SAN FRANCISCO, CA — Strong airs and freshening white caps greeted the third day of racing at the 54th edition of the Rolex Big Boat Series, hosted by the St. Francis Yacht Club. Long uphill bashes in three to four-foot seas and 20 knots, gusting higher, were rewarded with blistering downwind runs and adrenaline-saturated kite rides juiced by a flooding tide.
“I’d say these conditions are typical of San Francisco Bay, but the courses are so much longer that it’s testing people’s endurance,” says Jenn Lancaster, StFYC’s Race Director. “We tried to improve the reaching angles on the course for the handicap boats, and it’s been exciting to see them perform. These fleets are really competitive this year.”
While there’s no shortage of competitive personalities or inter-class contentions at the Rolex Big Boat Series, a classic rivalry on display is between Skip Ely’s Santa Cruz 52 Elyxir (USA 28474) and Dave MacEwen’s Santa Cruz 52 Lucky Duck (USA 28729) in the ORR-A handicap class. This duel peaked in the 2018 season during the StFYC’s 2018 Aldo Alessio and Phyllis Kleinman Swiftsure Regatta (August 17-19, 2018), when Ely’s crew arrived in Scotch plaid duck hunter’s garb, a cheeky stunt that earned the team the regatta’s best-dressed award, while MacEwen went home with the first place trophy.
“They’re our “frenemies,” and they’re awesome people,” says MacEwen about his multi-year contest with Ely and his battle-hardened crew. While this competitive relationship had previously remained a mostly private, inter-boat affair to determine the fastest Santa Cruz 52 on the Bay, it transcended generations today as all ORR-A boats carried a junior sailor aboard for the day’s racing.
“The juniors are used to sailing in heavy air, so the conditions weren’t eye-opening, but doing 17-18 knots downwind must have been different,” says MacEwen. When asked about the impetus for returning the elevator to the ground floor, MacEwen explains that he and the other ORR-A owners are simply repaying childhood debts. “We need to encourage the kids to get into big boat sailing,” says MacEwen. “They’re the next generation.” After six races, Ely’s Elyxir is leading the hunt in the ORR-A class, followed by MacEwen’s Lucky Duck and Michael Moradzadeh’s Santa Cruz 50, Oaxaca (USA 8927).
The Pac52 class wasn’t taking juniors out sailing, but these cutting-edge monohulls certainly commanded plenty of racecourse attention. “I don’t think that anyone can say that they have sailed a great race in the Pac52 class,” says Gavin Brady, tactician on Invisible Hand (USA 5202), after the regatta’s first four races. “That shows you how tough the Bay can be.”
“At most other regattas you spend the first day or two getting a feel for who is fast, but in the Pac52 class it’s all guns blazing from the start,” says Brady. “In the Pac52 class, Invisible Hand and BadPak are more optimized for downwind, whereas Interlodge and Rio are more optimized for upwind sailing. It’s subtle. We even know each other’s tactics.” With two days of bullets, Invisible Hand is topping the four-strong Pac52 leaderboard, followed by Manouch Moshayedi’s Rio (USA 3545) and Tom Holthus’ BadPak (USA 60052)
While the 2017 Rolex Big Boat Series saw one additional boat in the mix, according to Brady this hasn’t changed the cutthroat competitive nature of this Grand Prix class. “It’s almost harder this year, because there are less points up for grabs.”
Available points are less of an issue in the 28-strong J/105 class, which is the 2018 Rolex Big Boat Series’ largest one-design class. “It’s a little bit of chaos, a little bit of analytical planning and a lot of guts,” says Ian Charles, skipper of the J/105 Maverick (USA 385) about what it’s like to be on the helm on a 28-boat strong Rolex Big Boat Series starting line.
When queried about the hardest aspect of driving a J/105 on a racecourse with 27 other identical boats in the West Coast’s most prestigious regatta, Charles, who races with his wife, Natalie, pointed to the entire experience as the crux. “It’s everything,” says Charles. ”You’ve got to have your eyes on everything, the crew, the lines, right-of-way situations, tidal influences—you’ve got to process a lot of information at once.” After three days of racing, he’s sixth in the standings, with Jeff Littfin’s Mojo (USA 119) in the J/105 class’ pole position, followed by Tim Russell’s Ne*Ne (USA 3) and Ryan Simmons’ Blackhawk (USA 40).
Competition was also predictably fierce across the Express 37 and J/88 one-design classes, as well as in the ORR-B and ORR-C handicap classes. Kame Richards’ Express 37 Golden Moon (USA 18488) is currently topping the results page, followed by Mark Dowdy’s Stewball (USA 18278) and Sandy Andersen Wertanen’s Eclipse (USA 18495). Among the J/88s, which are enjoying their first Rolex Big Boat Series as a one-design class, Gary Panariello’s Courageous (USA 17) heads into the regatta’s final day in first place, with Aya Yamanouchi’s Benny (USA 79169) and Marc McMorris’ M Squared (USA 75) close astern. In the handicap classes, Dorian McKelvy’s J/111 Madmen (USA 17) dominates ORR-B, followed by Daniel Thielman’s Melges 32 Kuai (USA 7676) and Zachery Anderson’s J/125 Velvet Hammer (USA 51517), while in ORR-C, David Halliwill’s J/120 Peregrine (USA 25487) is commanding headlines, followed by Stephen Madeira’s J/120 Mister Magoo (USA 28289) and Thomas Furlong’s Club Swan 42 Elusive (USA 4216).
Racing is set to conclude tomorrow, Sunday, September 16, with one long Bay Tour race, followed by the Rolex Big Boat Series awards ceremony at 1600 on the StFYC’s East Lawn.
AN UNRIVALLED REPUTATION FOR QUALITY AND EXPERTISE
Rolex, a Swiss watch manufacture headquartered in Geneva, is recognized the world over for its expertise and the quality of its products. Its Oyster and Cellini watches, all certified as Superlative Chronometers for their precision, performance and reliability, are symbols of excellence, elegance and prestige. Founded by Hans Wilsdorf in 1905, the brand pioneered the development of the wristwatch and is at the origin of numerous major watchmaking innovations, such as the Oyster, the first waterproof wristwatch, launched in 1926, and the Perpetual rotor self-winding mechanism invented in 1931. Rolex has registered over 400 patents in the course of its history. A truly integrated and independent manufacturing company, Rolex designs, develops and produces in-house all the essential components of its watches, from the casting of the gold alloys to the machining, crafting, assembly and finishing of the movement, case, dial and bracelet. Through philanthropic programmes and a broad palette of sponsorship activities, Rolex is also actively involved in supporting the arts, sports and exploration, and encourages the spirit of enterprise, as well as the conservation of natural environments.
About St. Francis Yacht Club
The St. Francis Yacht Club was founded in 1927 and has been host to many of the most prestigious national and international championships in sailing. With over 40 regattas on its calendar annually, the StFYC is widely regarded as having one of the top racing and race management programs in the country. In addition to enjoying a worldwide reputation for on-water excellence, Platinum Clubs of the World named the St. Francis Yacht Club the Number One Yacht Club in the United States in 2012, 2014 and 2016, and Boardroom Magazine recognized it as the first yacht club to be a Distinguished Emerald Club of the World.
For more information, please visit the Rolex Big Boat Series' website.
All of the regattas hosted by St. Francis Yacht Club meet or exceed Gold Level Clean Regatta status from Sailors for the Sea, the world's only sustainability certification for water-based events. St. Francis Yacht Club utilizes a voluntary, self-assessment tool to benchmark its environmental footprint with goals for reducing waste generated by events and continuously improving the long-term sustainability of the club and the environment.