Vallejo Race
May 1 & 2, 2010

(If you like, you can skip down through the prose and go straight to the pictures below!)

Our text is a combination of inputs, mostly from Dan Knox, with injections from Lou Zevanov and Harry Farrell. Enjoy!

The Great Vallejo Race 2010

Well it was a great weekend of sailing. The Great Vallejo Race has been my favorite event for years and this one was just another great regatta. I love regattas that last two days! There were hundreds of boats of all types, boats with dodgers and boats with dinghy’s and engines hanging off their transom. For those of you that continue to pass on The Season Opener because you consider yourself a cruiser and not a racer you need to talk to the people on the boat two down from us. They had a dinghy hanging off the davits, two kayaks, two dogs and I couldn’t count the number of bicycles and other household items stowed across the deck. I think they had about a dozen crew and there has not a lack of good vibes coming from that boat. No one asked them what place they finished, and if someone would have I am sure their answer would have been: “Who cares.” The Vallejo Race is hands down the best event on San Francisco Bay. If you haven’t been because you are a “cruiser” and this is a “race” I am begging you to give it a try. Any cruiser of the I36 Association that does the event next year and doesn’t just love it I will give them a case of wine from my personal collection.

So what did we learn this year at The Great Vallejo Race:

1. Diana is still the queen of the Islanders and Lou and Steve just seem to be in a different sailing league than the rest of us mere mortals. Tom and David along with Rich are up there but Lou and Steve are the champs. And there is more bad news for the rest of us; Nick Zevanov sailed on the boat this year. (Nick is Lou's 13 year old grandson, sailing his first race with a spinnaker set.) I have won exactly zero races in this regatta. Nick is way ahead of me.
2. Having a plan for the race is a good: Having a better plan is ever better.
3. It is possible to run into Red Rock even if you try your best not to. Sometimes it just seems to jump right in front of the boat.
4. In just a couple of minutes the wind can change from just a wisp from the west to a holler from the north. This is not a good thing when you have a kite wrapped and cannot get it down or the jib out and find yourself on a close hauled course unable to move as the entire fleet and scores of boats pass you by. But it hurts less if you smile and wave at them.
5. And finally it is possible to have boats zooming by you on both sides at 6 knots while you are dead in the water, in a wind hole with your wind meter actually reading 0.00. Or as we like to say Easter eggs!

OK so here is our take on Day One of the Great Vallejo Race. The weather was great and the tides were something that you needed to take into account. Just what you hope for, standard SF sailing conditions. The race starts at the Berkeley Circle with a short beat to a mark off Angel Island and then it is just head for Vallejo. (They used an inflatable this year, rather than one of the channel marks.)

There are just a few choices you need to make during the race: Go right or left at the start and once you get to the windward mark to you need to sail back in to get some wind or stay out and ride the flood. Our plan was this year we wanted to go right and get to the mark first and then we would look for wind over current. (That was Diana's plan too.) If there was anything more than just a whisper we would go in and pass Red Rock on the east side. Also the east side historically is fast and if you are over there you always have the option of heating it up a bit if needed. (Of course a better idea is to just follow Diana.)

We assumed most boats would do the standard I36 barge the line start so we figured we would start at the pin end on a port tack and duck as many people as we need to get to the right first. The point being that there would be a bit less flood on the right. We even selected a slightly smaller head sail so that we could point just a bit higher so that we might be able to forego the ducking. Our thoughts being that we would have the sail upwind for only a few minutes anyway because most the race would be sailed with Pierre-Alain’s spinnaker, vintage 1972.

OK that was the plan. It lasted for about 45 second after the start. We (Luna Sea) did start on port but Windwalker started without the barge in the middle of the line and was coming down on us. We had no time to duck and so we had to tack. Now we were right in her dirty air so we had to then foot off to get some speed and then tack back on the port to get to the right hand side for the course. Most of the boats did start on starboard as we predicted and then tacked over to port and so they got to go more right that we did.

Not only that the left side of the course seemed to be favored as Windwalker got to the mark before us as did most of the fleet. OK a note here about Diana. (Diana did start on port tack and was able to get out to the right.) She had a great start and was so far in front of everyone else almost from the start that the rest of us could only watch. They just had another gear. Still I was happy to see that Lew went to the right. That was where we wanted to be. So on theory we were good but our execution was standard back of the fleet stuff.

At the mark it was Windwalker, Diana, and Captain Hooke in the first group, then Tenacious and Pacific High in the second group with us and the rest of the fleet bringing up the rear. We rounded the mark and took our time raising the kite losing a bit of time but it was a long race and we wanted no mistakes. Once it was up and the jib furled we found ourselves in terrible air with boats on both sides. We finally were able to head down a bit and find some clean air. Once in that position we were able to pretty easily catch up and pass Tenacious and Pacific High (no spinnakers) who had gone in closer to shore while sailing a nice reach at a pretty good clip. But we just had more sail area so we zoomed by.

