Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The “Big Sail” = A Big Blast!

J/22s sailing The Big Sail on San Francisco Bay (San Francisco, CA)- It came down to the last race. Stanford and Cal were tied 1-1 in a best of three competition sailing the St Francis YC matched J/22s. As both teams prepared to start just yards off the front of the StFYC’s race committee deck, the spectators went wild. The marching bands roared, the cheerleaders flew around and the live commentary rang out.  No, this was not a football game; it was “The Big Sail,” an intercollegiate regatta between Stanford and UC Berkeley, (“Cal”) on San Francisco Bay.

If you are looking for a new kind of regatta that will inject pure fun back into the sport of sailing, take notes.

“We keep having fun with this event, because, how can we not?” said Big Sail Co-founder and live-race commentator, Ron Young. “People always consider how to win the game of sailing. But it’s also important to think about how the game can win. And that’s what The Big Sail does, by bringing in fans and fun to the sport of sailing.”

Cal and Stanford sailors- in The Big SailNow in its 12th year, The Big Sail takes place each November on the Tuesday before “The Big Game”, Cal and Stanford’s 123-year-old college football rivalry. The Big Sail features four divisions: Varsity, Young Alum, Masters, and Grandmasters, and is raced in a fleet of one-design J/22s provided by St. Francis Yacht Club. Each division match-races on short 300-yard courses for the best two out of three races. Should each school win two of the four divisions, Varsity is the tiebreaker.

This year, Stanford won the Varsity Division and Cal won Young Alum and Masters. Each school won one race of Grandmasters, which meant the third race would determine it all.

Cal won the start, but Stanford had a good first upwind leg. They opted for the northern side of the course, which was favored, and gained four boat lengths on Cal. At the windward mark, a starboard-tack Stanford narrowly crossed Cal, and even though they had to tack twice to make the weather mark, they rounded ahead, executed a quick jibe set, and never looked back.

Stanford and Cal cheerleaders- at The Big SailMeanwhile, on the RC deck at the club, the crowd went wild. Both school’s marching bands played fight songs while the mascots wove in and out of the crowds. The dining room and the audience were decked out in red & white for Stanford or blue & gold for Cal; nearly everyone was an alumni or family of one of the Bay Area rival schools.

“My Co-founders Jaren Leet, Jim Mullen, and I believe this is the only intercollegiate sailing competition in the country like this,” explained Young. “It incorporates marching bands, cheerleaders and mascots while capitalizing on a vibrant rivalry.”

Marching bands, cheerleaders, mascots and- - - sailboat racing? It was even more fun than it sounds.

The regatta has spent a decade perfecting the schedule: first gun sounded at noon and last race finished no later than 1350 hours so competitors could accept their awards in front of a live and enthused audience.

It was easy to watch—short courses immediately in front of the Club so that, as Young said, “even the oldest grandmother in the room doesn’t have to turn more than 60 degrees side-to-side to see all the action.” It was also easy to follow, as the live commentary rang out from both levels of the Club—sailors on the water could hear just as well as spectators in the clubhouse.

The Big Sail posterRivalry was a big draw. Yacht designer Alan Andrews (’77) flew in to race for Stanford. Cal performed the perfect collegiate caper by covertly delivering a 500-pound (immovable without a folk-lift) wooden statue of “Oski the Bear” to the Yacht Club’s lobby on the eve of the Big Sail. Stanford, the gauntlet has been thrown for next year!

Multi-generational loyalty also fueled the excitement. With sailors ranging from college freshmen to the class of ‘67, the event appealed to generations of friends, fans, and fraternity brothers. Many of the young alums remember racing against each other as Varsity sailors. “The older folks get to remember their college days and the younger kids realize you can sail your whole life,” said Young.

In the end, Stanford won by a hair, but everyone celebrated. Next year, Young plans to add a fifth division— a Women’s Division— to get more female sailors out on the race course.

Following the awards, Young said, “People sometimes question how important yacht clubs are, but look around! What’s more important than happiness? Yacht Clubs enable us to have fun together. Outside there is a demonstration of skill; inside there are smiles and loads of laughter.”  Sailing photo credits- Chris Ray   For more Big Sail sailing information