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kid on the rail
Riding the rail of a Wyliecat 30 in the Sausalito YC Twin Island Race. ©2017 Pat Broderick
Twin Island Race Then and Now

May 1, 2016

Many San Francisco Bay races have a 'backstory' — often a reason for naming lost in the mist of yacht club history, stored trophies last awarded to one-design fleets long absent from YRA’s active participation, or faint memories among the oldest members.

Sausalito Yacht Club’s Twin Island Race around Angel and Alcatraz Islands got started in 1979. Racers could choose to sail the course clockwise or counterclockwise. It was scheduled for the Saturday of Opening Day weekend as a lead-in to Sunday’s Pacific Inter-Club Yacht Association Blessing and Parade. It was mostly a club affair with a mixed fleet of racers and cruising boats and very informal.

The race finished in front of the Sausalito clubhouse, a sometimes long slog up Richardson Bay. Then Chef Fernand Loing deeded a the Twin Island Trophy to the race’s victor. Following the race, skippers and crews celebrated winning or losing with a Saturday afternoon meal on the clubhouse deck, which often dragged into a long evening at the bar. Sausalito was a different place back then. The “Chef’s Trophy,” or “Chef’s Special” as it was informally called, soon became one of the SYC’s most sought-after honors.

The complicated currents and winds, especially on the east side of Angel Island, always made the Twin Island race a skipper’s nightmare, because once committed to clockwise or counterclockwise there was no mind changing. Often the humblest of boats prevails due to the skipper selecting the “right” direction.

In 2003 the late Rod Decker, a popular SYC member and loyal Catalina 30 racer, suggested the single Twin Island Race become a series, with three races spread across the spring-summer sailing season. Rod deeded a new trophy for the Twin Island Regatta, with one spinnaker and one non-spinnaker division. The “Decker Trophy” is as keenly competed for as was the “Chef’s Special.” Those who remember Rod as a keen competitor say a kind word to him as they round the final island and head for the finish line, still in front of the Sausalito clubhouse — still that long wind-baffling leg along the leeward side of the Sausalito peninsula.

The usurping of San Francisco Bay by the America’s Cup era brought about a second version of the “Twin Island” concept, with Red Rock substituted for Alcatraz Island, which was often within the America’s Cup restricted zone. Today the SYC race committee continues that option if conditions make rounding Red Rock a better race.

This year’s Twin Island Regatta added another twist to the venerable race/series. SYC is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2017. Founded in 1942 by seven young sailors, all under the age of 17, the Ritz Sailing and Racquet Club became the Richardson Bay Yacht Club before morphing into the Sausalito Yacht Club.

The young 'yacht' club members were too young for World War II duty, and tended to Sausalito boats whose owners were away serving in the military. The 'clubhouse' was a derelict boat in Madden’s Sausalito Yacht Harbor. That was in sharp contrast to the present Trident Restaurant building, which had been the San Francisco Yacht Club's facility with all its pomp until 1934. And the young 'yachties' intended it to be. Sausalito was a working village filled with fishermen, ferrymen and railroaders, not San Francisco businessmen with their fancy yachts.

The original SYC charter included a provision that no new member could be older than the oldest founding member. As a result, club membership was younger and poorer than at other well-established SF Bay yacht clubs. Even after WWII ended, members mostly sailed small boats, including a fleet of Mercurys. The SYC race committee boat is named Mercury in honor of that tradition.

So, fast forward to Saturday, April 29, and the first 2017 Twin Island Race. In honor of its youthful tradition, SYC encouraged participating boats to include sailors under the age of 18 as crew members. A good idea, but one that didn’t work out quite as planned. Only three young sailors participated, although it is hoped more will come out for the July 15 and October 14 races.

Two kids at the dock
Ben and Elljay, the future of sailing. ©2017 Pat Broderick

Dan Perez, 12, crewed on the Beneteau 45f5 Ohana, while Ben O’Neil, also 12, and Elljay Broderick, 9, helped sail the Wyliecat 30 Nancy. On the SYC deck following the race they stood out in a sea of graying hair, sagging waistlines, hearing aids and glasses. Each young sailor was awarded a special trophy to commemorate the event. Beaming smiles on young sailors’ faces are a joy to see. They are the future of sailing on SF Bay.

Race results are available on the SYC website, Entry information for the remaining two Twin Island races is also available.

— Pat Broderick

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