Three Bridge Fiasco in San Francisco Bay


Super Anarchist
on SA at times
It's a floater.

(I'm not sure I can post videos and photos from this I'll ayePhone.)

The positive is that's is a most beautiful, warm day. Here we are in the middle of Winter and it's bikini weather people!

Boats have already withdrawn already, about a fifth of them. This is the race where boats are single handed or double handed and need to get around all three bridges. I've seen anchors dropped and boats going backwards under Golden Gate Bridge.

More from Golden Gate Yacht Club.



Super Anarchist
75.8760W 39.5142N
Translation: 1) I have an eye phone

2) Yes it does have a camera

3) It is a bikini day.

4) Do you see any pictures?

5) No, you don't.

6) Am I just the very cruelest woman?

7) Do the math.

Dark n stormy finish. Tau Kaui supposedly called in and said we are 300 meters from line with 1 min to go. Didn't make it. Tough day for everyone. If my dad and I didn't quit when we did one of us prob would have ended up in the water haha.



Super Anarchist
Beside Myself
Brutal race. We (F-25C #6) ended up just behind Tau Kaui with about 1/2 mile to go. We had good breeze between ALZ and pier 39, but with only 15 minutes to get to the finish, we had to call it. Big props to Dark n Stormy, well done.



Super Anarchist
De Nile
WHich way did you go? we hit blackballer, tried to get back to TI, couldn't get around Anita and went to red rock. Got round that thing and called it quits at 5 looking at a sea of tranquility between Richmond and TI. There was nice breeze in the slot for the delivery home.



New member
On Saturday 1/25, Fred Soelter and I took Smokin’ J up to the Central Bay for what has been called the largest single sailboat race in the country – The Singlehanded Sailing Society’s annual “Three Bridge Fiasco.”

We left the slip a little before 6am, motoring through the darkness on the glassy and shimmering waters of the South Bay. The lights of the communities surrounding the bay cast reflections all over the water, and it was clear enough to see the lights of the Bay Bridge guiding us north towards our destination – the starting area just off the Golden Gate Yacht Club. Because of a nice lift from the ebbing current, we arrived over an hour ahead of our start time. This gave us a chance to raise the newly-repaired 150% genoa and make the adjustments necessary to take full advantage of this large sail. The winds were predicted to be light, but we had a nice 10 knot breeze and were looking forward to a great day.

For those unfamiliar with this race it bears a brief description of what was going on and why the race is dubbed “Fiasco.” For starters, there were approximately 360 boats involved, ranging in size from small daysailers to very large racing yachts. Catamarans, trimarans, racers, cruising boats, classic wooden yachts and modern high tech sleds - a huge diversity of sailboats was represented, each with only one or two people on board per the rules of the race. Now add the fact that the race is a pursuit format: each boat starts the race at a specific time based on its individual handicap and the first boat to the finish wins. Also - the three marks of the course can be rounded in any order an any direction, and the start and finish line can be crossed in either direction. The three marks are the Blackaller bouy in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, Red Rock at the Richmond Bridge, and Treasure Island in the middle of the Bay Bridge. Add to the mix almost no wind and a 4 knot ebb current out the Golden Gate and Voila! A HUGE Fiasco!!

There is a time lapse video of the starting area here:

At 22 seconds in you can see Smokin’ J if you look closely. She's the boat with the white sails.

It was quite a job to maneuver through all of the boats sailing around the starting area, each waiting for their start time. We tacked one way, gybed another, dipped, pinched, circled and dodged until 9:49:21 am, our start time. We reached the line a little late, but not too bad. We crossed the line heading towards shore close hauled, then tacked and headed back through the crowd of boats. The current drew us back towards the line, and before I realized where we were, we were almost right on top of buoy marking the end of the start line. We barely missed (I mean by inches) brushing the buoy. This would have disqualified us, so I was quite happy when the stern of the boat cleared the marker. Off we went towards Treasure Island, tacking along the city front in a breeze that was rapidly failing.

The up-wind, up-current trek up the City waterfront was great fun – we made something like 20 tacks in a large crowd of racers, crossing boats on starboard, ducking on port, and made it almost to Pier 39 when the wind finally quit altogether. Luther and his Brother Bob were on the j/32 Paradigm, and were about 100 yards behind us as the fleet started going backwards, slack sails, and drifting with the ebb back towards where we had already been. The radio crackled over and over again as boats decided to call it a day and radioed in their retirement to the race committee. The Pier 39 harbormaster got on the radio, asking the race committee to do something about the crowd of drifting sailboats blocking the harbor entrance, as they were a navigation hazard for the ferry traffic. We were west of Pier 39 at the time, and were not directly affected, but it was very interesting watching the large ferries, blowing long repeated blasts on their horns, navigating through a fleet of sailing yachts that had zero wind, and no way to navigate without starting their motors, which would disqualify them from the race.

