Widely regarded as the West Coast’s premier regatta, the Rolex Big Boat Series attracts world-caliber competitors for four days of buoy racing on San Francisco Bay. This is St. Francis Yacht Club’s signature event, featuring racing under ORR, HPR, and BAMA (multihull) handicaps plus multiple one-design classes. Spectators have a ringside view.
In 1964, young Bob "RC" Keefe convinced Commodore Stan Natcher that St. Francis Yacht Club should create a series to showcase big boat talent from points around the compass. The first regatta welcomed nine yachts from Southern and Northern California. Jim Wilhite’s S&S 63 yawl Athene won the regatta and, with it, the inaugural St. Francis Perpetual Trophy.
Since its inception, the Big Boat Series has been a standard-bearer, showcasing top talent and, frequently, boats from around the world. As sailing trends evolve, so too does the regatta. It remains on the cutting edge of sailing by continually adding new classes and championships to its lineup. It hosted the glory days of IOR and IMS racing. It has accommodated Maxis, Sleds and America’s Cup class boats as well as fiercely competitive one-design racing. The event survived the economic ups and downs of the 1980s and soared in entries in the late 90s and early 2000s, reaching a record 115 entries in 2003. In 2004, St. Francis Yacht Club initiated the use of the IRC handicap formula for entries 35 feet or longer, and in 2005, after three years as presenting sponsor, Rolex Watch U.S.A. became the regatta’s title sponsor.
Throughout the 2000s, the Big Boat series served double-duty for national and world championships including Rolex US-IRC Nationals (2009), Melges 32 Pre-Worlds (2010), Farr 30 Worlds (2011) and US-IRC North Americans (2012). In 2013, the event directly succeeded the 34th America’s Cup on San Francisco Bay, serving as the HPR National Championship, the J/120 North American Championship, the IRC West Coast Championship and the pre-worlds for the Melges 24 Class.
2014 was the 50th Anniversary, a marquee year for Rolex Big Boat Series. Ninety-nine teams competed in ten classes. Alex Ropers, recipient of the Richard Rheem Perpetual Trophy remarked, "This is one of the most spectacular venues in the world. The breeze is so 'on', the vistas are incredible, and with the organization of the St. Francis Yacht Club, this is an absolutely outstanding event."
Each year, Rolex Big Boat Series presents six perpetual trophies to the winners of six distinct classes. The trophies are some of the oldest in St. Francis Yacht Club’s history:
St. Francis Perpetual Trophy: This trophy was introduced at the very first Big Boat Series in 1964, when there were nine yachts competing. After a narrow victory over Jim Kilroy’s Kialoa II, Jim Wilhite’s Athene claimed the trophy. The trophy itself was donated by an anonymous benefactor in 1966. It was destroyed in our 1976 fire and replaced with a substitute.
City of San Francisco Trophy: In 1968, the De Young Museum of San Francisco loaned the club one of the two golden spades used in 1933 to break ground for the Golden Gate Bridge. Hence this coveted trophy. The inaugural winner was the sloop Alpha.
The Atlantic Perpetual: Established in 1978, this trophy is the ship’s bell of the schooner Atlantic, trans-Atlantic record holder from 1905 to 1997. Introduced to Big Boat Series in 1978, the inaugural winner was Bill Sullivan’s Peterson 43, Blue Norther.
The Keefe-Kilborn Trophy: Established in 1976 to honor the memory of the late St. Francis Yacht Club members, Harold Keefe and Ray Kilborn, the inaugural trophy went to Lucian Taylor’s Peterson 40, Racy.
Richard Rheem Perpetual Trophy: Established in 1972 to honor the memory of Richard Rheem, whose celebrated yacht, Morning Star, set Transpac course records in 1949 and 1955. The inaugural winner was Bill Clute’s Ericson 39, Chiquita.
Commodore’s Cup: Added in 2004, the Commodore’s Cup is awarded to the winner of the one-design fleet with the largest number of entries. Chris Perkins and Dave Wilson’s J/105, Good Timin’, won the inaugural.