The view of San Francisco Bay from St. Francis YC is something special. The Golden Gate Bridge to the west, Alcatraz to the east, the hills of Sausalito across the way, and, in between, a perfect stretch of racecourse that rips with breeze and tide.
To the locals, there must come a point when this jaw-dropping scenery starts to blend into the background. Or maybe not. But to out of towners like me, or Dave Leuck, getting a taste of the St. Francis scene is a real treat.
Leuck left San Diego at 4 a.m. Friday morning with his Laser in tow, eager to soak up as much of San Francisco—and make the most of his entrée to the St. Francis YC—before the Sperry Top-Sider San Fracisco NOOD began Saturday morning. “I’ve been to San Francisco a bunch, but this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to race out of St. Francis,” says the 45-year-old. “What an incredible venue. The Masters Worlds are up here in late July, so this regatta presents the perfect opportunity to come up and figure out the course, the layout, all that.”
A longtime Laser sailor, Leuck recently switched to the Radial rig, which, with its smaller sail area, gives him a fighting chance in big breeze. “I usually sail with a full rig, but I’m a little guy,” he says. “I love to sail in breeze, but I just can’t compete in the full rig. When it’s blowing more than 15, it doesn’t matter how hard I hike.
“The Radial rig is a blast,” continues Leuck. “The sail is actually a better sail than the full-rig sail. There’s a rumor they’re going to change the full-rig sail to the radial cut. See how the panels all lead down to the clew? That seems to make the sails last longer—I’m not a sailmaker, I don’t know—but upwind, in 15 knots, I’m as fast, if not faster, than a full rig. Downwind, I don’t have the horsepower to keep up with a full rig, but upwind, it’s just a better sail.
Like Leuck, David Anthes traded in his full rig for a Radial rig in order to mitigate the Bay’s often overwhelming conditions. His boat name, White Flag, says it all. “I started racing Lasers with the standard rig last year,” says Anthes, a longtime keelboat racer and former ski patroller from Lake Tahoe, Calif. “But in windy venues like this, it’s just tough to get handle on the boat. I was pretty much out of control upwind and down, and with the Worlds coming up, I figured it’d be a waste of my time to go with the full rig.
“People suggested I go with the smaller rig,” continues the 160-pounder, who currently works for an industrial rope access company, rappelling down wind turbines to make repairs. “More and more, people are going with the Radial rig in a place like San Francisco. It’s really more controllable, and instead of just getting knocked down without warning, you can get a feel for what’s happening with the boat.”
Of course, on Saturday, there were times when the Radial sailors wished they had full rigs. “Today, the breeze was a little bit lighter,” says Anthes. “There were some big holes, which made it difficult to keep the boat going. Suddenly, I found myself looking for the power I gave up when I went with the Radial. But as the breeze came up later in the day, I was able to feel the boat and not get totally out of control. And that’s just a blast.”
_St. Francis YC’s Domenic Bove leads the Laser Radial fleet; for full results, click here.