by Steve Kleha (Donkey Jack #26)
By noon of the first day of Spring One Design, the north breeze had already wheezed its last breath, and glass covered the bay. J/105s were littered across the city front and pointed in every direction as they had been since about 10:30 in the morning. On Donkey Jack, we drifted into a tideline, and with no sails up or engine on, the boat spun a few 360s. We marveled at each turn with childlike fascination: “No way, it’s gonna happen again!” When that was no longer entertaining, we scanned the horizon for wildlife, gorged ourselves on Kettle Chips, and told tall sailing tales. Not surprisingly, the breeze strength in each successive story seemed to get stronger and stronger. The seabreeze was fashionably late to this party, of course, and the fleet milled about until the guest of honor showed up.
She reluctantly arrived at around 2:30pm in the afternoon. The first to act was the St. Francis Yacht Club Race Committee, and that crack squad set up for a standard city front beat in just a few minutes. The fleet came alive. Mainsails went up, kites were flown, and line sights were taken. As soon as the cookie crumbs and chip dust was shaken off our foulies, Donkey Jack got professional and put up some canvas. It was quickly obvious to us, as with everyone else in the fleet, that the race committee was bathed in a hefty flood. Combined with a moderate breeze, getting up to the line would be difficult. Moreover, the ebb lingered in the center of the bay, or the right side of the course, so folks would be itching to take a right turn soon after the gun and get out there. As the seconds wound down to the start, it was obvious that things were going to get rowdy at the committee boat.
Seconds before the start, it did get rowdy at the committee boat. On the leeward side of the boat trimming jib, I could hear heated verbal exchange between skippers defending their turf; thankfully, the exchanged words were devoid of any mom comments. As Donkey Jack made its final turn upwind, I trimmed the jib the last few inches. There was enough wind to dip the leeward rail, and my boot, in cold bay water. The Donkey was at the committee boat, and I was looking right down the line. The line was filled with bows. I remember thinking, “Dude, this fleet is tight!”
In the interest of getting races off, the race committee sent us on a quick milk run up to the windward mark and back. Heading up the beat, we had flood until we got to the center of the bay, and with it, some ebb. Blackhawk and Godot got to the ebb first and ran away with it. As we saw flood at the start, we assumed that there would be flood at the windward mark. We deliberately overstood expecting to be pushed down to the layline. Much to our surprise, the flood never returned, and the windward mark sat in slack water. Box of Rain didn’t need a second invitation to tack inside of us. The wind carried the sound of their cackling all the way to the windward mark. In conversations that evening at the bar, we listened to speculation that the massive rains this year have disturbed conventional flood and ebb patterns. That should make for some interesting racing this year.
The second race was a twice around. The breeze had come up a bit, and we were seeing 15 – 18 knots on the gauges. We put a few turns on the rig to take the edge off the breeze and formulated a similar game plan–minus the bit where we’d give the entire fleet an opportunity to tack inside of us at the windward mark. It’s a well rehearsed plan most San Francisco sailors are familiar with: head out to the ebb in the center of the bay for the upwind, hunt for flood or relief along the city front for the downwind. Advantage3 walked away with race two, stretching out a commanding lead over the fleet. Jam Session and Arrived! battled for the number two position. Donkey Jack came in fourth, a respectable finish given how competitive the fleet is.
Back at the docks, the Donkey Jack and a few other boats celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with green cans of Heineken. It got cold pretty quick so we retreated to the warmth of the St. Francis Yacht Club for the usual revelry that follows day one of a J/105 regatta. That and the corned beef hash and green flecked four leaf clover cookies! The kitchen at StFYC doesn’t disappoint.
If the seabreeze was fashionably late on Saturday, she was just plain mean on Sunday. The day started with a northerly that morphed into a northwesterly that eventually caved into the seabreeze. The race committee made every effort to set up a course in the ever changing breeze, dealing with deep anchorages, commercial traffic, engine problems and bad luck. As with the prior day, J/105s were on the race course from 10:30 in the morning until the start of the first and only race at 3pm. I may be exaggerating but only slightly: I believe we were jib reaching on port tack towards Alcatraz for a couple of hours, holding a position between the the Palace of Fine Arts and the St. Francis Yacht Club. The ebb kept us in the same spot for what seemed an eternity.
Remarkably, before the fleet went into sequence, Yunona collided with the race committee, lodging the RC’s anchor line between her rudder and keel. Despite best efforts, the ebb tide kept Yunona plastered to the bow of the committee boat, and the two were unable to detangle. We were startled to hear the RC broadcast over channel 69, “J/105 sequence will commence in 1 minute.” The all-star race committee managed to fire a race off while hosting its own mini-flotilla. That kind of skill takes years to perfect, and I truly wonder how many cocktails it took for Yunona to rectify the gaffe.
Coming into the final race one point behind first place boat Blackhawk, Donkey Jack’s objective was to maintain our position and, if the opportunity arose, improve it. The first beat handed us that opportunity. After a tricky start in a strong ebb, we managed to round third behind Ne*Ne and Advantage3. We saw Blackhawk a few boats behind us, charging through the fleet. The drama started to unfold.
At the final leeward mark of the race, Advantage3 chose the wrong gate, giving us the opportunity to jump into second. At the windward mark, Ne*Ne had an override, causing a delay and forcing her to use her jib halyard to hoist the kite. This delay put Donkey Jack into first with Ne*Ne immediately behind. Advantage3 and Blackhawk were within striking distance of the podium.
The first place boat always hopes that those behind will simply follow. This was not the case here, and that should not be surprising given the talent in the J/105 fleet. Advantage3 and Blackhawk went to the right side of the course, more toward the city front. Donkey Jack and Ne’Ne went the other way, headed toward the left hand side of the course. It was a tactically challenging leg, and remarkably, Blackhawk managed to launch from fourth to contend for first by staying on the favorable side of a current line. As the four boats converged on the finish, Donkey Jack edged out Blackhawk by just a few feet, both boats fully overlapped at the finish. According to sources, Advantage3 and Ne*Ne finished within a boat length of first and second. So after two laps and forty minutes of racing, the top four boats were separated by seconds.
Rolf Kaiser and his Donkey Jack took top honors in the Spring One Design, beating Ryan Simmons and Blackhawk in a tie breaker. Tim Russell’s Ne*Ne completed the podium with a third place finish. Special thanks to a heroic effort by the race committee who put on an excellent regatta in the face of several seemingly insurmountable challenges.
Full results at https://www.regattatoolbox.com/results?eventID=EDhBsoWU8X