When it comes to natural sailing amphitheaters, San Francisco Bay is virtually impossible to beat, especially during the Rolex Big Boat Series hosted by the St. Francis Yacht Club, in San Francisco, California. Not only does the Bay present great geographical features for sailors to race around, but the late-September winds have a reputation for greeting each day with relatively calm velocities that climb into the high-teens to mid-20s as the racing unfurls. Best of all, the breeze hits a high note during the final finishes of each day, delivering a postcard-perfect experience for the crowds gathered on StFYC’s Race Deck. To date, the 53rd edition of the Rolex Big Boat Series (September 13-17, 2017) has not disappointed either the sailors or the spectators, as the Bay has been serving up brochure conditions to the 89 entries. Day three of this exciting, every-race-counts regatta was no exception.
“We started with a moderate breeze that filled in as the day progressed, allowing us to get off two great races that challenged crews sailing ability as well as endurance, especially later in the afternoon,” said Jenn Lancaster, StFYC’s Race Director. “After six races, the leaders are consolidating their positions going into tomorrow, which is their final chance to improve their standings."
While it’s impossible to ignore the jaw-dropping Pac52 class, or the fact that Karl Kwok’s Team Beau Geste (IVB 1997) has taken six straight bullets to create a virtually unassailable leaderboard position, the racing action was equally hot among classes such as ORR-B, ORR-C, PHRF Sportboat and the one-design J/70 class, all of which brought their A-games. After all, smart skippers don’t arrive at a gunslinger’s delight like the Rolex Big Boat Series with mere pocketknives in their holsters.
The ORR-B class is comprised of nine boats that range in vintage from a pair of J/44s (including Paul Stemler’s Patriot (USA 97684)), to a fast-looking Sydney 38 and a Club Swan 42, to five J/111s, including Peter Wagner’s Skeleton Key (USA 115), which is fresh off of winning the 2017 J/111 World Championships. ORR-B began their day on the Treasure Island starting area on a long windward-leeward twice-around affair that included a final kite run along the city front as a San Francisco Fire Department fireboat arched its four water cannons high into the midday sky.
The ORR-B class’s second race unfurled on the Alcatraz starting area on a course that brought the fleet out and under the Golden Gate Bridge for a taste of classic northern California sailboat racing. After six completed races, Jeff Pulford’s Sydney 38 Bustin’ Loose (USA 38044) is sitting in the pole position, followed by Doug and Jack Jorgensen’s Picosa (USA 120) and Peter Wagner’s Skeleton Key (USA 115).
Five boats are vying for top honors in the ORR-C class, which has seen Wayne Koide’s Sydney 36 CR Encore (USA 3632) take a gobsmacking six straight bullets to build a scorecard picket fence as enviable as Team Beau Geste’s. And while the ORR-C boats might move through the water, rather than planing over it—Pac52-style—this doesn’t diminish the hefty preparation required to be competitive at an event with as many sharp elbows on the starting lines as the Rolex Big Boat Series.
“We haven’t raced the boat competitively since 2014, so we had to go through all her systems and make sure she was race-ready,” said Gerard Sheridan, owner and skipper of the Elan 40, Tupelo Honey (USA 28908), which is currently sitting in second place. “Rebuilding my crew for this year’s Rolex Big Boat Series was by far the biggest challenge.” While Sheridan estimates that he’s sailing with 70 percent of his regular crew, this hasn’t stopped Tupelo Honey from finding a comfortable berth on the leaderboard, astern of Encore and ahead of Bob Novy’s Custom Frers 40 Jeannette (USA 40646).
Speaking of perfect scorecards, Daniel Thielman’s Melges 32 Kuai (USA 7676) has also claimed six straight bullets. This is no easy feat, especially given the strong ebb tide that collaborated with the building breeze to deliver wet and wild conditions today that likely set the core temperatures of all sportboat crews down a degree or three. Thielman’s Kuai crew is joined at the top of the PHRF Sportboat class’s leaderboard by Julian Mann’s C&C 30 Don’t Panic (USA 30026) and Marc McMorris’s J/88 M Squared (USA 75).
Likewise, the crews aboard the 11-strong J/70 fleet also spent their day keeping their core temperatures warm as the building winds tested their foul-weather gear and their boathandling skills. “Geoff McDonald and I own the boat together, and we’ve been sailing together since 1991 when we were both on the Stanford sailing team,” said Scott Sellers, co-skipper of the J/70 1FA (USA 534). As for the vessel’s somewhat odd moniker, Sellers was circumspect: “That’s a secret among the crew,” he said. “I’ve had a series of boats with donkey-related names, including Swamp Donkey, Donkey Jack and Tres Burritos, and this one is no exception.”
After six races, Chris Snow and John Brigden’s Cool Story Bro. (USA 369) is in first place, followed by Sellers’s 1FA and Pat Toole’s 3 Big Dogs (USA 58).
Racing continues with tomorrow’s Bay Tour, so please visit www.rolexbigboatseries.com for more information about this exciting regatta.