The Great Vallejo Race, traditionally held the first weekend in May in Northern California, signals the start of our spring/summer race season on San Francisco Bay.
A two-day weekend regatta, the Saturday starts off of Berkeley Circle, followed by a short run west to mark 1. From there, it’s a northerly ride approximately 25 miles to Vallejo. Sunday pits contenders on a reverse course heading south with a finish near Richmond Yacht Club.
Sunday offered far more tame sailing conditions. One of the S&S f’deckers grabs the limelight: “I want to trim the spinnaker the way I say. And I can do without looking. And I want to stand up top while I eat snacks. I do not want to share snacks. But I cannot reach a hand inside to get snacks.”Oh, look. They are hollow. They are square shaped hollow tubes. They are calming me.”
Top 10 Memorable Moments for Summer and Smoke Sailing at Great Vallejo Race
10. I have all 10 fingers and toes after the weekend’s romp.
9. Might be number of empty large bottles removed from boat on Sunday.
8. Crew count both Saturday and Sunday.
7. Times skipper asks, “Do we run it up the wall or cut over?”
6. Minutes late to Saturday start line.
5. Bags of snacks consumed on Saturday.
4. “Martha! Martha! Martha! Martha!” times for skipper’s call-out.
3. 3 feet, we get to 3 feet depth on Sunday, then we are aground
2. …but only 2 seconds stuck on that sand bar.
1. Number of times skipper says, “F-me” while on that sand bar.
1. also stands for first place. But that was last year’s Great Vallejo Race results.
“number of times skipper says, “F-me” while on the sand bar”
History of Annual Season Opener Great Vallejo Race
The first mention of a race came in 1925, when PICYA organized a cruise from Berkeley to Vallejo on a Saturday to be followed by a race back on Sunday. This is probably the official origin of the Great Vallejo Race, now reputed to be one of the largest inland regattas in the United States, usually drawing 200+ boats annually. Now under the aegis of the Yacht Racing Association (YRA) and hosted by the Vallejo Yacht Club, the two-day race marks the official opening of the San Francisco Bay racing season.
The race most often starts near the Berkeley Circle on Saturday morning, rounds a single weather mark near Alcatraz, and then heads to Vallejo, usually under spinnaker for the remainder of the race. The challenge is to maintain speed through the shadow of Angel Island, find the best combination of wind and current past the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and East Brother Light Station, and then avoid the mud shoals on the east side of the San Pablo Bay. Depending on the day, the passage can be a challenging breeze (intentional pun), or a miserable drifter, complicated—as always—by the currents, no matter its direction.
As the boats enter Carquinez Strait, they bunch together, making the turn into Mare Island Strait. Because of the topography of Mare Island, as well as the fact that it sits at the mouth of the Napa River, local knowledge (or many years of sailing the race) can make the difference as the yachts maneuver toward the finish line on the Vallejo city waterfront. Winds vary from light to heavy and become exceedingly shifty. By the time they enter the strait, many of the crews are let’s say “over-relaxed” by sun, surf, and suds. This is where the fun really starts! In the mad dash for the finish line, sharp crews can usually pick off several places with close attention to trim, wind, and current. Just be sure to check your charts and keep a close watch on your depth sounder at Great Vallejo Race.