The San Francisco Bay Area is famous for its microclimates. This is true on the land and on the water. Sailing into ‘Hurricane Gulch,’ the ‘Slot,’ the ‘Richmond Riviera’ or the Oakland Estuary can all be very different experiences, and all can be experienced in a single daysail. The Corinthian Yacht Club’s first Friday night race of the season easily demonstrated this in a one-hour, five-mile race. Some of our crew arrived from the city describing the whitecaps and strong breeze that would likely mean we should reef. The Windy.com forecast was for winds in the upper teens but perhaps dropping as the evening went on. All data are helpful in sorting out how you might set up your sails and plan your strategy, but it can all go out the porthole once you get to the start line. Such was the case on Friday.
We held off on the reefing and reached around the Belvedere Cove microclimate to explore the breeze and fading ebb. The foulies that had been donned for the blow were removed as we warmed up in the sun and on flat water. The breeze howling through the Gate looked as if it was disappearing from the normal windward mark of Little Harding. What once looked like a roaring thrash around the course was becoming a question of whether we’d finish by sunset.
By start time the breeze had virtually disappeared, but the current was about slack, so whatever motion you could muster would conceivably get you on your way. During the first 20 painful minutes, with drooping sails and weight to leeward, we headed toward the Bay, looking for the first wisps of wind to come around Belvedere Point. Soon a wind line reappeared, moving toward the fleet, and just as suddenly as the wind had disappeared, it returned. Sails were filled and we were off to Little Harding.
Now we were rail-down, weight to weather, tightening halyards and easing sheets, trying to keep her flat and fast. A hard jibe at Little Harding, a big grind-in at Knox to head back to the windward set mark, a big ease as we rounded and joined the now-building flood to ride back to Elephant Rock off the Caprice restaurant, and then a final turn in a fading breeze to fight the flood for a few hundred yards to the finish. A perfectly normal Friday night. There are more obstacles in this short, five-mile loop than on your average miniature golf course. The legs are far too short to consider sail changes, so what you choose at the start is what you’ll have at the finish. From there it’s gear-shifting and making the best of what you’ve got.
While race committees everywhere strain to set perfectly square lines and courses that create the elusive, mythical ‘fair’ sailing arena, the average Friday night race is set up to fire a gun and go, regardless of what’s out there. To us that’s much more fun. If you want a course that never changes, take up swimming. With a new riddle to solve every week and frequent wild cards dropped onto the table, you should never count yourself out. And despite all that’s going on, we never miss taking a moment to savor the fog coming over the Sausalito hills, the reflections from San Francisco and the Oakland hills glistening in the setting sun, and the growing shadow of Mt. Tam expanding to the east.
Signing up for a beer can series is one of the best things you can add to your weekly rituals. The microclimates available from South Beach’s Friday night series, Sausalito on Tuesdays, or Wednesdays at the St. Francis, Richmond or the Estuary — they’re all just starting now and run until September. You can find a microclimate and preferred weeknight to suit your style in our sailing calendar.