( Diana rounded and held high, at or above Red Rock looking for a lane of clear air. Windwalker had set a chute and was being dragged to leeward on a tight reach. The current was better and the lane pretty clear. Lou contemplated going west of Red Rock -- Steve voted aginst it. )

Next the wind started to drop and it was not long until it was below 5 knots. With our heavy kite and no light air sheets we need to heat it up a bit and sail more of reach. Once that got down to 3 knots it was all we could do to keep the boat moving. So pole forward and here we go. We were OK with this as heading up took us to a more favorable current which seem like a good trade off the longer distance. The important thing right now was keeping the boat moving at all cost. Once a heavy boat like Luna Sea is stopped it takes a lot to get her going again. When the wind finally died and we found ourselves dead in the water with no steerage. The current was pushing us right into Red Rock. Actually a big ugly rock right to the south of Red Rock. Now we tried everything we could to get to the east of Red Rock. It looked bleak and I even put the key in the ignition as we got within about a boat length of running into something big and hard. Somehow we missed it and drifted to the south and east at about 1 knot on the tide. I took the key out and smiled. We were still in the race or the float as it was.

(After Red Rock and the San Rafael Bridge, Steve noted a wind line coming off the Marin shore. They quiuckly got the chute down and rigged the jib for heavier air just before the wind line arrived. They were able to quickly accelerate and held high close to the Brothers to stay in the heavier air.)

Our new bowman was doing this best but the bouncing around with no wind had somehow wrapped the kite around the top of the forestay. No big deal as we had zero wind and we had plenty of time to clean up the mess. This is when the wind clocked around to the north and picked up to 17 knots. We couldn’t get the kite down or the jib out and we needed to pretty much sail close hauled given the wind from the north. It took us 10 minutes of get the kite down and the jib out. During this little rest period we waived goodbye to Harry and Kris as they zoomed past. We waived on scores of boats. Funny everyone seemed to smiling and happy the wind had come back but us.

(Diana continued to hold high toward the middle of the passage at Point San Pablo. She held good pressure and aimed at the south side of the commercial channel (the channel itself is restricted) to stay in the strongest current. In this stretch, she caught Windwalker.)

Once we got underway the wind stayed nice all the way to the finish, clocking around to the west and then the south. We didn’t put the kite back up because we were so far behind we didn’t think it would do much and it was blowing 17 knots. While we might have be able to catch Harry and Kris there was no way we were going to get a Vallejo Burgee as Diana, ‘Hooke and Windwalker were in another time zone. So we just sailed a nice broad reach with our small headsail and gybed a few times and until we got to the Napa River. We made to the finish on a single tack. I think we finished a sixth. Not what we had hoped for but no complains on this end.

(Pacific High and Tenacious were 4th and 5th, giving Harry and Pacific High the new "I Don't Give A Chute" trophy as the first Islander to finish without flying a spinnaker.)

The party: Well of course it was great! If you went you already knew that! Only complain I heard the next morning was that there wasn’t enough time for everyone to dance with Lou! Not only can the guy sail better than the rest of us in is also a better dancer! (Lou confirmed, and even reported enjoying, dancing with several beautiful young ladies (remember, Lou is in his mid-70s). We need photos to confirm if Lou really did this or is just using his wishful thinking!)

Day two: OK in what surely put a smile on a lot of faces, the boats that docked at the Vallejo Marina were stuck in the mud and those at the Vallejo Yacht Club were floating nicely. The RC raised the postponement flag until Diana and the entire J/105 fleet could get out in the channel. (Pacific High was aground shortly before the start, but did get off.) The start was going to be downwind and it looked as if everyone was going to be wing on wing at the start. Are only prerace strategy was not to get to close to the hill on the west side at the end of the river and then to sail along the eastern shore to try to get whatever current relief there would be. Sailing east of the fuel dock was in the plan.

We should have been locked out at the start by Diana but Lou and Steve gave us room to start. Correctly they viewed us as no competition and waived us ahead of them. I appreciated the free pass but wouldn’t it be better to just be able to sail well enough where they would want to lock us out? We were just slow and by the mouth of the river most of the leaders had opened up a 10 to 12 boat length lead on us. Luna Sea needs to continue on her diet because there was not a lot going on here and we just could not keep up. I mean there is no sail trim when you are DDW and the pole and the boom are all the way out. Moving the crew forward and to the leeward rail helped a bit but we were already behind.

(Diana's plan was to hug the rock jetty going out for current relief, but when Windwalker went aground in front of them, they pealed off to the shore side. They found both current relief, and a slightly better sailing angle.)

