Fleet Week has been a tradition since 1981 and is a highly anticipated event in San Francisco. With an estimated audience of 1 million, spectators crowd the city’s waterfront to be awed by a parade of Navy ships, along with a spectacular aerial show that includes the Navy’s Blue Angels. The air show is without a doubt the premiere event of the day featuring incredible aerial stunts guaranteed to make you gawk and gasp. This was my first air show ever, so I was eager to get there.

Annie and I left the dock Saturday morning around 9:30am in dead calm conditions. It was a gorgeous morning. Not a breath of wind to ripple the glassy surface of the bay.  I put the boat on autopilot and we sat up front on the bow enjoying the quiet, peaceful conditions.  Every 1/2 hour I would walk back and reset the autopilot to keep us on course, but other than that FastAlley just toddled along happily.  We were the only ones out there.

We missed the ship parade because we got on site too late to watch it. We saw a few tall ships with all sails flying go by in the distance, but missed the main parade.

Then the air show started, and man, what a show that was.


I was awed by the pilot in a red acrobatic biplane executing dizzying stunts over, under, and around the Golden Gate bridge and to and fro between Alcatraz and the bridge.. His solo performance was spectacular and the most endearing thing of his incredible aerial display was that it was so very obvious to the viewer that he was just plain having FUN. You could imagine him thinking…. man, how lucky am I that they pay me to do this!   He looped, climbed, dove, and hovered all with apparent equal ease.   He did a kind of tail hover which took my breath away.   Just a few hundred feet off the water he put the plane into a vertical nose up stance of about 75 degrees, that is, about 15 degrees off perpendicular to the sea.   And he hovered there!   He never moved forward, nor downward, nor upward, nor sideways. He simply hovered in place for a moment… and a moment… and a moment… and a moment… which seemed to last at least a minute.   I didn’t know you could do that with a plane!   The eye-hand-foot coordination required to keep a biplane in a stationary hover must be jaw dropping.   Unbelievable.   I would like to shake that man’s hand.   Of all the events of the day, that nose up unmoving hover enthralled me the most.

http://www.fly.faa.gov – their signature formation

Then the Blue Angels show started suddenly and I didn’t know how LOUD those jet engines are!   Scared the hell out of me.   And the boat shook as they flew by.

Blue Angels over the Golden Gate bridge

The Blue Angels started with their signature diamond formation.   I must admit if I was the mother of one of those fly boys I would want him to find a nice quiet desk job.   Those jets hurtled past at such stunning speeds with their wings and tails almost touching each other during their four-jet formation.   They flew so close to each other that you couldn’t see sky between the planes.   Then just in case you blinked and missed the formation, they repeated the stunt upside down and zoomed along at sea level.   With the water so close, and the Golden Gate Bridge in front of them, there is not much room for error.

The “mother” in me surfaced and I kept praying that one of them would not even sneeze because any sudden micro-adjustment of their joystick would create a ghastly mid-air disaster.   At least the acrobatic pilot had the whole sky all to himself and was obviously so skilled that even if something went awry, you knew he would recover.   But those Blue Angels leave ZERO margin for error.   Its quite terrifying to watch.

http://tinypic.com fly by

The Blue Angels zoomed towards each other, trailing red white and blue smoke trails, and you could see by the smoke trails that they fly incredibly close to each other, requiring remarkable accuracy.   My depth perception absolutely sucks so I need a passing zone of 55 feet at least, never mind mere inches!   And that’s at a speed of 5 knots not 500 mph.   As I gaped at the Blue Angels stunts, my stomach would still be recovering from the last fly by, when they would come zooming past again upside down, or sideways, almost touching.    In my youth I was a gymnast, played basketball right thru school, was a very fast sprinter, and I played Wing for the varsity hockey team from the age of 13 to 18… lots of sports requiring good speed-eye-hand-foot coordination – but I just cannot comprehend the skills required to execute those stunning aerial maneuvers.   The mind boggles.

