Master Mariner Benevolent Association (MMBA) Regatta Surges With New Old Boats Participation

As appearing in July 2019 Latitude 38, page 64.
"The 2019 Master Mariner Benevolent Association (MMBA) regatta event experienced a reassuring surge in participation, following years of concerning decline. Racers saw quintessential San Francisco Bay breezes and early summer afternoon sun,” asserts Cory Lancaster, Vice Commodore and MMBA 2019 regatta chair. Hosted on San Francisco Bay Memorial Day weekend, Saturday, May 25, Lancaster states there were half-a-dozen new entrants, notably Mayan, the storied Alden Schooner; Macora, a gaff cutter recently relocated from Los Angeles; two Kettenbergs, and a number of smaller boats. “Also in attendance was nearly every large sailing charter vessel in the bay, plus a full fleet of the locally designed classics, the Birds and the Bears. A new non-competitive parade class was also introduced this year.” The annual event commenced with a traditional flag fluttering boat parade along the western end of the city front.  

Grinning While Bearing It
Adhering to a true pursuit race for most classes, the start line between Golden Gate and St. Francis Yacht Clubs saw its gun for the Bear boat division at 12 noon. Russell Katz and family are caretakers of Renegade, number 35 in that boat fleet. Under his leadership, this 1946 beauty has run the MMBA Regatta course since 2011. “Bears are the smallest boat in the regatta at 23-foot LOA, but comprise the largest single class to participate. The past several years we have had between five and nine boats in the race,” he says. “Things are always close and exciting, with various different boats winning the Gerry O’Grady trophy for the MMBA Bear class.” Most recently, the prize has rotated between Huck Finn, Magic, Chance, Kodiak and Panda. For 2019, recognition goes to Tim Maloney on Magic.

Continues Katz, “Regatta conditions were perfect--just enough wind to move us along nicely, but not so much that you get beat up. We had a good race other than some spinnaker issues during the hoist. Conditions prevented us from being able to fly it, but we still finished only 10 seconds behind the second place boat--which did fly its spinnaker. Not too bad for a boat that was in the boatyard two days before.” Renegade sailed lean with only skipper and mate; normally the entire Katz clan is onboard. “Since 2011, the kids have been racing with us. Once the boat was in sailing condition, and Christine and I felt they were old enough to participate, the youngsters hopped onboard.” Wooden boats have always been a passion of Katz, noting that his wife and kids are very supportive. “They have helped get the boat to where she is today. The kids have done anything from reefing out the seams during her original refit, to crewing, sanding and varnishing.”

In the Marconi 3 division with 15.60 nautical mile course run was IOD vessel Youngster—pitted within a field of four. Jennifer Thornton, all smiles experiencing her first San Francisco Bay classics boat race at the tiller, says, “Sailing is so much fun when you are that close to the water. You really are in the elements! Luckily water conditions were not too choppy for our mostly reaching day.” Owner of a Schock 35 at Vallejo Yacht Club, she enjoyed the day’s proximity to other boats. “We came in second—a surprise because we did not see Folly all day (first to finish and earning the Homeward Bound perpetual). Versus our competition, we were able to round more closely to the marks, then come out to windward side. One thing I’ve learned from Ron Young, owner of Youngster, is that the smallest amount of sail trim makes a significant difference on a boat like this—down to one-fourth or event one-eighth of an inch.”

This has got to hurt…cutting the cord to free up the spinnaker on San Francisco Bay. This is schooner  Mayan .

This has got to hurt…cutting the cord to free up the spinnaker on San Francisco Bay. This is schooner Mayan.

Classic Acts: a Fleet of Farallon Clippers, a Mayan and a Water Witch
Brian Boyd competed in the Ocean 2 class (yachts over 30 feet to less than 40 feet on deck with NC PHRF rating), aside three Farallon Clippers and two other vessels. At the helm of Hana, he sailed with crew of seven--most of whom he had met at the Latitude 38 crew party. “We completely blew the start and were actually west of the committee boat, pointing towards the Golden Gate, when the gun went off. As a result, Hana was dead last over the line. We made up ground by the time we rounded Blackaller by staying high of the mark.” From that point forward, Hana hung close to Mistress II and Neja, trading places back and forth the rest of the afternoon, but lead the fleet east of Angel Island. “I gave back that lead on the beat to Harding Rock. Neja stayed ahead of us on the downwind run to the finish and took first place.”

