It’s Opening Day on the Bay!

Sunday, April 27 is Opening Day on the Bay, the "official" celebration marking the beginning of the yachting season on San Francisco Bay.

Photo by Mia Bernt S/C PICYA

By Captain Ray

Published: April, 2014

Sunday, April 27 is Opening Day on the Bay, the "official" celebration marking the beginning of the yachting season on San Francisco Bay. This leads me immediately to a few questions: What is a ‘yacht’? How did this all get started? Why is there an opening day for an activity that never has an off-season?

We have the Dutch to thank for the word yacht. In the Dutch language, jagten means speed. In the 17th century, this morphed into jacht or jagt and was applied to describe any vessel used for pleasure, an unusual concept at the time. In the ensuing 300 years the word evolved into the English yacht, and it is now usually applied to any pleasure vessel not propelled by paddles or oars. The commonly held association with large and luxurious vessels is not strictly correct, because it is the nature and purpose of the vessel that determines whether or not the term is appropriate.

While sailors often joke that sailboat racing began as soon as the second boat was completed, it took some time to become organized. Vessel owners have always been interested in decreasing the time it took to deliver their cargoes; the clipper ships of the mid-19th century are a prime example. Racing sailboats for sport began in the 1600s with England’s Charles II and his brother the Duke of York.

In 1720, the Water Club of Cork, Ireland was formed. While technically not a yacht club (but rather more of a coast guard), it is recognized as the oldest continuously organized boating club. In 1828, it changed its name to the Royal Cork Yacht Club. The New York Yacht Club, founded in 1844, was the first yacht club in the United States. The oldest yacht club on San Francisco Bay (actually the oldest west of the Mississippi River) is the San Francisco Yacht Club, organized in 1869 and located in Belvedere Cove in Marin County.

We here on the Bay are able to sail all year, but that is not true everywhere. There are some very hardy folk who insist on holding what are often referred to as "frostbite regattas," but for most of the country sailing is a seasonal activity. Boats are hauled out each autumn and stored ashore until the temperature rises, water thaws and the boats can be launched again in the spring. The pleasure of being able to sail again evolved into formal celebrations called Opening Day. Here on San Francisco Bay (and other places), we don’t have to put up with those long months of ice and snow, but we certainly don’t want to miss an opportunity for a party!

So, what is involved in the Opening Day celebrations? Many yacht clubs hold a party for their members and guests, but the most public events are the Blessing of the Fleet and the decorated boat parade.

The Blessing of the Fleet began in Italy as the local Roman Catholic priest would call upon God to keep the village’s fishermen safe and provide them with a bountiful catch. Here in the Bay Area the ceremony will be much more inclusive (with not only a priest, but a minister and a rabbi) and will take place in Raccoon Strait from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 27. From here, most vessels will proceed to the decorated boat parade. The parade will feature over 100 historic workboats, fireboats, tow boats, classic and contemporary craft decorated to the theme. This year’s theme is "Visions." The parade will start about noon and proceed east from Crissy Field, along Marina Green, ending at Pier 39. For more information and details, visit

So pack a picnic lunch, come on down to the waterfront and enjoy the show!


Ray Wichmann, is a US SAILING-certified Ocean Passagemaking Instructor, a US SAILING Master Instructor Trainer, and a member of US SAILING’s National Faculty. He holds a 100-Ton Master’s License, was a charter skipper in Hawai’i for 15 years, and has sailed on both coasts of the United States, in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Greece. He is presently employed as the Master Instructor at OCSC Sailing in the Berkeley Marina.



Last year the sailboat Cetacea, one of the more entertaining entries each year was taken over by pirates. The past two years someone from their “ship” has ended up in the bay...on purpose. Photo by Mia Bernt S/C PICYA

The Juniors from St Francis decorated the W.L. Stewart III and took 2nd place in the Flag and Steamer category last year. Photo by Mia Bernt S/C PICYA