Cool winds whip your hair. Salty mist splashes your face. The only sound, the lapping waves. You swing out your boat’s boom, doubling your speed as you round the next mark, and blast off downwind on a sudden gust, gaining on the boat ahead, wishing the moment could last forever.

That is semi-high-performance dinghy racing on the Carquinez Straits. And it’s driving more and more people to join Vanguard 15 Fleet 76, Benicia’s own, and only, one-design dinghy racing fleet.

Our area offers exciting dinghy racing conditions—good weather, strong winds, and big currents, according to Read Hayward, a founding member of the fleet. “On a typical day in Benicia, when sailing upwind, the wind is in your face, your boat speed is manageable, and you are in control. You really feel connected to the waves and wind. But going downwind can be like being on a sled: thrilling, sometimes scary, and not so much control,” he says.

Fleet 76 began in 2006 when five friends started a racing fleet. They wanted a one-design class, meaning everyone sails identical boats. “That way,” says founding member Marcel Sloane, “skipper and crew skill, knowledge, and teamwork, are most important in achieving improved racing results.”

They chose the simple and economical Vanguard 15, a fifteen-foot long, two-crew dinghy with only two sails, main and jib, that reaches speeds up to 15 miles-per-hour.

In the past six years, this family-friendly fleet has grown to 14 boats and 50 members. It recently became part of the Benicia Yacht Club. Members range in age from 12 to 70 and come from all walks of life and experience levels. Participants need only be strong swimmers with an adventurous, competitive spirit.

Both men emphasize that anyone is welcome to watch and, if interested, join Fleet 76. “It’s the kind of excitement only dingy racing in big wind can give,” says Hayward.

When:              Every Friday night, from the first Friday of April to the first Friday of October
Start Time:      6:15pm
Where:             The marina launch at the end of 5th St.
If interested:    Just show up! Or contact Josh Russell, 707.208.5233 or Read Hayward, 707.326.1832