I think the head-on fly bys are for me the most jaw dropping although that might be their easiest stunt.   For me, watching a plane hurtling towards me while trying to focus on my instruments, would just unnerve me completely.   That head-on stunt made me hold my breath.   I heard that there are only 12 Blue Angles in the Navy worldwide that do the air shows.   I asked Annie why so few pilots existed and her response was basically, I’ll give you one guess.   See! the mother in me was right to be worried.

The jets hurtle by at such high speed that I didn’t manage to get one decent photo.  I got lots of pics of empty blue sky crisscrossed with smoke trails, so all these pics are copied off the internet.


The Air Show was fantastic. However, the actual experience of being on a boat during the show was horrible in the extreme.

I was told by many of the skippers in my marina that I should stick to the waterfront and drive my boat up and down with the other mass of boats.   They also said that the vast majority of people on the water should never even hold a car drivers license, never mind be in control of a boat.  This was an understatement.

I must admit that sailors are polite and know the rules of the road.   And sailboats typically crawl along at about 3 knots.   Power boaters on the other hand, zoom back and forth, they think they own the waterways, and they clearly have zero regard for anyone else.   And judging by their bad behavior, they have already had 4 beers too many.

When we first arrived I noticed a large party boat stationary under the Bay Bridge so I decided that they looked like they knew where to go and I motored over and hung out behind them.   They sat unmoving in the water.   Then a sailboat with 2 men came up and hung out with us.   Then a dinghy with 3 men and beers joined us.   And a powerboat hovered nearby.

A police boat circled us and came over to me. “Keep moving”, the young cop in blue yelled at me.   I started forward but noticed that he didnt go over to the party boat, nor the powerboat, nor the dinghy, nor the sailboat – so I circled up and down slowly but didnt move too far.

I said to Annie – How come he yelled at me but has ignored all those other boats??

Annie said succinctly – Two women on a boat.

I laughed thinking she was kidding.

I need to state quite clearly that Annie and I are both straight.  We are not gay but the boys in blue obviously concluded that 2 women on a boat MUST be gay.  I have no problem with the label but I have a big problem with their treatment.

Its Bug The Bitches Day.

I circled a little trying to avoid the other stationary boats, but mostly hung out behind the large party boat.   After about 10 minutes the police boat of young cops – San Francisco’s finest boys in blue – returned and zoomed up to me again, circled aggressively, and yelled at me to keep moving.   They then roared off again ignoring all the stationary boats around me.

Again I said to Annie – How come he yelled at me but has ignored all those other boats again??

Annie said succinctly – Two women on a BIG boat.

I didn’t laugh that time.

Its Harass the Ho’s Day.

So instead of sitting stationary behind the party boat I moved slowly up and down and around it – always keeping as close to it as possible.   Annie figured that when it moved we should follow and let it cut a path for us thru the chaos of boats on the waterfront.   I was circling slowly when the cops returned, ran around us aggressively, and yelled angrily for me to move faster.   Then roared off again.   The party boat sat there unmoving.

I looked over at Annie and shrugged.

Annie said succinctly – Two women on a BIG boat with no man in sight.

Its Damn the Dykes Day.

Clearly the all-female boat was a huge affront to SF’s finest.   How dare all that oestrogen come to a testosterone event!   How dare we come without a solid set of gonads on board!!

Then the party boat moved and I gratefully got into convoy behind it.   We followed it up the waterfront then turned and followed a tourist boat back down the waterfront.   Then we followed another large tourist boat back up the waterfront, and down again.   Let me not write as though this was an easy feat.   Dinghy’s overloaded with men (not wearing life jackets) squatted stationary in the water forcing everyone to maneuver around them.   Powerboats with morons at the wheel cut in front me forcing me to back up suddenly to avoid a collision.   A-holes in powerboats cut in front of the party boat forcing them to a sudden stop with me right behind back peddling furiously.   Fishing boats full of extremely rude and drunk people zoomed about – in and out of the crowds – shouting obscenities.   And we two women on a big boat certainly got the testosterone flowing.   Frankly I was stunned.

