2015 Bullship Race

Golden Gate Bullship Race – Not for the faint of heart

by Erik Simonson on 6 Apr 2015

Golden Gate Bullship Race – The Lunar eclipse was in full effect this early April 4th weekend as the sailors and supporters rose from their warm, comfortable sleeping quarters, rubbed their weary eyes and began the migration to the Mecca of all things Bullship, the Sausalito Yacht Club. This, the 62nd running of the fabled event, has been run some 61 times prior, by calculation. It pits man/woman against the elements, manmade hazards and leviathans large enough to crush the diminutive vessel they will be using, into tiny bits in a nano-second. This is not a voyage for the faint of heart. Or weak in spirit.

The Ano Del Gran Concurso Barco Toro or Golden Gate Bullship Race was first held in 1953, at the insistence of Charles O’Gara and Lynn Pera in an effort to prove the seaworthiness of the eight foot plywood home built kit boats, originally crafted as tenders for ferrying people to and from their larger vessels.

The race grew in popularity and in 1962, had 134 entries. With a massive stamped of these tiny tenders charging into the Bay's least forgiving stretches, things got out of hand, and the powers that be, reduced the eligible entries to 100 the following year.

While the numbers have slowly reduced over the years, this year just attracting 22 of the boldest and bravest, the bravado and enthusiasm has not diminished. Many of the earliest sailors from the older days still arrive early and provide support, as the blear-eyed contestants arrive and enjoy the elegantly prepared continental breakfast, load their steeds through the club and down the ramp and to the dock, where the bull gets thick.

Numerous sailors from about the bay arrive from the sea, their el toros lashed aboard the 'Mother Ship' or 'Cow Boats' as they are referred. These Cow Boats provide a safety net, should any of the intrepid get in over their heads, and a cleaner, simpler way to arrive at the regatta. Gordie Nash, a nautical craftsman has built and repaired countless boats in days, and has sailed the Bull Ship 25 times even built a mini tug ' Arena' specifically as a support vessel for the Bullship, that's dedication. No bull.

The race begins off the Trident Restaurant, the southernmost eatery in the upper crust tourist section of Sausalito as it has for decades, it's history runs deep: http://www.thetridentrestaurant.com/

Held in late March or early April, seeking kindler conditions and favorable tides, the 09:00 start is early by sailing standards other than ocean races, to provide a less crowded course and gentler breezes, the boundaries are the Golden Gate to the west and Alcatraz to the east. Sail past these landmarks and your Cow Ship will herd you in and tow you to safely. No Bull.

This year's edition began with cool and crisp conditions with a building flood and westerly wind. The entirety of the fleet began hugging the shoreline, some so close they could reach out a touch the barnacles on the Sausalito sea wall, and along the residential area and through the deadhead and pilings of the old Nunes boat yard. The majority of the fleet opted for the tide relief of the yellow bluff shoreline while a few renegades sought the bigger pressure in the middle. And for a while, the renegades looked golden, with good wind and a proper VMG, the path to victory looked all but certain.

But the building flood proved too great for the renegades and when the westernmost boats cleared into open breeze and did not need to pinch, the dash to the finish line at the SF Marina spit was on!. Second time winner Fred Paxton reached away from the fleet and never looked back, with Art Lange and Gordie Nash nipping at his heels.

As is tradition with the Bullship, the crews are greeted at the StFYC docks by alumni and family members, the boats disassemble and either taken up to waiting cars or loaded on the Cow Ships and the award luncheon upon the grassy noll ensues well into the afternoon. Many prizes, far too many to list ward various aspects of the fleet, from oldest skipper, virgin voyages, first wooden boat to finish and the best one of all, a bull's tail mounted on a wooden plaque, awarded to the final finisher, The Tails End trophy. No Bull.

Race results

22 El Toros started, and all finished. The skies were clear, sunny, with northwesterly winds steadily increasing until most of the skippers sat on the rails. The predicted flood current took a number of boats close to Alcatraz, and nearly a dozen had to sail against the current from Fort Mason to the finish line. Skippers are listed below in the order of finishes.

* Denotes previous winners.