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Jennifer at the helm
Jennifer McKenna at the helm of the Wyliecat 30 Nancy, having rounded the Lightship, the red-and-white buoy visible in the distance. ©2017 Pat Broderick
Doublehanded Lightship Race

April 9, 2017

The 36th annual Island Yacht Club Doublehanded Lightship Race, one boat’s saga:

As Mount Tamalpais disappeared into a black squall and raindrops the size of grapes pelted down, the Wyliecat Nancy's stalwart crew, Jennifer McKenna and Pat Broderick, motored off into Richardson Bay’s gloom, hoisting the sail as we went. The anchor-out boats swung and bobbed on their moorings, and only one intrepid oarswoman dared the chop as we ran before a stiff north wind past downtown Sausalito, exceeding the 5 mph speed limit by several mphs.

The storm cell passed over us, moving east toward Richmond and Berkeley as we crossed the Bay, leaving us wet and happy to see it go. Weather-wise things began to look better as the cloud cover seemed to lighten up. A glance out toward Point Bonita didn’t reveal any breaking waves, but the growing flood was apparent. As was the next black cloud.

Arriving at Golden Gate YC with other gathering boats, we pondered whether the south side or north side would be favored after passing under the Golden Gate Bridge. One thing was clear: we’d see a lot of Presidio landscape close up on the way to the South Tower.

Then that next black cloud made its way across toward the starting area. The starting gun went off before it arrived, but the close reach out past Anita Rock and on to the South Tower were accompanied by driving rain and swirling winds above 20 knots.

And then there were the ships and a tug towing a barge, which decided max flood was a good time to arrive or depart. One tanker, one tow coming in; three tankers headed out. We decided the Marin side was the ticket, but a westbound tanker put a tack into that plan before we got to the Golden Gate Bridge and aimed for Point Diablo.

A tack back toward the South Tower to avoid the ship didn’t put us any farther west before tacking back toward Diablo. Between ships and current, we ended up in the bight east of Diablo before we tacked back out only to encounter the next tanker leaving San Francisco. So we tacked back toward Marin and this time we made Diablo. A little farther and we to begin feeling more northwest in the wind.

We passed Point Bonita in about 60 minutes on a course just slightly above the layline to the Lightbucket and continued close-reaching through the jumbled waves and swells beyond the point. Feeling our way through that jumble, we managed to avoid catching spray over the bow and dropping off the backside of square waves most of the time.

Two more weather cells passed over us, so hoods up, we continued into smoother seas toward the first set of deep-water channel buoys. The wind backed to more westerly as we approached buoy #7, heading us south of our favorable course. Then the windspeed dropped under 10 knots for half an hour before coming back more northwesterly.

We could see other boats that had exited near Mile Rock farther to the south and our main competitor, Max Crittenden's Martin 32 Iniscaw, on our line but nicely behind us.

We crossed to the south side of the channel, running approximately parallel to it, but edging slightly southwest. About buoy #4 the wind clocked northwest enough so that at the Lightship Buoy we were only about a quarter mile below it. We saw Rufus Sjoberg's Melges 32 Rufless coming up from the south and tacked behind them toward the buoy. They rounded close enough to our track that we fell off to avoid a near miss. We rounded the mark at about 1225, and set a course for the Golden Gate Bridge, thinking we’d decide later whether to face the anticipated ebb on the Marin or San Francisco side.

We noticed that Karl Robrock's Moore 24 Snafu was staying north. As we sailed parallel to the line of green channel buoys it became clear we would have a difficult time crossing to the south side and that two more Moores had rounded and were staying north. So we stayed north, too.

We counted off the green buoys as the swell began to grow. The forecast had been for swells as high as 13 feet, but we hadn’t seen anything like that on the way out. Now we did. Without straying too far into the Four Fathom Bank, we managed to catch swell after swell giving us 12- to 14-knot speed bursts surging down their faces. We did miss one and enjoyed a cold seawater bath as it broke into the cockpit. It had stopped raining an hour before, so we remained salty as the wind dried us out.

At Bonita we were even with Snafu, which crossed close in front of us headed toward the middle. We skirted the rocks at Bonita and stayed close to the Marin side to avoid some of the now strong ebb. Snafu decided the middle wasn’t fun so jibed back crossing behind us, then jibed out crossing ahead of us. Moores can surf, and their hull was out of the water back to the keel. We plowed along toward Point Diablo and beyond.

In the bight east of Diablo the wind dictated a jibe for us too, and now we were headed for the South Tower across the ebb. Dodging an overloaded cruising sailboat showing friends the bridge, we cleared the tower and aimed for the X buoyand the finish on a sailing-by-the-lee run. Snafu jibed in ahead of us and finished two minutes sooner. Jennifer steered us through the line and the gun went off. A nice conclusion to a very interesting day.

For more info and results, see

— Pat Broderick

To view Nancy's track of the race, click here.

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