Dave Benjamin, OCSC Instructor, sail maker and world cruiser, recently pointed out this article by Kimball Livingston about The Olympic Circle. This is a fantastic piece that goes into different aspects of racing around the “The Circle.” Even if you’re just a casual Bay cruiser, there are a number of insights to be gleaned from this well written article.
On San Francisco Bay the best patch of water for championship racing lies on the eastern reach of the bay. This area is relatively shallow and relatively tide-protected. It is free of the narrow rivers of current and countercurrent found in deeper parts of the bay and clear of the shipping channels. Stars, 505s, Farr 40s and many other classes have raced on the “Olympic Circle” for major titles.
When I say the Olympic Circle is “shallow” I mean shallow enough that the 2009 world champion of the 505 class broke a mast by turning turtle and sticking it. You will hear that this place is windy, but truth to tell, it is rarely so windy as that day long years ago, in an Olympic Trials race, when the great Tom Blackaller lost a Star and declared, “I just sailed it under.” It is a fact, however, that one Star class world championship opened with a score of “sank four, recovered two.”
(There also are perfectly lovely days here, but those days do not the legends make.)
You will hear the locals referring to this area, fronting the cities of Berkeley, Emeryville and Richmond, as the Olympic Circle, the Berkeley Circle, or just “the Circle.” Circle Speak is a local habit, but these are merely wordings of convenience. Yes, U.S. Olympic Trials have been sailed here, and yes, there is a kinda-sorta circle of buoys that can be used for racing, but championship courses do not use those buoys. Championship courses employ a larger field of play. You should anticipate start lines placed relatively close to the shore, with upwind legs sailed toward the Golden Gate and a weather mark placed short of the North/South shipping lane. In the chart below, courtesy of the Berkeley Yacht Club, north is up, and the seabreeze comes from the left.