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Three Bridge Fiasco Was a Bridge Too Far for Many

The Singlehanded Sailing Society’s Three Bridge Fiasco never fails to disappoint. Unless you fall into a wind hole and never recover. Or don’t make it to Red Rock or TI before a killer ebb starts. On the other hand, every one of the 301 competitors who signed up knew in advance they were signing up for a fiasco, so how can you be disappointed if it is one?

Three Bridge Fiasco starting line
There’s no way to capture the entire fleet of almost 300 boats in one shot, but it’s always impressive.
© 2024 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

About 23 boats did not make it out for the day, and of the remaining 278 boats,150 finished and 128 retired.

AIS Three Bridge Fiasco
Thankfully, modern AIS technology has made the job of race committees and ship captains much easier, as many competitors can now be displayed on chartplotters.
© 2024 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

The forecast we saw on Windy looked uninspiring: light airs under 10 knots from the NE for most of the day. Despite the forecast conditions, almost 300 light-air masochists and optimists showed up to prove the app wrong in an attempt to beat the riddle of the Bay and their fellow competitors.

The spinnaker mosh pit under the Bay Bridge.
The spinnaker mosh pit under the Bay Bridge.
© 2024 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

As everyone knows, the race is a complete crapshoot that anyone can win. That is, until you look at the results year to year. Despite the well-known complications of finding your way through the sailing version of a Bay full of mini-golf course hazards, potholes and speed bumps, many familiar names regularly rise to the top. It’s a reminder that it’s always hard to beat good sailors on well-equipped, well-prepared boats with excellent strategy and tactics. Fortunately, an element of luck does occasionally gift dedicated optimists with good results.

The Bay bridge restart.
This crowd politely waited at the Bay Bridge for those behind to catch up.
© 2024 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

From our scan of the results in 2023, we see that Randall Rasicot aboard his Express 27 Tequila Mockingbird, Scott and Leslie Easom aboard 8 Ball and Rufus Sjoberg aboard his J/125 Rufless all won their classes two years in a row. It’s amazing when people can have such consistent “luck.” Others who did well this year finished deep in their classes last year, which is enough to remind us all never to give up trying.

Killer Wakes
Spotting a future killer wake heading our way, we started praying, “Please go astern of us.” This time the praying and incantations worked for us but not for everyone. Do they know the pain and suffering a large wake can cause?
© 2024 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

It turned out to be a picture-perfect day though, as predicted: short on wind but with enough breeze on enough of the course to get most boats around. With a flood turning to an ebb, the majority of boats, despite whatever their pregame strategy was, elected to take the 10+ knot morning northeasterly to reach against the flood toward Blackaller, and then take advantage of the flood and breeze to beat their way through Raccoon Strait toward the Three Bridge Fiasco’s $25 million racing mark (Red Rock). There were lots of tricky current lines to call on this leg, as some early ebb started along the Tiburon shoreline. Most left Red Rock to starboard and did the best they could to get to Yerba Buena before the building ebb overcame the breeze and the fleet. Nobody made it.

The action at the $25 million race mark.
© 2024 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

The Bay Bridge became nature’s “general recall,” forcing most of the fleet into a fresh start in the midst of a colorful, windless, spinnaker-laden sailing mosh pit. The crowd lingered under the watchful eye of the Coast Guard restricted zone off the island, waiting for the breeze to fill in. It was about this time (1430?) Channel 72 came to life with many notifications to the race committee of boats retiring. Everyone else patiently waiting for breeze could feel themselves being lifted one notch higher in the standings with each retirement. For most, the patience was rewarded. The breeze miraculously returned, allowing spinnakers to fill and the crowd to spread out and find a lane, so boats eventually worked their way around the island, where the adverse ebb turned to an ally in their favor with breeze and current suddenly whisking everyone toward the GGYC finish line.

The mostly pleasant, sunny downwind leg from Red Rock to the Bay Bridge restart.
The mostly pleasant, sunny downwind leg from Red Rock to the Bay Bridge restart.
© 2024 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

We were happy to join the crowd making it around, but could imagine the panic on the Golden Gate YC race deck as the finishing dam broke, with over 130 competitors crossing the line between 4:00 and 5:00. They must have felt like the engineers watching the Oroville Dam spillway threaten to break down. Somehow the race committee persevered and finished over 150 competitors in about an hour and a half.

The search for wind.
The search for wind had boats exploring all corners of the Bay. Possibly luck would be found by Ever Lucky.
© 2024 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

The clockwise direction starting at Blackaller was the direction of choice, but others chose differently and, incredibly, also finished well. We asked Dave Hodges and Scott Easom the secret to their success. Dave reported that he and crew John Kernot aboard his Farr 38 Timber Wolf were one of the few who took the “road less traveled” by going to Treasure Island first. He says he spent about two and a half hours behind the island looking for the breeze while imaging all the competitors romping their way around Red Rock in the other direction. (The TI hole would get them later.) Dave and John stuck with their plan. Patience and perseverance paid off with a class win. Scott Easom was the fastest of the singlehanders, finishing at 16:00:48, even though he chose to go to TI first.