As we moved out from the river we stayed with our plan and headed over to the fuel dock. I was hoping to get there in one tack but we needed two. Most of the other boats headed over toward the rock wall on the other side. There was more wind over there and soon we found ourselves in our familiar place at the rear of the fleet. Yuck. Still we stayed with the plan and sailed along the shore line tacking out when the depth got to 7.5 feet. We usually go in to 7 but since we were in last why take a chance? Anyway we continue to plug away we slowly but surely start to catch up a bit as the benefit of the current is starting to add up. At least now we can actually see some of the other boats.

As we continue down San Pablo Bay hoping to see the Richmond Bridge shortly we get to the pier we tack behind a Wyle 30 to get out of his dirty air and then tack back to clear the end of the pier by about 20 feet. Kame passes us to windward and we get another big dose of bad air but we can’t really foot off because of the depth. Kame waves and says we look fine. We pass a Hunter and wave to Noble Brown but when we pass TMC we think maybe it wasn’t such a bad call after all to stay over to this side.

Up ahead we see Tenacious and another Islander and it looks like it has green sail numbers when we see it is Tom and David. They are just behind Kris and his crew. All of a sudden we feel a bit better because we know we can catch them because we can sail a much hotter angle than they can given our position. The crew is smiling. I stop drinking beer. We get out the binoculars and our bowman looks around for Diana and Windwalker. We now we a few other boats behind us and I and just grateful we are not going to be DFL.

Within a few minutes we catch Tom and David using our advantageous leeward position to sail a hotter angle. Kris is still a bit ahead but it is just a matter of time because we are making trees on both of them. Once we pass ‘Hooke we take a position leeward and ahead of them and plan our attack on Kris. There is an Express 27 up ahead and I think if we do this right we can put them in between Tenacious and Luna Sea and we can end up with a leeward and clear ahead position and just protect that position until the finish. I have to remind the crew to stay on the rail and not take pictures of the bow of ‘Hooke. Many have never seen it before! Things are just looking too good and I know something bad is surely going to happen.

We then spot Harry way to leeward a good deal back and we really start to feel good. I really want to find Lou and Rich. But they are nowhere in sight. I tell everyone last year Lou was nowhere in sight and he finished fourth. It could happen again I tell our crew. They want to believe and we continue to press on taking advantage of every puff and change in the wind. Active trimming is what we call it.

Then boom, we start to slow down. The wind is dropping and the apparent wind is moving way forward. We are actually now sailing faster than the wind. I fall off and we bring in the sails but it is no use. The wind is below three knots and it continues to drop. Two knots, one knot, zero. Tom and David are also dead in the water just like us. Kris is just barely moving but he is moving. Windward of us boats are flying by and leeward of us Pacific High is going like a train. We are stopped.

Everyone to the low side and nothing. Kris continues to sail away and we can now see a wind line coming from the windward side toward us. Tenacious gets it first and is off. Couple of minutes later Captain Hooke gets it. David looks over at us and I wave good-bye to him as ‘Hooke powers up with their nice Quantum 135. We are still waiting and now Harry has passed us. Then we finally get the wind after what was just a few minutes but it seems like forever especially when we could see it coming. Harry is gone and Kris is to far way but we make an effort to catch ‘Hooke but they are too good for us and we finish a few lengths behind them.

(Diana had been the most leeward boat on the shore side. They saw the flat water ahead, and also Pacific High and a big boat with a spinnaker to windward. (See the picture below.) Diana sharpened up for speed, corssed astern of Pacific High and got the big boat to duck their stern and sit on Pacific High in the process. Finally becoming the most windward boat in the fleet, Diana picked up a wind line off the north shore.)

Frankly I probably should have seen that wind hole coming this time. We could have moved around a bit to get out of the way but we didn’t look around as we were all concentrating on sail trim and tactics. Not the best thing to do. Someone should always be looking at the big picture. That someone should have been me!

Later we learn that Diana and Windwalker were way ahead and that Lean Times was third. Big kudos to Bill Pendola and his crew, well done guys. Those Vallejo Burgees are special. Enjoy it! Also special thanks to Kris Rossiter and the crew of Blaze and Ray and Tom and the rest of the crew on Orion. I’m been there guys and all I can say is it is a lot more fun to be at the end of the fleet than have DNC next to your name.


Links to: Finish times on Saturday, and Finish times on Sunday.

Pictures by Dan Knox, Lou Zevanov and Carol Williams. Click on images to enlarge, click "Back" to return.

Here is the link to over 100 pictures from Dan Knox. It will work just fine if you are using Windows Internet Explorer as your browser, but it doesn't like Firefox (Dan is a dedicated Microsoft guy!) So, if you are using Firefox, copy the link and paste it into Explorer: http://www.danknox.com/Associates/Dan/New%20Sailing/Vallejo%20YC/TGVR/2010/2010-05-01.htm

Pacific High Aground

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Steve on Diana
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Lou too!
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Michele disentangles
the burgee
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familiar face in the crowd
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Harry stuck in mud at the start line
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Hooke and Diana
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Captain Hooke
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Pacific High
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Lou says he saw these.

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