Ronstan Bridge to Bridge: The Tradition Evolves

The Ronstan Bridge to Bridge race has become a tradition in San Francisco, pitting the fastest boats, kites and windsurfers against each other in a drag race to the finish.

Like many great traditions, it started with a bet: a bet between two sailors as to which of their craft could cover the length of San Francisco Bay faster. On the one side were Charlie and Jonathan McKee in their 49er. On the other were the sailboarders. Twenty-seven minutes, eighteen seconds and 5.8 nautical miles later, the McKees proved that the 49er ruled.

Now in its 17th year, the Ronstan Bridge to Bridge has become a spectacularly wide-reaching sail-what-you-brung drag race between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge. Each year the fleet pushes the envelope as to which trending sail-powered device will get you there faster. In 2000, the 49ers gave way to the windsurfers who pushed the record to 16:23 in 2003. The 18ft Skiffs joined the mix in the early 2000s but didn't take their first win until 2008 with 22:25.

Then came the kites. Chip Wasson first won under kite back in 2002 (18:04) and by 2013, John Heineken and his foiling kite pushed that number to 12:00 flat.

This year, the breeze outside the gate looked promising, but the light air beyond Aquatic Park, where the fleet turns toward the Bay Bridge, meant it wouldn’t be one for the record books. That did not keep competitors from showing up in force. The starting line saw 31 foiling kites, 7 formula kites, 11 formula windsurfers and 5 boats in the “Open” Division, which included a J/70, the classic Ragtime, and the KiteBoat (which you’ve got to see to believe).

A departing tanker and incoming tug and barge meant a 10-minute delay at the start. When the gun sounded, the array of boats crossing under the Bridge was a site to behold:

There were kites and hydrofoiling kites, windsurfers and 18ft Skiffs, keelboats, and even an interestingly rigged Vanguard 15 propelled by two kites and driven by two intrepid, if somewhat stressed out, crew.

In the end, it was the foiling kites who closed in first on the finish. The light and fluky air in the final moments of the race saw the top four finishers compress and swap places. Just when it looked like the podium would go to Johnny Heineken, Joey Pasquali, Geoff Headington and Chip Wasson (in that order), Johnny and Joey wound up in the water, Geoff and Chip snuck in, Johnny recovered, Joey did not, and the group ended with Johnny in first, Chip in second, Geoff in third and Joey in fourth.

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