2023 Bullship Race

Photos by Susan Burden

Quick SF Bay Crossing for 67th Bullship Race

by Tom Burden

The wind filled in early for Saturday’s 67th Bullship Race, resulting in a fast 53-minute voyage from Sausalito to San Francisco for the 18 adult El Toro sailors. It’s a good thing the breeze held, as a big four-knot ebb was building, so the stakes were high. With SailFlow forecasting light winds, it looked like we might all be sucked under the Golden Gate Bridge. South Farallon Island to port perhaps?

Richmond Yacht Club organized the event, which started just after 9am in front of the Trident Restaurant in Sausalito and finished at the east end of the St. Francis Yacht Club breakwater. Before the start the breeze hit every point of the compass, but it settled down to a four to 12-knot northwesterly dropping down the Sausalito ridge, fanning out and decreasing, which favored the boats near shore. RYC Junior Sailing Director Sam Normington soaked down boldly for Alcatraz, and Jim Bilafer climbed the high road on a hot angle closest to the bridge. Both strategies were doomed to failure. 

A group of four rhumb-line Toros led by Gordie Nash and Tom Tillotson reached into the lead. Defending champ Art Lange (who has won the past two Bullships) sailed the low road with Jim Savattone (in a furniture-grade wood Toro he built himself) but their group missed too many gusts and couldn’t keep pace.

The leaders encountered the 15-knot wind from under the International Orange bridge, plus enough current to pile up some lumpy waves. Buzz Blackett and Tom Burden sailed mile after mile overlapped, catching waves for some exciting surfing. 

Tom Tillotson looked like a winner as he approached the finish, but Gordie Nash employed some excellent boat-on-boat tactics and his yellow boat nosed over the finish line ahead. Buzz Blackett was third with Tom Burden in fourth. Amy Choi capsized at the finish to earn herself the Tail End Award. Matt Richter won the Clydesdale Award aka the “Heavyweight Championship” and was also the top gun in the new “Classic El Toro” division, in a Sailnetics with an aluminum mast. Vickie Gilmour was top female sailor in fifth place with Pam DeWitt the top maiden voyager, first time Bullship sailor, in seventh. 

Matt Richter, The Clydesdale Award

Pam DeWitt, First Woman Maiden Voyager

Sam Normington was youngest at age 28, with hard-luck defending champ Art Lange, who ran aground just short of the finish line, eldest El Toro Racer at age 81.

The Bullship is a classic San Francisco Bay event, with its first running back in 1954. This year’s race was just off record pace, a crisp and exciting adventure. 

1st Place Winner – Gordie Nash with 5th Place Winner, and Event Chair, Vickie Gilmour