Meanwhile, a similar drama of a much larger nature was happening under the Golden Gate Bridge. Remember – this race has no rules about which way you go, and at least half the boats had decided to go west to Blackaller buoy, then across the Golden Gate, right in the middle of a 4 knot ebb current flowing out to sea. About the time the wind died, a large number of boats were left bobbing just inside the Golden Gate, and many were indeed drawn out under the span. As this was going on, the race committee came on the radio to warn the fleet that a large container ship was about to enter the gate, and it was their responsibility to keep clear. As the ship approached, boat after boat radioed on that they had to start their engines to avoid collision, and had to retire from the race. The good news is that all of the boats practiced good seamanship and did clear the channel for the ship, with no close calls I am aware of.

Back on the City waterfront, Paradigm, Smokin’ J , and about 50 other boats continued to bob in the water, drifting slowly backwards. Paradigm was taken right into the entrance to Aquatic Park, and finally had to start their engine to avoid fetching up on the harbor wall, ending their race for the day. We continued to drift that direction, and it looked like the same thing was about to happen to us when the wind gods smiled, and enough breeze came up for us to start sailing forward again. We tacked several more times, and made it all the way back to Pier 39 and a little farther when the wind once again deserted us, and left us drifting. We were very close to shore, and drifted slowly back, still surrounded by other boats, until we were stopped dead in the water right in front of the entrance to Pier 39. Now it was our turn to worry about ferry traffic, and we hoped fervently that some breeze would come up and allow us to sail out of there before the next ferry departure. Things got dicey. A ferry at the Pier sounded its departure horn. As a precaution I lowered the outboard into the water so I could start it up quickly if necessary. We waited. We drifted. The ferry horn blew loudly. A breeze tickled the back of my neck. The boats milled around, The ferry started leaving the dock. We were able to get clear just east of the harbor entrance, and the ferry made its way out without the need for us to start the motor.

A light breeze continued to build, and we sailed out into the bay, heading for the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island. The wind backed to the north. It died again, then came back a little. We raised the spinnaker, gybed it, took it back down and raised the jib again, made some progress, enjoyed the beautiful warm sunshine, and had a great time floating to the east, not getting any closer to our objective. Then, finally, the breeze established itself and we were able to fill the spinnaker and sail more or less directly towards the Bridge. A couple more gybes and we sailed under the Bay Bridge, with a few boats in front of us and a whole lot behind us. The wind was filling in from the west, and a huge fleet of yachts was threatening to catch up to us from behind. It was already well after 2:00pm.

Fred took the helm and guided us under the bridge, right next to Yerba Buena Island. We had a nice 5 knot breeze and were actually making good time for a change. As we came around the corner we saw that a handful of boats were trying to make it around the island and had sailed into the island’s huge wind shadow. They were sitting, bobbing, drifting, taking, drinking beer, just like we had done for the past three hours on the City waterfront. Fred and I had a discussion. We had a favorable breeze, full sails, and we had a choice to make. We could keep racing, sail into the wind shadow, have yet another extended bobbing party, and MAYBE manage to finish rounding the island, but the chances of making it all the way to Richmond and back to the finish line before the 7pm cutoff were absolutely zero. Or we could enjoy the fair wind, turn south for home and be back for dinner. We chose the latter, pointed the pointy end of the boat south, and had a glorious spinnaker reach for about 30 minutes before the wind died for good. We radioed the race committee, started up the trusty outboard, dropped the sails, broke out sandwiches and had a fine motor back to the slip, arriving home by around 5:30 pm. I figured out how to download our track from the GPS, so an image it is attached.

Out of 357 boats registered to participate, only two crossed the finish line before the cutoff time. The first was a wickedly fast 40 year old plywood hulled catamaran, Beowulf V, who was disqualified for not having working running lights. So, the sole official finisher was a Carroll 1d 35 called “Dark and Stormy.” How they managed to find enough wind to make it all the way around that course was either amazing tactics, unreal luck, or, as I believe, a combination of the two. Congrats to these intrepid sailors! Their story is here:

Despite the lack of wind, this was one of the finest sailboat racing days I have ever had. I am already looking forward to next year’s Fiasco!

Mark Bettis

j/29 “Smokin’ J”