Perhaps the most popular annual regatta on San Francisco Bay is the Three Bridge Fiasco.
Organized by the Singlehanded Sailing Society, it is traditionally the first race of the season in late January and routinely attracts upwards of 300 boats.
In addition to being restricted to either singlehanded or doublehanded teams, the distance race around government marks incorporates several unique elements. It starts and finishes in front of Golden Gate Yacht Club with competitors required to round marks located near the Golden Gate Bridge (Blackaller Buoy), the Bay Bridge (Yerba Buena), and the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge (Red Rock).
What makes the Three Bridge Fiasco truly different is that each skipper can sail the course in whatever direction they choose, which can make for some interesting situations.
Now the Annapolis Yacht Club is bringing the concept to the Chesapeake Bay.
AYC will debut the Two Bridge Fiasco on Sunday, August 2 and it promises to deliver all sorts of excitement and craziness. It will incorporate many of the same elements of the San Francisco event with slight alterations.
“People say they want more fun in sailboat racing and that’s what we’re trying to deliver with this regatta,” said Dick Neville, a member of the Annapolis Yacht Club Sailing Committee.
As the name alludes, the Annapolis-based event will require competitors to round marks set just short of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and the Naval Academy Bridge. Skippers can choose shortly after starting which bridge to sail toward first, a decision that figures to involve significant intrigue.
In a nod to safety in the coronavirus age, organizers are limiting entries to singlehanded or doublehanded teams.
What makes the Two Bridge Fiasco truly unique is that every type of sailing vessel known to man will be allowed to participate. Annapolis Yacht Club has purposefully declared in the Notice of Race that this is not strictly a big boat regatta and is encouraging such craft as Hobie Cat, Laser, windsurfer, kiteboard, and all manner of racing dinghy.
“We welcome any and everything that is powered by wind and sail. If you own it, bring it,” said Kevin Reeds, Co-Chair of the AYC Race Committee. “We’re really hoping we get some smaller boats to join because it would really diversify things.”
Reeds noted the Portsmouth Yardstick system will enable organizers to handicap any type of sailing watercraft. He thinks the inclusion of certain vessels could result in advantages and disadvantages.
“Windsurfers and Hobie Cats would be able to cut across the shallow waters of Greenbury Point,” said Reeds, who will serve as principal race officer for the Two Bridges Fiasco. “Obviously, rough seas could present a challenge for them.”
Reeds previously resided in San Francisco and was involved with the Three Bridge Fiasco for almost two decades, either as a competitor or a coach. He was amazed by how quickly the event grew in popularity, which most assuredly was attributable to the wild and wacky nature of the race.
“When I first heard about it, I started laughing. When I found out Dick Neville was behind it, I started laughing even more,” said Pendleton Alexander, who has entered his J/80 More Cowbell in the Two Bridge Fiasco.
“It sounds like an absolute blast. I love creative approaches to sailboat racing. It’s important to try new things, even if they don’t work. It’s essential to growing the sport,” Alexander added. “This is very clever, very crazy, very novel, and very fun.”
Neville said Two Bridge Fiasco will start off R2 with the first warning gun at 11 a.m. The finish line will be set at a mark located near the mouth of the Severn River. Regardless of which direction skippers choose, the race figures to be 8 to 10 nautical miles in total distance.
“There are a lot of factors that would impact decision-making. You have to consider variables such as wind direction and velocity, tide and current, sea state, and so on,” Reeds said. “If it’s really light, you’ll probably want to go into the bay first where there is likely to be more breeze.”
Developing the Two Bridge Fiasco as a short-handed race makes sense in the current climate. Annapolis Yacht Club emphasized the event is open to non-members and is hoping to attract sailors that are not typically race-oriented.
“Because it’s double-handed it allows people to go sailing without worrying about getting a big crew together,” Reeds said. “I think it will attract some folks who don’t normally go racing.”
The Two Bridge Fiasco fills an opening on the local sailing schedule as the St. Mary’s College of Maryland Governor’s Cup Yacht Race was supposed to be held that weekend. Organizers announced in mid-May the 47th Governor’s Cup, scheduled to start July 31 off Annapolis, would be canceled.
“We’ve already lost half the season, so we’re looking for opportunities to get people out sailing,” Annapolis Yacht Club Commodore Jonathan Bartlett said. “I think this concept is very exciting and should be particularly appealing to family teams. I applaud the Sailing Committee for coming up with the idea, then taking the ball and running with it.”