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El Gavilan
After rounding Red Rock, Nick Nash gets the pole ready on the family's Hawkfarm El Gavilan. ©2013

Bad Bottle

January 27, 2013

During the Italian Renaissance, glassblowers would keep their mistakes on display to remind themselves of their imperfections, so that they would continually strive to improve their skills. The Italian word for these 'bad bottles' is still in use today in the English language. What is it?

Here's a hint: The biggest race in the United States is one.

Little Cat and Tortuga
Two of the more unusual small boats out sailing yesterday: Roger Sullivan's Wharram Tiki 21 Little Cat and Steve Eyberg's Pyramid 6.60 Tortuga. There were three Tortugas racing! ©2013

Why call a sailboat race a fiasco before it's even begun? The Three Bridge Fiasco contains all the ingredients to be a 'bad bottle'. To begin with, the usual starting sequence goes unused since it is a pursuit race. Oh, and you can cross the start line off the Golden Gate Yacht Club in either direction. You have three marks to round, near three of the Bay's main bridges: Blackaller buoy east of the Golden Gate Bridge's South Tower, Yerba Buena Island, which bisects the Bay Bridge, and Red Rock, just south of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. But, strangely enough, you can round them in any order and in any direction. Once you've done that, you still need to finish, but, of course, you can cross the finish line in either direction. And the start-finish line is not restricted after you start.

Stephen Buckingham's Black Soo Starbuck tows Rufus Sjoberg's 11:Metre Rufless to the start as the sun rises on Sausalito. ©2013

When this race originated in the 1980s, it must have been a true fiasco on the race deck, but nothing compared to these days, when the race has grown to top 350 entries! Pity the poor Singlehanded Sailing Society race committee, and be patient with them as they attempt to derive function from this 'bad bottle'.

elise and Simba
The Express 27s Elise and Simba still had plenty of wind to get under the Bay Bridge. ©2013

Conditions yesterday provided the sort of racing San Francisco Bay sees in the spring or summer, but with the strong currents of a January full moon. Steady wind of 22+ knots with gusts as high as 28 or 29 were reported in the west Bay. Although the forecast called for a westerly in the teens, no one predicted the northwesterly that filled in from the North Bay. Those who chose to sail the course in a counter-clockwise direction found themselves on a long beat from Treasure Island to Red Rock, and on beat again through Raccoon Strait, followed by a crew-drenching, rig-shaking close reach across the Gate to Blackaller. But in order to get to that summer wind, they had to endure a big wind hole in the transition zone from the westerly at TI to the northwesterly, which filled in near the Berkeley Pier.

Alan Barr's Beneteau First 34.5 Voyager in the transition zone. ©2013

"If I had heard predictions of a northwesterly," said one skipper, "I wouldn't have gone counter-clockwise. But none of the many forecasts I checked said anything about it."

A hello from the cheerful Mike Mannix and Linda Farabee on the stalled-out Catalina 38 Harp. ©2013

Dragonsong and Renaissance
The Olson 30 Dragonsong and Islander 36 Renaissance share light air secrets. ©2013

Clockwise sailors fared better. Starting on a flood, they found that they took the favorable current around most of the course with them, and they enjoyed a long, fast spinnaker run from Red Rock to TI.

Rusty Canada's Moore 24 Claymoore was one of the first clockwise boats around Red Rock. ©2013

Due to the ebbing current, the north in the wind angle, and the restricted zone at the Richmond Long Wharf, it took the CCW boats several tacks to get to Red Rock. This is Shadow. ©2013

Results were not yet posted when we wrote this report, but the first finisher was Sea Bird, an F-27, sailed by Rich Holden and his son. The first monohull was Buzz Blackett's Antrim 40 California Condor, Emma Creighton on the borrowed Farr 36 War Pony, Chris Shepherd's Melges 32 Intruder, and then the first small boat, Skip Shapiro's Melges 20 Makaira. We'll have more from the race aboard Makaira in our next post.

Once they're sorted out, results will be accessible through You can view a photo gallery of several starts and finishes here, and our own photo gallery from the race course is online now.

For some, the first leg of the journey home after the finish was the gnarliest part of the race, as it was fraught with round-ups. This is the Moore 24 Penguin. ©2013

The Santana 22 Zingaro on the wild ride home. ©2013

The mainstream news media reported that a barge under tow struck and sank a sailboat near the Golden Gate Bridge on Saturday around 1500 hours. The two people onboard the yacht were rescued and did not require hospitalization. Given the time, location, and number of crew reported, odds were high that the sailboat involved was a Three Bridge Fiasco entry – but Coast Guard Ensign Corrine Gaines told us that the sunk sailboat was not part of the Three Bridge Fiasco.

Continue on for a first-person account of the race aboard a 20-ft sportboat!

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