Pansonic goes sonic
It blew doors. At 2pm it looked like idyllic conditions of 80 degree 16-18 knot winds and blue skies. By the 5:30pm starting gun the fog had overrun the sun, the wind had jumped to 25 knots and the 3 knot ebb tide had turned the San Francisco Bay in to a cauldron or mini mountains for the record breaking 57 competitors in this year’s 2010 Ronstan Bridge to Bridge Race.
Hosted annually by the St. Francis Yacht Club the Ronstan Bridge to Bridge is a unique event that is part of the San Francisco International Skiff Regatta. The event is actually race #8 in the 5 day skiff racing series and while on the score card it’s just a single race it’s unlike any other event in the world. The race is a 7.5 mile all downwind speed dash between two of the Bay Area’s iconic bridges. First up the Golden Gate Bridge serves as the starting line while the Bay Bridge is the finish line. Well sort of that is. Actually due to the obvious difficulties of spotting the line inflatable boats and buoys are set as close as possible to the bridges to serve as start/finish lines. This year’s wild conditions saw only 33 of the 57 competitors make it to the finish line.
Board vs Kites
In years past the Kiteboards had been given a bit of an edge in that, for safety reasons, they were slotted to the North end of the starting line while the Formula Windsurfers and Skiffs started together on the south end. This placed the Windsurfers and the Skiffs at a bit of a disadvantage in that they would need to make one extra jibe and generally had poorer water and wind conditions off the line. This year however, given the years of experience of running the race, and the high caliber of the competitors the race organizers opened the line up to a single starting line for all.
Hermans Monsters out run the ferry
30 seconds before the gun went off the audible crunch of two skiffs coming together rang across the fleet. With most of the 13 Windsurfers and 13 Skiffs gathered at the Northern pin end of the starting line that left the nearly 1 mile long starting line pretty open for all. With such big winds and wild water on the starting line getting off clean was a huge priority. UltraNectar’s Chip Wasson on his Ozone/Mikes Lab kiteboard Kit, F4 Fins Chris Radkowski riding his North/Mikes Lab Formula windsurfing Kit and the Appliances Online Skiff, with John Winning on the helm and crew of Peter Harris and Evan McNicol got of exceptionally good starts as the fleet charged off the line.
The skiffs were sailing deep and fast but it was Kiteboarder Chip Wasson out to an early lead. At the first jibe Wasson took his kiteboard back out to the more wild and windy middle of the course with the bulk of the windsurfers, and still upright kiteboarders, in hot pursuit. The Skiffs however continued inside to run the shoreline in seek of a bit faster and flatter water and that’s just what they found. By the second jibe the Thurlow Fisher team Skippered by Michael Coxon with crew of Trent Barnabas and Thurlow Fisher had reeled in Wasson and were now in front.
Thurlow and Co
As the fleet neared the midpoint mark near Alcatraz the wind picked up and the water became even more confused. By this point many of the skiffs had blown up and were flipped or upside down while simultaneously many of the kiteboards were splatting around the course. The CT Sail Battens Skiff with Alex Vallings on the tiller and a crew of Josh McCormack and Chris Kitchen took advantage of all the carnage and at this point had charged in to second place. As the fleet turned the corner to head to the Bay Bridge finish line the wind became extremely shifty and gusty which was the demise of many of the leading Kiteboards and Windsurfers but allowed the Skiffs to extend their lead even further. Wasson was able to hold on while the Skiffs planed on to the top three spots. Showing the wisdom of having run this race many times Windsurfer Steve Sylvester called the perfect middle lay line to storm to the front of the pack passing multiple Kiteboards and Windsurfers struggling to make the last 300 yards. Those who chose to dive down to Treasure Island were punished with a complete lack of wind and an ebb tide pushing them backwards. Those who chose to go to close to the San Francisco City Front were met with a similar fate. Sylvester however charged right up the middle sending his Formula Board to a fifth place finish overall.
This however was the year of the Skiff. Thurlow Fisher took the win, CT Sail battens took second, and Appliances Online took third. A complete sweep of the podium for the boats. Kiteboarder Chip Wasson took fourth while windsurfer Steve Sylvester took fifth.
Another close encounter
Hybrid Tri Foiler
A special entrant this year was the kite powered hybrid tri-foiler/boat skippered by Don Montague. Montague skippered his craft to 26th place overall.
With multiple national and world champions making up the fleet this race makes for an interesting Petri dish to decide just exactly what is the faster vessel downwind amongst the three crafts, all of which are capable of speeds in excess of 30 knots. The 2009 and 2008 events were the revenge of the skiffs. With notoriously light winds near the Bay Bridge Finish line two of the Skiffs were able to overtake Kiteboarder Frank Witke and claim the prize. Appliances Online, skippered by John ‘Woody’ Winning Sr. (crew David Gibson/Andrew Hay) took the victory in a time of 17 minutes and 54 seconds. Winning’s victory however was a slim one beating his son John “Herman” Winning Jr, and kiter Frank Witke by less than one second each in a nail biting finish. Winning Jr. took second while Witke had to settle for third. The first windsurfer, Mike Percy, was some 4 minutes off the pace as most of the fleet came completely off a plane.
Mike Percy and David Wells
The Skiffs also won in 2008 with Howie Hamlin and crew sailing right on by a swimming Kiteboarder Chip Wasson, who had lead most of the race only to run completely out of wind 300 yards from the finish. Wasson was able to hold on for second place with the windsurfers again way off the pace some 5 minutes back. The kites took victory in the 2007, 2006, and 2005 events. The windsurfer last won the event in 2004 when Seth Besse sailed his Formula Board to the line just in front of one of the skiffs in a super light wind event. Not a single kite was even able to finish the 2004 event due to the lighter conditions near the finish and many were unable to even make the starting line in time against that year’s big flood tide. Kite board equipment has come a long way since then with purpose built racing kites and race boards that look more like small Formula Windsurfers making the kiteboard a deadly threat on the low end of the wind scale.
Light Air Finish
When not doing Ford Truck commercials, Chip Wasson can be seen racing in the Bridge to Bridge
The course record however belongs to the Formula Windsurfer when in 2003 Micah Buzianis showed up to post a blazing 16 minute and 23 second time. The key to Micah’s victory was taking a large sail, an 11.0 in fact. So large however he had a hard time sailing himself home in the big winds of that year’s event. Pro Windsurfer Kevin Pritchard even showed up to race that year but had to settle for fourth place behind second place Robert Greenhalgh on a Skiff and third place Anthony Chavez on his kiteboard.
Verbiage bay David Wells, www.waterhound.com