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Dick Neville and Kevin Reeds on the Annapolis Yacht Club's inaugural Two Bridge Fiasco

by David Schmidt 30 Jul 08:00 PDT August 2, 2020
Fully crewed racecourse action near the Naval Academy Bridge © Image courtesy of Will Keyworth

If you’ve been lucky enough to have spent some time sailing on San Francisco Bay, odds are excellent that you’ve heard of the Singlehanded Sailing Society’s annual Three Bridge Fiasco. This January event draws hundreds of singlehanded and doublehanded sailors, and it wends its way around marks near the Bay’s three iconic bridges—the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge and the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Critically, each skipper can opt to round any of these marks in any order that he or she pleases. Hence, the race’s moniker and its classically “interesting” crossing situations.

While you can take the boat out of the Bay, it’s sometimes hard to take the Bay out of the boat, and now this same anything-goes format is coming to Chesapeake Bay in the form of the inaugural Two Bridge Fiasco (August 2), which is being hosted by the Annapolis Yacht Club (AYC).

As its name implies, the Two Bridge Fiasco will round marks near the Naval Academy Bridge and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and will be open to vessels of all designs, from keelboats to foiling kiteboards. As with its namesake West Coast race, skippers racing in the Two Bridge Fiasco can opt to round the marks in any order they like, but they must sail their steeds in either singlehanded or doublehanded mode.

I checked in with Dick Neville, who serves on the AYC’s sailing committee, and Kevin Reeds, who is serving as the principal race officer of the inaugural Two Bridge Fiasco, via email, to learn more about this exciting new Chesapeake Bay-area event.

Can you give us an overview of the course? Also, are there specific areas that you think will provide tactical opportunities?

DN: The start and finish will be in the same place. We will set a rounding mark in front of each bridge. [Boats can] go to either mark first, then to second mark then to finish. There is a point to round between marks, with shallow water - advantage small boats.

KR: The course will start and finish at a government mark (G9) in the Severn River just outside of Annapolis. From the start, boats must round two inflatable marks before returning to G9 to finish. The marks will be located near the Bay Bridge and the Naval Academy Bridge. Competitors can round the two marks in either order.

Some smaller boats will definitely have a potential advantage as they can transit across the face of Greenbury Point, which is very shallow. The challenge for them will be that because they are faster, they will be starting later in the pursuit sequence so they will have to be fast to catch those boats that have already started.

What are the best-case and worst-case scenarios in terms of weather/conditions for the course?

DN: [It’s] traditionally light air. Worst [case is] no wind. Best [case is] 10-12 knots.

KR: This time of year we can see a wide range of weather conditions, ranging from no wind to well over 30 knots if a summer squall comes through. Generally, we are expecting the wind to be between four and eight knots…that would be a perfect July day here in Annapolis.

What kinds of boats do you think will be racing?

DN: We hope [to see] all types [of boats,] from Hobie Cats and Windsurfers up to 40' raceboats.

KR: Currently, we have 87 boats registered and we are expecting a few more before registration closed at 1100 [hours] on Friday [July 24].

The competitors currently include a Comet, a 505, two Lasers, a Waszp, several performance cats, Harbor 20s, Etchells, Stars, J/22s, J/105s, and a wide range of larger performance and cruising boats. The largest boats currently registered are a J/124 and a Beneteau 40.7.

Will the event employ any unusual rules, or will it follow the standard Racing Rules of Sailing?

DN: [It will follow the] regular RRS, but we expect first-timers to not know [the] rules.

KR: [The] AYC is currently using a modified race-management plan because of COVID-19, which includes the elimination of signaling flags and extensive use of the VHF radio to communicate with competitors.

We will use this same protocol for the [Two Bridge] Fiasco. This race will also use a pursuit start with the slower boats going off first followed by the faster boats.

Start times will be based on [each] boat’s PHRF rating. For those boats that do not have a PHRF rating, we will be using the Portsmouth Yardstick system to create a rating number for them. Whoever finishes first wins!

How important do you think local knowledge will be in this event?

DN: Very.

KR: Local knowledge might prove to be very important for the Fiasco, especially if the wind is light. Knowing how the current works in the Severn River might provide a big advantage. Also for the smaller boats, knowing where the shoals are across Greenbury Point will be key to sailing the shortest course.

What kinds of safe-play pandemic tactics are you expecting from the racers on the water? Are we talking about standard-issue things like face masks and hand sanitizer, or will the doublehanded crews also be expected to self-quarantine ahead of the race? Also, do you expect that this will be a highly competitive event, or is the spirit of this event more about getting out on the water for some friendly racing?

DN: No special Covid requirements as the single-/double-handed [format] meets requirements. Friendly competition only is the intent.

KR: This race is limited to single and double-handed crews only. Everyone will be expected to wear masks and social distance when ashore at AYC. Boats will not be allowed to raft up at the club and there will be no post-race party.

We have also recruited three quarantine couples to serve [as] the mark-set boat crews - one couple per boat. Our signal boat crew will be limited to only six people [including] the boat driver. All sailors and race committee volunteers will wear marks before leaving the dock.

Given that this is the first year that the Two Bridge Fiasco is being sailed, are there any traditions that you and the other organizers hope (or envision) will develop? Or, do you see that kind thing unfurling more organically over the years?

DN: Purely a trial to get non-racers involved and see if sailors enjoy it.

KR: Great Question! Our initial intent was simply to create an opportunity for folks to go sailing during the pandemic. We liked that idea of single- and/or double-handed crews for the same reason—limited opportunity to be within six feet of others.

Dick [Neville] and I wanted it to be fun and with no frills or stress for the club or the competitors, and we were hoping to attract some folks that don’t normally come out to compete at regularly scheduled events here at AYC.

One of the traditions we built into the event is that there will be no trophies—other than bragging rights. Hopefully that will become a thing going forward.

The [sailing community’s] response has frankly been overwhelming, and we are very excited that this could become a regular event of our annual sailing calendar going forward.

Can you tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the regatta’s environmental footprint or otherwise green-up the regatta?

DN: Deliberate minimal RC involvement to meet Covid-19 [standards] with added benefit of [the] environment.

KR: Environmental issues [have] not been part of our thinking for this event. The focus is just on providing folks an opportunity to go sailing during a pandemic and have a blast doing it.

Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

KR: I am excited to serve as the PRO for this event. I am originally from San Francisco, so the Three Bridge Fiasco has always a favorite of mine. I am pleased to be bringing a bit of the West Coast to Annapolis in the form of the AYC’s Two Bridge Fiasco. I can’t wait to get started on Sunday, August second and see who wins.

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