Sonny Sails the Fiasco

The Crew

My sailing partner, Don Teakell with Pineapple, was being a good dad this year, attending his son Jack’s 7th birthday celebration on Saturday, so couldn’t sail the Three Bridge this year. Since he was being a good dad, I decided to be a good dad too and take my nine year old son, Caleb (also known by his father as “Sonny”), with me.

He was actually a little gun shy about sailing on the Bay after experiencing 30 knot gusts and seeing another boat get smacked down by a whale in the Santa Cruz regatta I took him to last year. But he had been wanting a Carver skateboard for a while, and I thought it would be easy enough to throw one in, in the off chance we ended up on the podium. So with a little extra incentive he was all in.

He’s actually done quite a lot of sailing with me since he was a really little guy. I’ve had him out on a Laser in 20 knots on Lake Champlain. He did the Long Beach to Dana point with me (and his mother) this year and a bunch of beer can races. He also has his own Sabot, which he sails well. He’s got natural ability on the helm and a great head on his shoulders for what’s happening on the boat.

With all of this great experience, I was planning on using him as my secret, light air weapon. If people are willing to spend $200 on Titanium halyard shackles to save a couple of ounces, I was going to make out huge by saving at least 75 pounds in what was shaping up to be another drifter with a big turnout of 363 boats, including 33 Moores.

The Plan

Sonny and I had talked it through with Don and we were pretty set on going around counterclockwise, mostly based on the current, thinking we could ride the last of the flood into the bay and then if it was light on our way up to Red Rock, we could dig into the flats to get out of the building ebb.

We got the boat all ready on Friday and then dropped her in the water at the St. Francis on Saturday morning. We made our way out to the starting line with about ten minutes to spare. Don came out to watch the start and took some footage with his new toy.

Start to Treasure Island

We wanted to start on starboard at the pin to get out into the flood, and we did, but it was a little hectic. Sonny was driving as we were heading to the pin, but there were two pairs of boats starting the other way right at the pin. I took the helm back for a spell and with some civilized conversation (albeit at somewhat elevated volume), we managed to thread between the first pair and then to the outside of the second and got a great start.

Sonny took the helm back and we headed out into the bay. As I started looking around, it became apparent that we were in a very small minority that had decided to go around counterclockwise. I felt a little bit better when I saw the 85, 68  and 22 headed our way further in towards the city front. We traded a few tacks with the other boats and ended up leading into the channel.

The wind was coming from the southwest so we were close reaching as we sailed across to TI. The windline was only a couple of boat lengths to weather of us where it pretty much shut off. There were a couple of bigger boats ahead and to weather of us as we entered the channel that ended up completely parked.  The 85 sailed past us to leeward and extended into TI. The 68 and 22 also made up some ground on us from leeward.

Treasure Island to the Berkeley Circle

Once we got under the bridge, we turned down and hoisted our spinnaker. We struggled a bit on the sail changes. When Don and I sail together, he does the bow, and is awesome at it, and I can manage to keep the boat going straight and handle the sheets until he gets back. I’m not nearly as good on the bow and the Sonny needs a few more reps before he can drive and trim two sails at the same time. But we got it done and were headed around TI. The 68 passed us on the hoist and then the 22 passed us before we got under the bridge.

We followed them under the bridge and up behind the landing at TI cove for relief and then gybed and followed the other boats across the channel into the flats. At this point the order was, 85, 68, 22 and then us. The other boats headed pretty deep into the flats. We ended up gybing back on a course to take us across the end of the Berkeley pier. That seemed to pay off a bit for us, but we had our spinnaker trimmed too tightly and they got out ahead of us again as they came back out to clear the pier. The 124 and 34 also crept up from behind.

The 85, 68 and 22 headed off into the middle of the bay after the Berkeley pier. We decided to stay in the flats, as did the 34. The 124 split the difference a bit and was outside of us but not as far out as the other guys. The 85 ended up gybing back to head for Red Rock somewhere in the middle and we lost site of the 68 and the 22.

Berkeley Circle to Red Rock

By this time there was a pack of boats that had already rounded Red Rock the other way and I was pretty sure we had gone the wrong way. The wind from behind us started to die, but we could see a wind line coming towards us from the north-northwest. We flopped around on the spin for a few back and forth gybes and then dropped it and put the genoa back up. The wind filled quickly and we had nice breeze, fully powered up on a slightly cracked off course to Red Rock. The 34 didn’t put their jib up right away and we put some distance back between us.

We had an awesome drag race up to Red Rock with the 124 a good ways off our beam, and the 85 further out and ahead. Sonny drove it like he stole it and I hiked and trimmed for all it was worth. All of the boats that had gone clockwise were clear of Red Rock so we didn’t have to worry about traffic or wind shadows. We managed to just eke it out in front of the 124 - I think we may have had slightly favorable current and were sailing a little more cracked off course. We followed the 85 around by 20 or 30 lengths with the 124 three or four lengths behind.

