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The Great Vallejo Race Turns 122 This Year

This year’s Great Vallejo Race promises to be bigger than in years past due to going back to its pre-pandemic normal dates of April 30-May 1, pent-up demand, and high registration levels for PHRF certificates. We will have our ‘Smoke on the Water’ BBQ stand open, along with our ‘Fun on a Bun’ burger bar. Our outdoor Tiki Bar will feature Mt. Gay rum drinks, Mare Island brews (official beer sponsor) and Thirty-Seven Wines (official wine sponsor). The steel drum band will begin at 2 p.m. on the outdoor patio. The party will really ramp up at 7 p.m. when the Darrel Edwards Lighting Up the Soul band will take the stage.

Tiki Bar at VYC
The Tiki Bar (Tikki Bar?) at last year’s Great Vallejo Race, which took place in August. The 2020 race was canceled.
© 2022 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

Vallejo Race History

1930 bar scene
The scene at the Vallejo YC bar in 1930. This is the old bar in the original clubhouse that was built in 1902 about 1,000 yards from where the current clubhouse stands.
© 2022 Courtesy Vallejo Yacht Club

The first organized race to Vallejo was during the second weekend of July 1900. Sailboats from the San Francisco, Corinthian and California Yacht Clubs participated. Newspaper articles of the time stated that dozens of boats participated in the race, which started in Sausalito on Saturday. Many of the boats reached Vallejo in the early afternoon, and throughout the evening. The wind was out of the northwest with an almost all-day flood current. The trip from Sausalito took anywhere from three to four hours.

Schooner racing
Yacht racing on San Francisco Bay circa 1884. This photo is titled Schooner Occidental.
© 2022 Courtesy Vallejo Yacht Club

Some of the most famous boats on the Bay made the race in two different classes: 35-ft and above and 35-ft or under. Some of these boats were: Edna, Sappho, Mischief, Neriad, Spray, Arcturus, Harpoon, Nixie, Mignon, Amigo, Sans Souci and John Pew’s Truant. The Vallejoans of the Vallejo Yachting and Rowing Club welcomed the visiting crews on Saturday night with lively parties that included music and dancing. The clubhouse was under construction in 1900 and finished in 1902. Over the years, this has become the Great Vallejo Race, with between 200 and 600 boats participating annually.

The Vallejo Yachting and Rowing club formed on April 27, 1900, in response to the raising of ferry fares from Vallejo to Mare Island in 1898. Many commuters to the island disapproved of this action. They bought or made rowboats and sailboats for the crossing — the natural result being the rise of races to and from the island each morning and afternoon with each commuter vying to win. The Vallejo Yachting and Rowing club joined PICYA that same year (1900), the seventh club to join. Jack London was an early member of the club. He was said to have participated in several Great Vallejo Races during his time of membership.

Jack London and other card players
Card players at VYC in 1913. Left to right: George Hilton, unknown, Judge John Browne, Jack London. The author joined the club in 1910 when he was living in Sonoma County.
© 2022 Courtesy Vallejo Yacht Club

122 Years Later …

Today the Vallejo Yacht Club still hosts this historic race. It’s the season opener for the YRA’s in-the-Bay racing season. VYC is an all-volunteer club with a long reputation of warm hospitality and welcoming boaters and sailors of all types.

The Express 27 Peaches finishes the 2021 Great Vallejo Race in Mare Island Strait. These days the ferries run from Vallejo to San Francisco, but they berth at Mare Island when they’re off duty.
© 2022 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris
Vallejo race committee on shore
The Vallejo YC and Yacht Racing Association race committee finishes the GVR from the Vallejo waterfront between the ferry landing and the yacht club.
© 2022 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

To register and pre-buy your dinner selections please go to www.jibeset.net/YRA000.php?RG=T009224946 or www.vyc.org/the-great-vallejo-race.

Sources: Vallejo Yacht Club the First 100 Years by Janet Evans, published April 2000; San Francisco Examiner, May 12, 1900.

6 Comments

  1. m 8 months ago

    Great History Christine !
    I had no idea that the Vallejo Race had been held for so long.
    Thanks !

  2. Jeff Hoffman 8 months ago

    I crewed in this race in 1995 on a Santana 37 out of Berkeley (don’t remember the name of the boat or the skipper). The return leg of the race on the second day was a lot of fun, with good westerly wind blowing against a strong ebb tide, creating a steep chop (I like heavy weather sailing, so long as it’s day sailing and I don’t have to try to sleep in those conditions). Unfortunately and unknown to anyone on our boat or in our start, a skipper’s daughter who was crewing on a boat whose start was about two hours behind ours fell off her boat without a PFD and drowned on the return leg. We were partying after the race in the Berkeley Yacht Club and had no clue about this. I got a phone call the day after the race informing me of this tragedy, which obviously put a damper on my fun memories of the race. Even though I didn’t see the drowning or even know about it until the following day, this ended up being the worst sailing experience of my life.

    This is not at all meant to discourage anyone from participating in this really fun race. To the contrary, I encourage everyone who’s interested to join. The party in Vallejo is a lot of fun, and the sailing can be also if you get good wind. This is just my story about one race 27 years ago for the purpose of memorializing these events. The only advice I have is to wear your PFD and have fun.

  3. Christine Weaver 8 months ago

    Jeff — That drowning victim in 1995 was Victoria Taylor, age 20. The boat was the Merit 25 Pink Panther. This was on the Sunday race back from Vallejo, an upwind leg, near Point Pinole. Conditions were described in our June 1995 issue as “gnarly”, with 20-25 knot winds and 5-ft chop. (It’s been my observation that on gnarly days, the vicinity of Point Pinole is the gnarliest part of San Pablo Bay.) Victoria’s mother was driving the boat; her stepfather jumped in to try to save her. I can only imagine their grief. You can read the full story in Sightings on pages 90-91 of that June issue, available online at https://www.latitude38.com/magazine/#1995.

    • Jeff Hoffman 8 months ago

      Yes, I remember it the way you described it. I also seem to remember that her mother tried to turn the boat around by starting the engine, and that the main sheet fouled the prop and/or the shaft and killed the engine. This made it take longer to get back to Victoria than it would have if a proper “man overboard” maneuver under sail had been executed immediately after Victoria fell off the boat, and underscored why NOT to start the engine in a situation like this. This is not to denigrate the skipper, people can easily panic in extreme circumstances like seeing your child drowning, but it’s the way I remember the story. Please correct me if I’m wrong, this was a long time ago.

      BTW, I can’t get to the 1995 edition from your link; it just goes to the current edition.

  4. Christine Weaver 8 months ago

    Jeff — To see the back issues, scroll down past the current issue.

    • Jeff Hoffman 8 months ago

      Thanks Christine. I’m sure I read this at the time, I read Latitude monthly back then and didn’t miss an issue.

      It’s good to keep my memory refreshed, but of course painful to rehash this. The phone call I got from a crew mate’s wife on Monday telling me about this was quite chilling. It was also creepy to me that we were partying away after the race at the Berkeley Yacht Club totally clueless about the drowning. The only worse phone call I remember getting in my life is the one that informed me that my horse had just been killed in a barn fire.

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