Fleet Week. San Francisco’s annual display of military might was underway once again, from October 7-12, and it featured all the usual things you’d expect from a mostly-shameless military recruiting tool.

Fleet Week’s stated mission is “to honor the dedication to duty and the sacrifices of the men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces.” They also add that the mission includes providing disaster preparedness training.

In reality, though, it’s a display of cool military machines, starting with the parade of ships under the Golden Gate Bridge and culminating with the Navy’s Blue Angels performing on Saturday and Sunday.

Rather than just go and sit in Crissy Field with thousands of other spectators, I decided I would participate in the informal Sausalito tradition of taking your yacht out to watch the festivities from the Bay. It sounded like a good idea.

Of course, I don’t have a yacht. I have a 16-foot, 39-year-old boat that’s more at home on lakes or the delta then in San Francisco Bay’s choppy waters. Still, I had a go.

Most other spectators had yachts, I had this: A 1971 IMP Cherokee. Not exactly the best boat for San Francisco Bay, but at least I was floating.

I headed out of Richardson Bay, which separates Sausalito from Tiburon, picking my way carefully through the fleet of derelict anchor-out boats as I went.

One of the many derelict anchor-outs in Richardson Bay. Stay tuned for more on the anchor outs.

The Coast Guard was out in force, keeping the massive spectator fleet away from the flight line, but that was the least of my worries. My first thought was to anchor the boat in the “general anchorage” area just off Alcatraz, and sit back and watch the show. Anchoring there was clearly no problem for the large yachts, with hundreds of feet of line and electric windlasses (the winch used to pull up an anchor.)

The Coast Guard was kept busy keeping the flight line clear of boats. For obvious reasons, boat were prohibited from being directly under the aircraft.

But I only had a small anchor, with maybe five feet of chain and 70 feet of rope. The depth gauge was showing just around 70 feet of water was beneath me, so such a short rope wasn’t going to cut it. (In order for an anchor to hold, the anchor line needs to be at least three times the depth of the water.) To make matter’s worse, the wind must have been blowing at least 15 knots, so every time I left the wheel to try to deal with the anchor, the boat was rapidly blown back toward an expensive-looking yacht.

Yachts like this one aren't cheap. Not hitting something expensive was my priority.

Instead of anchoring, I chose to constantly cruise up and down the flight line. But this was even more stressful. As a small motor boat, I was decidedly the low man on the totem pool, and most of my time was spent trying to avoid collisions with larger boats. Because of the extreme amount of boat traffic, most of the big yachts had their sails down and were motoring, but a few particularly brave (or stupid) skippers were under sail, creating headaches for everyone else, who had to scramble out of the way.

This beautiful gaff-rigged schooner's skipper chose to cruise the through the crowd under sail. Impressive, but stress-inducing for everyone else.

But back to the air show itself. There were the usual aerobatic demonstrations, a performance by the Patriot Jet Demonstration team, a couple of military helicopter demonstrations, even a low flyover by a United Airlines 747. And of course, the show culminated with the Blue Angels performing for almost an hour.

A United 747 made several low flyovers. Advertising? Probably, but it was still cool to see such a big plane flying so low.

A jet from the Patriot Jet Demonstration Team makes a low pass.

The Blue Angels didn't disappoint, despite being extremely tricky to photograph.

But on the water, it was hard to enjoy an of it. Unlike a car, a boat can’t just stop on the water, so more time was spent looking out for other boats than looking up at the sky. I wasn’t alone. While guests on the fancy yachts lined the rails to watch the show, nervous skippers stayed glued to their steering wheels.

But somehow it all worked. True, the air show itself probably would have been better from Crissy Field, but the up-close view of some of San Francisco Bay’s most impressive yachts more than made up for it.

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