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Lessons from the Three Bridge Fiasco

One of the great lessons you learn from the Three Bridge Fiasco is humility. Every year you start with the sense of great possibilities. There are so many twists and turns in the course that you figure it’s a crapshoot and anyone could win. Even you! You spend some time the night before (the truly dedicated spend the week before) figuring out the currents, checking the wind forecast, and making a firm commitment on which way to go.

Then race day arrives. You go down to the docks and all your commitment unravels. You talk to your dock neighbors who have committed to an entirely different course. After discussion with other skippers you reach consensus by each deciding to go a different way. At the start line the wind is a little different than expected, and more boats start in an unexpected direction, further eroding your confidence. Eventually you pull out your lucky quarter and give it a flip to choose your direction — heads it’s Red Rock, tails it’s Treasure Island, and for some reason there’s no way this solution is going to choose Blackaller. You wouldn’t recognize that initial mistake until hours later.

Olson 25's at the start
When you arrive at the start you might find that your one-design class competitors are starting in the opposite direction from you. Puzzling.

Happily, once you start, you see some pretty well-respected sailors near you. Somehow they work their way ahead of you, but at least you know you’re headed in the right direction. Right? Over time it gets lonelier and lonelier on the course, but fortunately a large wind hole ahead allows you to rejoin your lost companions.

Looking back
Looking back, we pretended we were ahead on a droopy day.
Michelle Slade
Doublehanded crewmate Michelle Slade carefully guided us backward past the anchored barge. We had the fenders ready just in case.

As the light fades, you recognize that dinner will be over by the time you get home and probably nobody else is going to finish the race either. So why should you stay out there if, in the end, everyone is going to pack it up and head home anyway? When you get back to the dock it’s packed with other early retirees who all console each other, recognizing that no one’s going to finish and we’re all wise to get back to the dock while there’s still some light. You also notice the flag that was drooping upon arrival is now showing a little life as it starts to flutter in a slightly building breeze.

Three Bridge Fiasco Finish
This was the finish for much of the fleet, when the ebb and lack of wind prevented us from reaching Red Rock.

As Sunday morning dawns you figure you might as well check the long list of DNFs just to confirm that nobody actually finished. You try to hide your surprise. This is where the humility comes in. Forty boats have finished. They are mostly all the very good sailors who sailed away from you early on. Nothing threw these people off their game. These sailors somehow navigated the crapshoot, wild cards and obstacles to finish and win another frustrating but fun Three Bridge Fiasco. Our hats are off to this year’s ‘lucky’ winners.

Once again reality and humility collided, forcing us to put our visions of glory safely away. Until next year.

More Lessons from the Fiasco

Despite what many would find a frustratingly light breeze, many find it’s still better than a day ashore. A couple of those were Cinde Lou Delmas and Milly Biller who, despite finishing 30 seconds after the 7 p.m. time limit, celebrated and memorialized a great day on the Bay aboard the Alerion 38 Another Girl with this video recap:

The other lesson is a “bravo” to the race committee for providing a helpful pre-race checklist. With a reverse handicap start, two radio channels for check-ins, and other details that we often miss, it was helpful to have their handy checklist ahead of the race. We might just remember to create our own in the future.

SSS 3 Bridge Fiasco Racer Checklist
With more than 300 entries, the Singlehanded Sailing Society did all they could to help the race and racers be organized.

We salute the 40 boats out of 317 entered who finished before the time limit. And applaud the perseverance of those who missed finishing by seconds or minutes.

In the spirit of the Fiasco, the Bay Area Multihull Association has announced that, for the 2020 Doublehanded Farallones race on Saturday, March 28, competitors may round SE Farallon Island in either direction. You can enter here.


  1. Falk Meissner 4 years ago

    The TBF is always an adventure, challenge, and fun with boats rounding marks in opposite directions. All of that in relative safety of the Bay. Are we sure that creating similar “puzzling” situations at the Farallones is a good idea?

  2. Jim chie 4 years ago

    But you forgot about the thick FOG. no wind and no visibility.

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