Red Rock to Raccoon Straights

We gybed early to hoist on port, where the gear was. Unfortunately, I had taken the spinnaker down before putting the jib up and the pole was fouled. To make matters worse, we had gybed too early and the ebb pushed us right into the lee of Red Rock. Bye Bye 124. We gybed over to starboard to get out of the lee, re-rigged the pole and hoisted.

Looking down to TI, we were expecting to see a parade of boats coming from the Bay Bridge heading for the City Front, but what we saw was a massive parking lot on the east side of TI.

By this time the 85 was way out in front and the 124 closer to them than they were to us. The 34 boat had also made up a good amount of ground on us. This was also about the time that the Melges 24 that finished first overall, came ripping by us. The 85 gybed over to head in towards Tiburon about half way down to Raccoon Straights and then back to port until the middle of the Straights before gybing again to go through. The 124 stayed further east before gybing through at the middle of the Straights and seemed to close the gap with the 85. We ended up aiming for the northern corner of the straights, cutting corners a bit, but also thinking the current would be sucking around the corner there, which seem to work out for us.

This was about the time that Sonny started asking in earnest about how much longer we had to go. The kid had been driving the boat for something like three hours now and was running on vapors. Pepperidge Farm to the rescue. I had to order him to eat two cookies, but once he got them down and realized that we had a great race going with only a rip across the bay to finish, he was game face on.

Angel Island to Blackaller

Once we got past Angel Island we started thinking about not getting sucked past Blackaller. The 85 boat gybed over early and looked to be heading for the ebb in the middle of the bay. There was also a big tanker coming through that may have factored into their thinking.

I had forgotten exactly where Blackaller was on the shore, but knew the general vicinity to head for. The current was ripping in the middle of the Bay - we felt like we were white water rafting out there. We sailed as deep as we could,  and between the swirling currents and the wind shifting around, we gybed a bunch of times on our way across. We could see the parking lot still in full effect down at TI. We ended up catching up to the 124 and then passed them on a gybe back to starboard about the middle of the Golden Gate.

Most of the way across we gybed back to port and started hunting for Blackaller. The 85 boat was charging up the Bay, but we could see that we were going to be just ahead of them. All of a sudden the 68 boat was back in the mix. They must have waited to go across the bay until closer to the headlands and gotten a big southerly push out of Richardson Bay. They had passed the 34 and the 124 from the Straights to Blackaller and were now right behind the 85.

After a bit of frantic searching, we finally found Blackaller. All we had to do was put our jib up, take the spin down and not blow the four or five length lead we had and we were going win the Moores and be second overall - no way!

The wind had shifted forward as we had come across the Bay, so we were close to pole on the headstay reaching in to Blackaller.  We put our jib up nice and early and I went forward to drop the spinnaker. I left the sails trimmed in a bit too tightly and the boat went over on its side. Back to the back of the boat, yank the tiller hard to weather, loosen sheets, twing down, run back to the foredeck, grab the sheet and blow the halyard. Spinnaker laid out over the water like a new sheet on a mattress. Furiously hand over handing it and stuff it in the hatch. Sonny lets the guy go to get the last of the chute in the hatch and does and nice tight rounding on Blackaller. I run back, trim the jib sheet in and we’re headed to the finish. It wasn’t pretty, but we got ‘er done one last time.

Blackaller to Finish

With the wind now from the north-northeast, we are on an almost close hauled course again. We start heading straight for the finish line and cover the other boats when they dig into the shore. Sonny is still driving at this point and I am trimming my best - we are both totally focussed.

When they turn to head for the finish line at about the H beam, we do the same. The 85 boat is reeling us in. I take over the helm, kneeling in the cockpit with the tiller and mainsheet in one hand, jib sheet in the other. Sonny is moving his weight from low to high with the puffs. I am afraid to look or ask, but I can hear the water against the 85’s bow getting louder and louder. The rocks along the seawall are also getting closer and closer and we are trimmed pretty much all the way in now. We hang on and put the laser focus on the tell tales to not miss the tiniest shift or puff and finally we hear a horn and we’ve done it!

The 85 finished right behind us, followed by the 68, the 124 and then the 22 and 34.

It was super cool right after the finish to have everyone sail over and be pumped for us and congratulate the Sonny. He was absolutely on cloud nine, as was I. The kid was amazing - drove through every sail change, every tack and gybe and most of a five hour race - couldn’t be more proud of him.

It was a great day of sailing - super special to get to do it with my son and amazing to end up with that result. Thanks to everyone for a great day. We’re looking forward to getting out a bunch more this season.

Post Mortem

When the results were published, we learned that the Melges in front of us was over early and we ended up 10 minutes in front of them for the overall win - double, triple, you have to be kidding, no way!



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