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Great Schooner Race, Great Excitement

Saturday saw San Francisco Bay filled with classic sailing beauty and much excitement for the Belvedere Classic hosted by San Francisco Yacht Club (SFYC). The annual regatta, formerly known as the Great Schooner Race, has evolved to include a variety of classic yachts along with the traditional schooners. Now in its 11th year, the regatta drew several well-known Bay Area yachts including Call of the Sea’s newly built educational vessel Matthew Turner.

Regatta festivities began on Friday evening with several yachts spending the night at the SFYC where captains and crews enjoyed an evening of nostalgia, camaraderie and good-humored rivalry. SFYC commodore Andy Fromm welcomed the guests with sailing anecdotes and a little-known fact: Matthew Turner, the shipbuilder and designer who’s the namesake for the tall ship Matthew Turner, was also a founding member of the San Francisco Yacht Club, which this year is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

Saturday dawned clear and mild with San Francisco’s usual fog bank sending cool breezes and occasional wisps skimming across the Bay. By 9 a.m. SFYC, was a hive of anticipation as the sailboats were readied and one-by-one glided silently out of the harbor and past the Matthew Turner, which would spend her day at the docks welcoming aboard curious guests.

Everyone hauling
Guests pitched in to help raise Seaward’s sails.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica

The race was organized into two divisions: schooner and non-schooner, with each vessel being assigned a handicap and accordant start time. The race results would then be determined by the order of finish. In the schooner division were Jakatan, Brigadoon, Seaward, Gold Star and Wiletie.

Our host vessel Seaward was the last to pass the start mark and crossed under full sail with captain Alan Olson calling for more trim and the crew already calculating the time required to catch the nearest boat. However, rounding the first mark appeared problematic as a large and very fast tanker loomed on Seaward’s port side. The tanker caused some delay before bearing away and allowing Seaward to continue on her course. “Seven minutes,” came the call and Seaward had found her rival. Jakatan, the 40-ft gaff-rigged schooner, had rounded the mark seven minutes earlier and was racing her way south to the next mark near the Bay Bridge.

Race tactics
Call of the Sea co-founders Alan Olson and Ken Neal discuss tactics at Seaward’s helm.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica

The Bay conditions were at their best and provided constant wind with minimal chop — great for Seaward — and for everyone else. By the time Seaward had rounded the second mark, the gap had closed a little, but Jakatan was still well ahead and the next legs were merely a chase with no gain.

After passing Alcatraz and bearing north, Jakatan loomed larger and the Seaward crew were buzzing with excitement. Jakatan’s lead was no longer being counted in minutes as all Seaward’s hands were busy getting as much as they could out of their 82-ft schooner.

Approaching the last mark Jakatan was all but spitting distance and Seaward was hoping to take her on the straight to home. But alas, the winds were in Jakatan’s favor and as she rounded the mark she threw her sails wing-and-wing to glide to the finish looking like a giant, but very graceful, moth.

Looking for trim
Seaward crew Duncan Harvey keeps an eye on the sails as he looks for the best trim.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica

The return to SFYC was pleasant and relaxed as the crew doused the sails and tidied the decks. Everyone was engaged in post-race chatter and congratulations and thanks were plied upon Seaward’s captain and crew and the brave passengers who, caught up in the excitement, had put themselves to work alongside the regular crew.

Back at the docks, the trophy table was laid out with shining silver, and after putting away the boats crews gathered to hear the final results. In the schooner class, Brigadoon took first place, followed by Jakatan, then Seaward. The non-schooner class was won by Cuckoo, followed by Kookaburra in second place and Water Witch third.

Look for the race report and more photos in Racing Sheet in the August edition of Latitude 38.

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