Buoy 10
We were pretty pleased with our speed when we passed this buoy as if it were standing still.
© 2024 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

Gordie Nash on Arcadia went Blackaller, Yerba Buena and Red Rock, and came in second, finishing in the midst of the 4:00–5:00 p.m. finish-line rush hour. Cinde Lou Delmas and Milly Biller on Another Girl went the alternate route and finished fifth in class in the middle of the finish-line mayhem. This all goes to prove it really doesn’t matter which way you go, and you could save a lot of strategizing time the week before, since you know you’re going to change your mind Saturday morning anyway. We’d like to hear in comments below who did change their mind on Saturday morning, and who else did anything but the majority choice: Blackaller, Red Rock and TI.

The debut of the Wylie 60 C-Cubed
The new Wylie 60 C Cubed with owner Charles Ray and crew Zan Drejes was the last starter and second finisher.
© 2024 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

Only five boats finished before 4:00 p.m. starting off with Rufus Sjoberg and Dylan Benjamin on the J/125 Rufless at 15:48:10, Charles Ray and Zan Drejas aboard the debut of the new Wylie 60 C Cubed at 15:52:54, James Nichols and Cody Hall aboard the J/125 Velvet Hammer at 15:54:58, Brendan Meyer and Skip Shapiro aboard the Wylecat 30 Uno at 15:54:18, and Nicole and Nick Voss on the Moore 24 Enamored at 15:57:16.

The challenge of Yerba Buena.
Yes, all these folks are racing. The calm around Yerba Buena looked more like a place for a bass-fishing tournament, frustrating many.
© 2024 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

We can understand the “retiring” calls from those drifting behind TI at 2:30 p.m. if their home berth was up the Estuary or in Richmond. They could have fought their way to the finish off the Golden Gate Yacht Club only to find themselves fighting a 3-4-knot ebb to get home. Tough call.

Whether you made the finish or retired, everyone had their moments of glorious January sailing on San Francisco Bay. The air was warm and the seas calm, and being surrounded by the spectacle of almost 300 boats on one starting line was a reward in itself. Congratulations to all the winners. We’ll have to see whose “luck” holds next year. It could be you. We’ll have a more complete report in the March issue.

You can see full results here.

You can pick up the new, February issue of the magazine at any of these locations starting January 31 here.


  1. John Walsh 4 months ago

    Our solid plan was clockwise, B-RR-TI.
    We changed our mind for absolutely no reason just minutes before our start. Turns out it wasn’t exactly the wrong choice, but by the time we got to RR it took about 6 attempts to get around in the massive current. MASSIVE! It was only due to a very lucky wind shift, after my wife and I agreed that it wasn’t in our cards to make it, that we did! It took less time for us to get from RR to Blackhaller then it did to get from Brooks Island to RR. Anyway the most exciting part was a very spicy spinnaker douse, in the dark, at the Blackhaller rounding. We didn’t even see the mark but we clearly saw the pier and our chart indicated we passed B. So, with luck and perhaps helpful hands from our deceased fathers we didn’t lose the kite and gear completely, and finished our first fiasco. Only took 2.5 hours more to get home to RYC. Long day, lots of lessons and an experience like no other.

  2. milly Biller 4 months ago

    Cinde and I did the BIG DEBATE, right up to start time. As you said, we weren’t going to follow the crowd, so went counterclockwise. We hugged the shore of YBI and found a tiny bit of relief from the dying flood. The fun part was sailing less than a boat length away from the beautiful, new Wylie 60, for most of our rounding, and having a chat with old friend Zan Drejes, who was crewing for the owner on the boat’s maiden voyage. Easy trip to Red Rock, then through the Straits to the finish. We had a race within the race with boats that had other Inverness Yacht Club members aboard, and I was proud to see us all doing so well in our respective classes. Bren Meyer and Skip Shapiro 1st, Kim Desenberg and Skip Allan 2nd, Jonathan Kaplan and crew third, and Cinde and myself 4th ( ahem )
    Go kids !!!!!

  3. Alan Orr 4 months ago

    Mark Green and I won our class (13) in Sweet Grapes by going Blackaller – Red Rock then TI/Yerba Buena anti-clockwise. We finished at 16:05:08. I cannot deny the pleasure of seeing so many hi-tech sport boats heading for the finish after we had crossed the line and we’re heading back to Coyote Point on our old (1981) Ericson 36RH!

    • John Arndt 4 months ago

      Spectacular! How many boats went TI anti-clockwise after Red Rock? Sounds like a bold and brilliant move.

  4. milly Biller 3 months ago

    I did hear a very disappointing comment from my friend and PRO Richard Reitmeyer, that there were many boats that retired from the race without contacting the RC. It took him until NOON THE NEXT DAY to ensure that everyone was accounted for to the Coast Guard. We as competitors need to do WAY BETTER than that for our volunteer Race Committees !

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