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Wrestling Wayward Buoys

The Yacht Racing Association of San Francisco Bay maintains a number of racing marks on the Bay. "Every once in a while a mark becomes unmoored from the bottom of the Bay and washes up somewhere in the Bay Area or just simply disappears," reports Don Ahrens, chairman of the YRA. "This spring YRA 16 (Blackaller) and YRA 6 (Fort Mason) suffered from these buoy maladies."

Awaiting placement, the brand-new YRA 16 joined YRA 6 at St. Francis Yacht Club.

© 2018 Chase Bargemann / StFYC

"We retrieved YRA 6 when it broke free some time ago," said Chase Bargemann, the waterfront director at St. Francis Yacht Club. "And then I retrieved YRA 16 when it broke off in March; I called the YRA to notify them."

YRA 16 had to be replaced with a new buoy and ground tackle, and YRA 6 just needed new ground tackle. A new buoy was ordered to replace YRA 16, trucked to the Bay Area, and dropped off at Easom Rigging in Point Richmond. Scott Easom put together new ground tackle with heavy chain, anchor, and various other hardware needed to secure the buoy to the bottom of the Bay. The ground tackle included two new 400-lb. Dor-Mor anchors.

"We’ve had trouble with a number of buoys staying on station over the years, especially YRA 6, which has disappeared three times in the last couple of years," writes Ahrens. "The last time the buoy disappeared it had been on station only 48 hours, a suspiciously short time. Scott Easom recommended that we significantly increase the size of the chain and the other anchoring hardware on YRA 6, given its propensity to disappear. We decided to upgrade the size of chain and anchoring hardware on YRA 16 as well. We also added lights to both for added visibility.

"The next task at hand was to find a boat big enough and with the ability to lift a buoy and hardware weighing several hundred pounds onto the boat and then back over the side of the boat and into the water without damaging the boat or buoy. Finding a boat with the needed abilities and experienced crew to handle a very cumbersome and heavy object has always been difficult. But this year was different.

"The YRA had a number of discussions with Chase Bargemann about replacing YRA 16. Chase recommended that we ask the Army Corps of Engineers to help us reset the buoys. The Corps had helped Chase on a number of occasions in the past, and he was confident they had the right boat and crew. Chase contacted Captain Kixon Meyer, who skippers the Army Corps of Engineers’ boat that is used for such tasks, and Capt. Meyer agreed to help out. Chase and Capt. Meyer then put together a plan for resetting the buoys." The John A.B. Dillard Jr. is an 86-ft by 26-ft steel catamaran. Its hydraulic crane has a load rating of 17,000 pounds.

This steel catamaran, John A.B. Dillard Jr., and its crane are operated by the Army Corps of Engineers.

© 2018 Don Ahrens / YRA

"On June 13 Capt. Meyer arrived with his boat and crew at St. Francis in preparation for resetting YRA 16. Getting the buoy off the dock at the St. Francis was a tricky task. Capt. Meyer backed his rather large ship up to the dock and kept the ship hovering in place while his crew swung their crane over the dock, attached a line from their crane to the buoy and tackle, and gingerly hoisted the buoy and tackle off the dock and onto the ship’s deck."

The crane lifts ‘Mason’ and all her tackle off StFYC’s hoist platform

© Don Ahrens / YRA
The crane operator swings ‘Mason’ over the boat’s deck.

© Don Ahrens / YRA

"With YRA 16 on his deck, Capt. Meyer headed out of the harbor and into the Bay to the spot where the buoy was to be dropped back in the water. Capt. Meyer’s crew hoisted the buoy off the deck, swung it over the side of the boat, and gently lowered the buoy into the water. The crew paid out the very heavy ground tackle, making sure not to foul the buoy or damage the light on the top of it. With the buoy and ground tackle in the water, YRA 16 was back in her time-honored place on the Cityfront. The process was repeated on June 19 when Capt. Meyer and his crew set YRA 6 back at its home near Fort Mason.

‘Mason’ goes on station.

© Don Ahrens / YRA

"The YRA would like to thank the Army Corps of Engineers, Captain Kixon Meyer and his crew, Chase Bargemann and Scott Easom. Because of their efforts, YRA 6 and 16 are now back on station and hopefully will remain so for years to come."

YRA 16, it may be noted, was dedicated to colorful Bay Area America’s Cup skipper Tom Blackaller after his death in 1989, and is stationed about 500 yards east of Fort Point.

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