And the cop boat spent a lot of time tailing us, as we tailed the party barges.

Catch the Cows Day.

This went on for FIVE hours.  It was a ghastly ghastly ghastly ghastly ghastly ghastly experience.   Never again.   Is this how women are treated if they dare to venture out without a man?   Or is it that SF being such a Gay city, they thought we were lesbians and therefore it really irked their male pride to see us out on the water??   Is this how gays are treated on a regular basis?  Is this how gays are harassed all the time?  Who knows!  All I know is that it was a sad eye-opener for me.

And my previous high estimation of SF’s finest boys in blue did a dump.

I cannot imagine that I would ever be insane enough to go to Fleet Week again, but if I do then I will

(a) hang a large banner from my mast saying “HETEROSEXUALS”

(b) buy an inflatable man doll and sit it in the cockpit with a beer duct taped to its fist.

Maybe then we wont be so harassed on the water by every yahoo with nothing better to do between events!

The afternoon’s entertainment was almost over as we turned for home when the police boat zoomed up again, circled us, and demanded we follow them.   At the time we were tucked in behind a large tourist boat returning to its home dock and slowly making our way to the Bay Bridge.   I didn’t question the cop, I figured it had taken them 5 hours to decide to ticket us for “loitering” earlier, so I obediently followed them into a tiny area where they indicated a dock they wanted me to tie up to.   I circled around trying to figure out the best way to approach the badly angled dock, and finally approached carefully.   The 3 young cops were standing on the dock, legs firmly planted, and arms folded across their chests.   They had no intention of being helpful.   As I pulled alongside the dock they stood stolidly and stared belligerently at us making no attempt to grab the rope that Annie threw at them.   Annie then jumped onto the dock and tied down the bow while I jumped off the back and tied down the stern.   The aggressive young cops suddenly disappeared to be replaced by 4 embarrassed young coast guards.

The young coast guards asked me – Why are you here?

I wasn’t going to admit to “loitering” 5 hours earlier so I said – I don’t know, why don’t you tell me?

They didn’t know.

They said – Did you perhaps go into the Security Zone?

I said – No, not me, I was following the tourist boats.

They said – Did the Coast Guard approach you and tell you to leave the Security Zone?

I said – No, not me, you must have me confused with someone else.

At this stage you could see by their faces that one had to have the IQ of a frog to confuse 2 women on a BIG trimaran with any other boat out there.   They all moved off down the docks en masse and went into a huddle.   Clearly they had no clue as to why we were there – and the cops who had brought us in and watched smugly as I docked while they refused to lend a hand, had bolted back to their boat and shot off out of there.

Its Lampoon the Lesbians Day.

The young Coast Guards returned. Well I guess we will have to board you, they said.

I was fine with that. Cool, I said, I have never been boarded so I’ll get my camera and take pics.

Faced with my obvious enthusiasm to undergo the novel experience of a CG boarding, they backed down.

They decided instead to stay on the dock and do a safety check. They asked for the usual… fire extinguishers, PFDs, vessel papers which showed I was the owner, throwables, etc.   After every request they huddled again clearly perplexed as to what to do or say next.

Finally they abandoned the pretense of doing anything, said their polite goodbyes, and bolted.

Up until this point I had been pretty mellow about the whole day – but now I was incensed.   Especially as SF’s finest boys in blue brought us into that tiny space with the awkward dock, and then watched smugly with their legs planted and their arms folded across their chests as I moved slowly and carefully up to the indicated dock in those blustering conditions.   SF’s finest.   Lovely.


The air show was fabulous.

The acrobat biplane pilot was amazing.

The Blue Angels were spectacular.

The SF police were obnoxious little boys.


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