go left!’ Andy promptly responded, averting yet another potential disaster.”

Tanker under Carquinez Bridge
An inbound tanker in Carquinez Strait.
© 2022 Stephen Dale

“Even though our evening flirted with a number of near disasters, and in the end we finished last of those that finished, I love sharing these experiences with the crew, who apparently have no more common sense than myself. As I like to say, any time we don’t sink or die is a good day. In this case, it was a good night.”

 E-Ticket finished first, at 10:35 p.m. Sail la Vie, Black Swan and Playpen II followed, in that order. Warwhoop did not finish due to a broken forestay (repaired in time for Jazz Cup). E-Ticket went on to also win the Jazz Cup challenge between Benicia and South Beach YCs. Ben Landon’s Thompson 650 Flight Risk placed first overall, and the first multihull overall, D-Class cat Half Moon Bay Boys and Girls Club, sailed by Alan O’Driscoll and Bryan Wade, finished first.

HMB Boys & Girls Club flies a hull
Flying a hull across the line in Benicia, the fast cat Half Moon Bay Boys & Girls Club finished first in the Jazz Cup on Saturday.
© 2022 Goose Gossman

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West Coast Weather Watch
Hurricane Kay is on track to rake the west coast of Baja Thursday morning, affecting Turtle Bay as well as Cedros and other offshore islands.