18ft skiffs on San Francisco Bay

The diverse Bay sailing scene has shifted over the last couple of days from a splash and crash 505 dinghy Worlds last week to a wooden boat regatta Sunday and now to perhaps the wildest exhibition of racing on the edge: the eighth annual 18' Skiff International Regatta Monday through Friday.

About a dozen crews of three were still checking in Sunday afternoon, led by three-time winner Howard Hamlin and Australian veteran John Winning, who finished last year's event with broken ribs, alongside crew member David Gibson's fractured ankle. Winning's son John Jr., a.k.a. “Herman,” will skipper a rival boat.

It gets rough out there on the windward-leeward course running in front of the host St. Francis Yacht Club and Crissy Field, the grass staging area behind the beach launching area.

Even one of the locals, skipper Ty Reed of the Skiff Sailing Foundation Red entry, said, “My goal is to win and to start and finish every race.”

Those objectives have gone hand in hand in the past, although even winners have taken their tumbles.

The 18-footers they sail aren't even boats in the conventional sense but mere platforms to which the crews ride on hiking racks and skim over the tops of waves behind oversize sails.

And the Bay presents added challenges: gear-busting, bone-chilling breeze.

“The coldest summer spot we go to,” says Winning.

And, says Trevor Barnabas, skipper of 24HourRoadService.com, “a bit more breeze than anyplace else we go.”

The wind funneling through the Golden Gate is both friend and enemy. Archie Massey was a crew last year but is skipper now on Asko.

“The first year we were winning every race at the first [windward] mark and capsized,” he said. “That was with the old skipper.”

John Gray, a crew on David Rasmussen's local SwitchYourStyle, knows all about capsizing. He lost track of the number of flips be experienced while sailing in the 505 Worlds last week.

“I can't wait for this to start,” he said.

There will be 10 races total, two each day, starting at 1 p.m. local time, except for Thursday when the first race will be at 3 p.m. followed by the traditional Bridge to Bridge Race, matching the 18s with kite boarders and windsurfers in a 5 1/2-mile romp along the city front from the Golden Gate to the Bay Bridge.

Last year Hamlin's team became the first 18 to finish first, 37 seconds ahead of a kite boarder.

Australia's Seve Jarvin won the 18s overall last year but is not competing here. He once described the class as “fast, and they add a bit of adventure. They give sailing a bit of an edge. You usually end up in the top three if you stay upright.”

Jeanneau JY55
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