Its the ultimate sailing experience!
If I'm not there, I'm thinking about it.
Its one of my favorite places in the world to be.
Conditions are never quite the same despite the the bridge being there since 1933 towering 220 feet above mouth of the San Francisco Bay.
I've been sailing under the golden gate bridge since I first moved to San Francisco in 2000.
Id recon at least 50-75 days a year x 10 years has allowed me to see a huge variety of conditions.
The chop, the swell, the wind, the inbound & outbound commercial freighters, the wildlife, the fog, the long dronning buzz of the foghorn, the view of the San Francisco city front on one side and the Marin headlands on the other, the tide lines, the incredible perspective of sailing under the bridge with the swell lifting you up are all the things that make this place so special.
There's the north tower set at the Marin shore.
Legend has it the great whites come here as the channel runs deep and is ripe with sea life.
The South tower can create a standing wave on a good ebb tide that allows you endlessly ride the incoming swell while the tide pulls you out!
Some days, the center span can bring howling 40k gust that venturi through the coastal gaps and under the golden gate bridge and into the San Francisco Bay while the ebb runs like a a river in the opposite direction stirring up a voodoo chop of white frothy mess on the water's surface.
Other times, the water is like a sheet of silk with barley a ripple on and the flood tide running at 4-5k into the SF Bay. It days like this that you can plane across the water on a formula board without a single sound.
Set the scene.
Enter the 2012 Ronstan Bridge to Bridge race.
I tried to run the course a few days earlier in the week and develop a strategy based on the winds and tides along the city front and in the southern shipping channel. My goal was to stay in the breeze, gybe early if needed to and stay upright at all cost in the voodoo chop. Max ebb was a 4:54 with a 3.65k outgoing tide
I was becoming intimate with my custom double chicken strap on the starboard 167 formula board through the disorganized chaos of chop and swell on the course. This years starboard goes especially well off the breeze and Ive learned that it doesn't need a big fin at all to stay powered.
My cut down 64cm kashy fin made the ride tolerable and even somewhat enjoyable.
The last piece of my quiver was the avanti 10.0 sail.
Despite being a light wind slalom sail- the sail blazes downwind. Its my go to sail for sailing in most any condition on formula in the SF Bay.
69 other high performance sailing craft joined the fun for a 5:30 start.
Rumor had it 2 Ac 45's were going to race plus l'hydropture- an amazing experiment in fluid hydrodynamics and all out sailing power. To give you an idea of what the hydropture is capable of- take the record they broke earlier in the week practicing speed runs on the SF Bay.
In winds just above 20 knots, the boat reached 44.5 knots driven by skipper Alain Thébault and with the CEO of America’s Cup team Artemis Racing, Paul Cayard, aboard. That's more than 20 percent faster than even the bay's high speed ferries (which run at 36 knots). In heavy wind the boat has a top end potential of 61 knots (more than 70 mph.)
I tried lining up with her earlier in the week and got spat out like a water melon seed in the turbulence of wind and water wake as they passed me like I was standing still.
During the line up during the pre start- it became obvious the boat wasn't in a safe position with all the other kites and formula boards jetting in every direction. The took the wise move and started 5 min early for the safety of everyone around.
That however still left the Aussie 18 skiffs and kite boarders to content with as well as a handful of other foiling trimaran powered kites, extreme 40 catamarans, and what not's on the starting line.
The start was postponed as we waited for in inbound tug and an outbound freight to clear the starting area. The start line was set between the red nun buoy west of the south tower and a start boat set just north of mid span. The line was broken up into 3rds with the kite and formula boards starting in the most northern section of the line.
I knew there would be a mid line sag with the ebb and the fact the 2 mid boat lines were not sighting the line. I had Johnny Heineken just below me as we both squirted out from the pack 5 seconds early and got a good jump on the pack at the start. I've sailed enough against Heineken that I know I can trap him, at least temporarily, by sailing beneath him and limiting his kite but I wasnt looking for any battles. I was just looking to go as fast as I could downwind 7.5 miles to the finish line set beneath the eastern most span of the Bay Bridge. Besides Ive given up on trying to beat the kites downwind while powered. They can go super deep. The only chance is when it lightens up and the formula board is back in the game again.
I continued on starboard tack off the line till around the St.FYC where I gybed back and could tell the top few kites had much deeper angles and I crossed just in front of the first skiff and held a good lead on the rest of the windsurfers. The pressure was starting to drop in the middle of the Bay so I gybed back and had a nice line just above Alcatraz. There was a lot of disorganized chop and I was going between the chicken and the double chicken strap as the pressure went from 14-22k.
The tug that delayed our start was now bearing directly towards the finish line with the top few kites weaving around it. I choose to stay north where the pressure was as I didn't want to get trapped on the south side of the tug where the city front winds could be lighter as we turned the corner towards the Bay bridge.
The move paid off as I was still in the hunt in the top 10. Gomes went down hard just in front of me as he dipped his edge of his kite in the water while trying to stay alive on his slalom style kiteboard.
A ton of different strategies on what works best on a strictly downwind course
Heineken, who was using a course board, 13m Ozone edge kite but smaller fins had walked away at this point and was nearing the finish line. I was making some gain on kiter, Adam Koch on his course board in the lighter stuff but one or two puffs carried him 100m deeper and out of reach. Nearing the finish the top skiff just crossed in front of me but I had better speed bearing away for the finish.
It was going to be really close.
We were overlapped at the finish with the skiff finishing at the pin and and myself at the boat end.
I looked around and was happily surprised I was able to get all the other windsurfers and about 90 seconds back from the winner.
With the kites taking the top 7 positions, the first skiff just edging me out, I sat in 9th overall.
Johnny Heineken a new course record with a time of 14 minutes and 14 seconds blazing deeper and faster than anything else on the course.
Steve Sylvester was the 2nd windsurfer about a min back from me with Eric Christianson following close behind.
You can always count on the St.FYC to throw a good party and awards after the final competitors are picked up, boards put away and sails rolled up.
Johnny's secret- go fast and don't look back!
1998- McKee Brothers 49'er 27'-18"
1999- Bill Wier- windsurfer 25'-20"
2000- Vlad Moroz- windsurfer 21'-20"
2001- Rob Hartman- windsurfer 20'-20"
2002-Chip Wasson- kiteboarder 18'-04"
2003- Micah Buzianis -windsurfer 16'-23"
2004- Seth Besse -windsurfer 17'-10"
2005- Anthony Chazez- kitrboarder 17'-54"
2006- Jeff Kafka -kiteboarder 20'-28"
2007- Chip Wasson- kiteboarder 16'-30"
2008- Howard Hamlin- Aussie18 skiff 22'-25"
2009-John Winnning Ausie 18 skiff 19'-46"
2010- Michael C -Aussie 18 skiff 19'-44"
2011- Bernie Lake -kiteboarder (16'-15")
2012- Johnny Heineken -kiteboarder 14'-14"