Developing Sailing Skills through St. Francis Yacht Club’s Bunny Bash and Wingfoiling Programs

St. Francis Yacht Club (StFYC) in San Francisco hosted back-to-back special events in the spring of 2023, before starting preparations for a stop on the Women’s World Match Racing tour and the arrival of SailGP for its season finale. But first, what’s a Bunny Bash?

Member-Volunteers Up the Game for Peers

At St. Francis Yacht Club, the membership knows that RSD means Race Skills Development. And yes, there’s an RSD team with a success story.

The latest RSD success was a one-day Category 5 match race event, sailed on the San Francisco city front as spectators watched from the nearby windows of the club. Beginning match racers were the primary targets, plus umpires in training.

How to convey that this would be a day for learning, and not for raw combat? Organizer Nicole Breault provided a solution to that with the name, Bunny Bash. At the skippers meeting, the umpires reinforced the message, assuring competitors that, while umpires would bring their full game so sailors would have that experience, the umpires would turn into coaches between races and answer questions about the race and any umpire calls.

Breault is a four-time US women’s match race champion who has masterminded multiple events to promote learn-to-sail opportunities and to promote women in sailing. For success on the water, and for her enthusiasm and generosity, she was named St. Francis Yacht Club Yachtsman of the Year in 2017, the first woman so honored. And I think you know before we say it that Nicole is an RSD sparkplug.

“Organizing volunteers to sustain programming can be hard,” she says, “but when we pull something off, there’s a double-whammy of engagement. People are teachers and learners.”

Breault conceived of the Bunny Bash as a developmental opportunity for sailors relatively new to match racing, many of whom she had coached shortly before in a three-week Match Race Clinic at StFYC. Now in its second year, the one-day grade 5 Bunny Bash serves as a graduation for sailors ready to try their hand in real (but relaxed) competition before entering more serious events over the summer.

Racing was conducted in the club’s fleet of J/22s, in earlier years held aside for major events only. Over time, however, the “trailer queens” were released to serve more broadly to more members. The fleet is professionally maintained, but the realities of tender boats on a windy city front mean that sailing education depends on volunteers from the ranks of talented small boat racers, sharing their expertise. Breault adds that, “Educational programs based on volunteerism chip away at any imagined divides between so-called social members and sailors. They bring sailing and racing into more lives, and they build relationships through what becomes a shared pastime.”

A Wing and a Hoot

StFYC in the 1980s was a leader in bringing windsurfing into “yachting.” Fast forward to the 21st century, and the club, with kite racing world champion Johnny Heineken, produced that discipline’s first US Rolex Yachtsman of the Year. This provides insight into the club’s embrace of an even newer sport, wingfoiling, that is much more accessible than kiting. After years of being unable to launch beginner kiting from its windy location under the Golden Gate – a frustration considering the membership’s success in kite racing – the junior program now offers beginner foiling and winging.

At the highest level, six-time women’s kite racing world champion Daniela Moroz has taken to winging whenever she is not in training for 2024 Olympic competition. Her fourth citation as US Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year now hangs on the wall. Meanwhile, the club’s 2023 Wingding weekend, one week after the Bunny Bash, attracted 60 sailors including Johnny and his sister, past women’s world kite racing champion Erika Heineken, who each dominated their divisions. Under-19 racing went to a 15-year-old from Hawaii, Makani Andrews.

What seems certain is that the competition will only get closer, and Johnny Heineken’s days of winning every race, as he did this year, may be numbered. Kite racing followed that line of development. The theory will be put to the test in other SF Bay events, midsummer. Courses in 2023 have been experimental, including slalom and a freestyle competition which introduced many people to a new word, grom. Internet dictionaries define a grom as a young boardsailor, skateboarder, snowboarder.

But there is Daniela, and there is Johnny, so it must be yachting.