Mistress II and Hana continued to switch leads, often just a few feet from each other as they approached the sea wall at Treasure Island. “At the turn towards the finish we lost the spinnaker sheet shackle and Mistress II pulled ahead. But then they had a kite override, so we passed them about 200 yards from the line. This was first time Hana finished number one in the FC fleet!”

One of the newest gems on the course is Beau Vrolyk’s Mayan, previously owned by rock star David Crosby. Crosby sailed her throughout the Caribbean islands, via the Panama Canal to Sausalito, and then to Tahiti and Hawaii. Following his purchase of Mayan in 2014, and in that same year, Vrolyk entered the boat into her first regatta—the America’s Schooner Race at the Silver Gate Yacht Club in San Diego. Since then, she has raced various events up and down the California coast. In 2016 Mayan competed in her first Master Mariners Regatta—winning her class by a scant 10 inches.

A reassuring surge in participation, following years of concerning decline
Bear boat  Renegade  zipping about before the start.

Bear boat Renegade zipping about before the start.

For this year, skipper reports that his crew did not fare as well as in 2016; they are still sorting out optimal ways to race the boat properly. “It was a learning experience for the crew. We had a new upwind fisherman staysail built specifically for racing on San Francisco Bay—where many of the courses have critical upwind legs. We moved the sheet points inboard to provide a better sheeting angle, and we’ve relocated various crew positions out of the cockpit to reduce weight aft. All of this meant that the crew was re-learning how to sail Mayan, and we spent a lot of time getting the sails dialed-in again.”

He goes on, “For the first hour in our class conditions, the wind speed was well below Mayan’s sweet spot of 25-knots. She was built to be a long distance cruising yacht and her rig is more modest than John G. Alden’s racing designs. That is not a problem normally, but with wind speeds below 12-knots at the start, it was hard for us to gain needed distance over the smaller sloops in our fleet. Two thirds of the way through the race, the wind filled in to 16 to 20-knots, and Mayan finally began to sail a bit above her handicap rating. But, despite achieving her best-ever speed upwind on the second to the last leg of 8.5 knots, it was too late to save her time on over half our class.” With friendly rivalry, he adds, “In our most recent Master Mariners, the lovely sloop Water Witch was able to outpoint us by at least 10 degrees! On the other hand, we were able to outreach her. We ended up a few minutes apart on handicap; in a more typical windward leeward course she would have been long gone.” 

Which Witch?
This year, Water Witch finished higher in the rankings than Mayan. Owners John and Gena Egelston entered her in the Marconi 1 division, sailing her to a corrected time third place division finish, plus the best elapsed time overall Dead Eye perpetual. Gena notes that members of the family traveled to the MMBA regatta expressly for the day’s classic boats sailing adventure, thereby keeping a “family that sails together” notion alive and well. Crew on this Lester Stone & Son Boat Builders 56-foot cutter plans to be fairly active this season now that they have a jelled core of eight. Water Witch has been a restoration project for more than 27-years. John, building furniture and other objects in wood since his childhood, says, “We are finally to the point of adding final touches, and of course more coats of varnish.”

Participating in the MMBA regatta remains a family affair for many. “Racing or parading around the bay on these classics is not just for salty seamen, but families as well. The spirit and tradition of lovingly maintaining and sailing wooden boats is passed down to sons and daughters--many of whom were on the course together today,” shares Lancaster. “Spirit of family was most evident at the Encinal Yacht Club post-regatta party where sailors were entertained by a number of children on the dance floor.”

San Francisco classic boat fleets will continue to experience multi-fleet race action at future events, such as the Belvedere Classic Regatta on Saturday, July 13, plus this year’s ROLEX Big Boat Series in September. For an up close and personal look at these gems, the public is invited to visit the 26th annual Wooden Boat Show on Sunday, June 23, at the Corinthian Yacht Club in Tiburon.

Latitude 38 magazine

Latitude 38 magazine