Take some of the fastest downwind sailing crafts on the planet; wind them up like match box cars and let them go! That was the theme for 8th annual Ronstan Bridge to Bridge race in San Francisco, August 25, 2006 where 40 kite-boarders, windsurfers and skiffs raced between a starting line set outside the Golden Gate Bridge and a finish line set to the east of Treasure Island under the Bay bridge.
The only rule is to watch out for the skiffs and their 10’ carbon bow sprints- they don’t change course very easily and travel at speeds close to 30 knots. Other than that, it’s the first craft that crosses the finish line that wins!
This was my 3rd or 4th attempt at this race over the past few years. It’s a relatively easy course from point A to point B but the options are limitless in terms of tactics, strategy and survival. This year, there would be no records broken as the fleet was fighting a stiff ebb tide the whole way down the course, which made for a bumpy and slower ride than usual. Nonetheless, it was like riding a runaway coach down a mountain with a team of 100 horses in front of you for 20 minutes straight! “Control,” was the main thought going through my mind from start to finish.
As the fleets assembled outside the Golden Gate Bridge for a 5:30 start, I noticed one thing: an awesome display of sailing power in all 3 fleets. The formula class windsurfer is an evolution of the original windsurfer with a wide 100 cm hull, big fin and oversized 10m2 rig, capable of speeds up to 35 knots. Its advantage is that it is light, relatively quick and can stay powered up even in the lighter breezes. The Aussie 18 skiffs are a light weight open class sailing craft that carry a crew of 3 sailors trapezing off carbon fiber winds protruding from each side of an open hulled craft with a enormous rig and oversized asymmetrical chute. The class is known for constantly pushing the limits of design and control with amazing speeds and spectacular wipeouts. And last but certainly not least was the kite-boarders with 21 competitors on the starting line. The kiters are still the new kids on the block but are making the biggest gains each year in terms of speed and control. They can sail deep downwind with their oversized kites pulling just a few square feet of board through the water!
The starting line was set between the red nun outside the bridge and 2 rigid inflatable race committee boats holding their position in the strong ebb tide. The kiters would start at one end and the skiffs and windsurfers at the other. As the starting gun fired, it was apparent that most of the sailing craft were headed out to the middle of the bay with the stronger breeze. This was the most dangerous time of the race as the skiffs, windsurfers and kiters were all still crossing each other going downwind with relatively no concerns except to get to the finish line first!
I got off the line well with Mike Percy and Steve Sylvester, both on formula boards to each side of me. As we made our way downwind towards the St. Francis Yacht Club, the boards, kites and skiffs were all mixing it up. I could see one kiter out in front but meanwhile I was ducking skiffs and trading places with Mike and Steve near the top of the pack.
The most direct route was near the city front but that meant a lighter breeze so most of the fleet worked their way downwind gybing back and forth, fighting the ebb tide chop down wind. As we made our way around Alcatrez Island in the middle of the Bay, I could see one kiter clear ahead and one or 2 skiffs a good 15-20 seconds in front of the formula boards. Most of the boards gybed back below Alcatrez so that they could come into the finish line with speed. Jean Rathle, along with myself, both on formula boards kept a higher course hoping to get lucky puff coming off the city front. At this point, I thought the race was over as the fleet below was well powered racing towards the finish line. As anybody who’s ever raced before knows, you can never count yourself out!
As the guys who went low came in towards Treasure Island, they caught and unexpected lull as the wind lifted above the Treasure Island and left them short of breathe 200m before the finish line. Meanwhile coming under the Bay Bridge was a container ship that forced Jean and I to sail a bit longer than we expected, but gave us a good angle to come in with speed to the finish. Sylvester saw all this happening and was quick to gybe back and get over to the stronger breeze with Jean and I. I was the first to gybe back towards the finish line, around 5th overall with 2 kites already finishing and 2 skiffs just in front of us. I gybed back but lost control of my rig as it dropped into the water, letting the Yandoo skiff, Chip Wasson on his kite and Al Mirel on his formula board sneak in front of me. Never over-estimate the power of your finger tips for control, especially 50 m from the finish line!
Jean and Steve took themselves out by not finishing correctly as they mistook the press boat for the finish line. This gave me a 9th overall- all and 2nd windsurfer to finish.
Just on my heels were the rest of the boards, kites and skiffs coming down to the finish line. It was an amazing site to see as I caught my breath under the Bay Bridge.
I thing the biggest accomplishment has to go to the kiters who have made an enormous leap in progress with their abilities and kite designs over the past few years. It’s an honor to share the line with them as well as the skiffs in this amazing race. Special thanks goes out to the main sponsor, Ronstan and the St. Francis Yacht Club for running the race.
- Kafka - kiteboarder
- Anthony Chavez - kiteboarder
- Pegasus White - Aussie 18 skiff - Hamlin, Martin, Barnabus
- Pegasus Black - Aussie 18 skiff - Kahn, Allen, MacDonald
- Boylington- kiteboader
- Yandoo - Aussie 18 skiff –Winning, Hay, Bauchop
- Wasson- kiteboarder
- Mirel- Formula windsurfer
- Bodner- Formula windsurfer
- Sylvester- Formula windsurfer