The 2023 SF Classic & Ultra Nectar Challenge Was Recognized as the Windiest Yet

This year, the annual San Francisco Classic & Ultra Nectar Challenge took place on Sat. July 8. Keep reading to find out what happened during the event, as well as a brief look into its history.

One for the Record Books

When a Rolex yachtsman of the year, Mike Martin, describes the course as ‘terrifying’, and locals, including Benjamin Anderson, that sail the bay all the time say they’ve never seen it that rough or chaotic, it’s windy. And when Chip Wasson, creator of the Ultra Nectar Challenge, suggested that the windward mark, the Red Nun, west of the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge, had waves the size of vans crashing into each other from all directions, while former national champion, Steve Bodner resorted to European punk dance moves to best describe his experience – you get a clue that the legendary San Francisco Bay Classic/Ultra Nectar Challenge that ran this past Saturday, hosted by the prestigious St. Francis Yacht Club, was a hit. And possibly the windiest ever.

Not Everyone Finished

2023 SF Classic Photo by Bryan McDonald

Less than half the fleet finished (including only two windsurfers, including multi national champion Xavier Ferlet who won the division for both races), despite the origin of this race coming from windsurfing – ya, it was that crazy. The wind ranged from 0-40 mph, proving San Francisco Bay’s famous microclimates do exist. Some competitors had to swim for up to 45 mins in the uncharacteristically light conditions near Blunt Point and then there were those like Henry Vare, who chose an ultra high performance foil that was too small to survive the lulls. The entire course (which is comprised of four legs and two separate races) is close to 50 miles long and according to Mike Martin, the fastest racer Neil Marcellini ‘destroyed’ the fleet, by reaching speeds of over 50 mph. Marcellini finished the course in an hour and change. It could take a sailboat all day to complete this course on a good day.

Pictured above is Jacob Rosenberg, earning his bragging rights for this race by rounding the windward mark in first (known as the red nun, just west of the Golden Gate Bridge). He’d have to round this mark again, before heading down to Berkeley and back, along one of the most complicated courses in the world (which has befuddled many a world champion, including the legendary 24x world champion Robby Naish, who was leading one classic before he realized he sailed to the wrong mark, he is still such a legend that he ended up 2nd that year, to Phil McGrain. After rounding the mark, Jacob crushed it by placing 4th in the SF Classic (the race down to Berkeley) and charged to a 2nd in the UN Challenge (the race back to the St. FYC).

A Brief History of the Event

Recognized currently as the San Francisco Classic & Ultra Nectar Challenge. When it started, as the San Francisco Classic in 1979, the race from Crissy Field to Berkeley Pier was only for windsurfers, and gradually the race evolved into including kites and now wingers, and the return trip back to Crissy Field is called the Ultra Nectar Challenge. For participants, it’s a two-fer; for competitors, it’s a grind.

It started with an individual person running the races, but when it became more popular, the St. Francis Yacht Club began hosting it. The club could provide more resources and thus more closely ensure the safety of anyone participating.

According to the St. Francis Yacht Club website, the original proposed course was “a triangle from Crissy Field, out beyond the Golden Gate Bridge, back to Crissy, then a downwind reach back and forth across the Bay to a finish at Berkeley Marina.” Over time, the course grew to its current form, which has fourteen distinct legs for the SF Classic. The UN Challenge is simply composed of a starting line in Berkeley and finish line off the St. Francis Yacht Club (and the exact course from the start to the finish is up to each competitor to define in an effort to minimize race time for the win).

What Were This Year’s Results?

Mike Martin

Interview with Mike Martin, Rolex yachtsman of the year / by Bryan McDonald/sailing314 on YouTube

Chip Wasson

Interview with Chip Wasson / Courtesy of sailing314 on YouTube

Benjamin Anderson

Interview with Benjamin Anderson / Courtesy of sailing314 on YouTube

Steve Bodner

Interview with Steve Bodner / Courtesy of sailing314 on YouTube

Neil Marcellini 

Interview with winner of Kite division Neil Marcellini / Courtesy of sailing314 on YouTube

To see what more participants have been up to, visit their Instagram pages:

Bryan McDonald’s passion for all things nautical is demonstrated through his photography, which has appeared in Stab Magazine, Local Getaways, Marin Magazine, Kiteboarding FB group and on his instagram account. Bryan spends much of his time on his floating home in Sausalito trying to get the ultimate time lapse to include the fog rolling into the bay or the International Space Station floating by.