Who: One slightly obsessed amateur sailor and his friends who compete in classic day racing boats.
What: The International One-Design (IOD), measuring 33'2" and weighing in at 7,120 lbs., 1935 design by Bjarne Aas; and the Shields, at 30'2", 4,600 lbs., a 1961 design by Sparkman & Stephens.
Where: San Francisco Bay—north of the “City Front” and south of Tiburon; Monterey Bay, Pacific Ocean, north of Monterey Peninsula.
When: September 2016, at the championship regattas of each class.
By the accident of class calendaring and the good fortune of work schedules, I had a special chance to test the West in September, racing in two classic one-design fleets.
I had raced in San Francisco (SF) before and always loved the Bay’s beauty, the intensity of the tidal currents, and the strength of the thermal winds that blow through the Golden Gate. In 1990, one of my first IOD regattas was on the Bay—wet, cold, and incredibly exciting. I headed home knowing that an IOD loves 20 to 25 knots of wind—and that while I had lots to learn about it, I would always love competing in that much breeze too.
I began racing Shields in the late 1990s, but until September 2016, I had never raced it other than on the East Coast. Now I’d be heading for Monterey Bay (MB) on the heels of an event in San Francisco. It was time to find out which bay was best.
Seven Factors in Sailing
1. Wind & Water
The big tides, cold water, and epic thermal winds that make San Francisco racing sometimes brutally difficult didn’t materialize, partly because most races were sailed in a strong flood tide, which flattens the water. But it was still rough enough to get pretty wet—and the water is cold. On most days, the wind kicked in around mid-day, and we experienced full-power IOD sailing in ideal winds of 12 to 20 knots. In contrast, the Monterey breezes were lighter and more variable, ranging from six to 18 knots, and the Pacific Ocean swell added an extraordinary vertical dimension. The waves were sometimes steep near the upwind turning mark, and our lead-weighted keelboats alternately tried to fly and submarine. Turning the mark and setting the spinnaker, we shifted into surfer mode and the large swells became best friends.
Wind & Water score:
2. Strategic Challenge
In both venues, we quickly learned that upwind strategy could be simplified to two words: “Go Left.” In Monterey, those who sailed upwind on starboard tack toward the peninsula always gained; the wind was stronger near the land and delivered a favorable wind shift near the upwind mark. In San Francisco, sailing the first leg against the strong flood tide, the boats that tacked south towards the City almost always found some relief from the current flow. Yet you could go too far left, and at other times, before the wind settled in, boats to the right made gains.
Strategic Challenge score:
Cornelius Shields, a New York stock broker, gets credit for the creation of both the IOD (1936) and the Shields (1963). IODs were built of wood originally and fiberglass since the late ‘60s, and the San Francisco fleet has all varieties; each shares the same hull shape and sails but is rigged differently. As at other IOD championships, competitors switched into a different boat in each race to equalize the competition, and we found with only a couple of exceptions, the boats were relatively well-matched. The Shields are all fiberglass boats built over the years mostly by Cape Cod Shipbuilding and Chris-Craft. Yet for the championship, we sailed a loaner boat that is one of the few built by Hinckley Yachts. Despite a reputation for being slightly overweight, Medora was very stiff and powered through the waves nicely. As a dual owner, of course, I’m biased towards liking all of Corny Shields "products".
The Boats score:
4. Competitive Level
The 11-team IOD entry list featured four previous champions (our team was one of them, although we last won the trophy sometime back before the turn of the century). After three days of qualifying, the top six teams made the Gold fleet, including the four past winners. In the three days of “medal racing” that followed, we scrapped and clawed our way to third and felt pretty good to capture the “bronze.” The Shields fleet was bigger (17 teams) and also had four past winners (again, our team was one); however, three of them finished the regatta tied for first place, and by virtue of having won more individual races, our team won the tie-breaker.
Competition Level score:
Monterey Bay is gorgeous with breaking surf on the beach, the sweeping heights behind Santa Cruz to the north, and massive kelp beds swaying in the swell along the waterfront of the historic town. San Francisco, of course, is epic and fundamentally incomparable. Our starting line was set every day a few 100 yards to the west of Alcatraz, the infamous island prison (now tourist destination) in the middle of the Bay. With the City to our left and the heights of Tiburon to our right, we sailed north towards the Golden Gate—often hunkered down under a low cloud layer funneling the damp and gusty winds at us through the Gate. After racing, we’d sailed about 30 minutes north to the yacht club in Tiburon and the temperature would rise 10 to 20 degrees as came out of the wind and into the warmth of the sun.
The San Francisco Yacht Club opened its doors to IOD sailors from four countries, and the local fleet busted its collective butt to upgrade and equalize the boats, some of which had not raced in several seasons. Members hosted visiting sailors in their home and renewed old friendships in the best tradition of the class. Unfortunately, the local fleet officers and the IOD class association itself were at odds during the event as they had been all year, unable to resolve some rules disputes. This was a wet blanket on the usual extraordinary blended experience of competition and friendship at IOD regattas. Meantime, a couple hours down the coast, the members of the Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club and local Fleets 7 and 12 completed a sustained multi-year effort of working locally and with the national class association to hold the first Shields championship on the West Coast since 1984. They built their fleet up to 17 boats, organized loads of sponsorship, loaned out half of their boats, pushed, prodded and cajoled visitors to make the trip, and then greeted us warmly and generously. Their enthusiasm was infectious, and our team’s homestay with two club member families was worth the trip all by itself.
7. Wild Life
We saw the occasional seal on San Francisco Bay and loved watching the pelicans, at work; but nothing could have prepared us for the roaring, barking welcome of the throngs of seals and sea lions lounging along the Monterey breakwater each day as we left the harbor and returning. That’s not to say we lingered as we sailed by on the downwind side of them; the smell was not savory. We saw sea otters, too, and a couple times sailed through roiling seas of seals chasing fish. Whale watching boats cruised by all the time, so we shouldn’t have been surprised to see a whale. And when the image made it to Facebook, of course, the online crowd insisted the whale’s tail had been added in PhotoShop; but personally, I’d already been startled by the sight of a whale’s spout 100 yards ahead of us on one spinnaker leg and a few minutes later, I heard the collective whoop of surprise and delight ripple through the crews in our fleet as a humpback whale—longer than a Shields—lazily surfaced, joining our downwind parade.
Wild Life score:
So which bay is best? Well, San Francisco scored 27 stars and Monterey racked up 29. Clearly, when it comes to racing sailboats, the less-heralded bay to the south is a special place, and heck, we won the Monterey regatta so I thought it was really special. Next time, I have no doubt that the same whale will decide to do some fishing on San Francisco Bay and will even the score—and we’ll probably lose the tie-breaker too. But I can’t wait to go back and sail on both bays again.
Editor's Note: The International One-Design and Shields class websites have more on these boats, classes, and their local fleets. At the time of this writing, boats.com has two Shields and one IOD listed for sale.