It’s not often that Mother Nature’s agenda perfectly aligns with a regatta’s racing schedule, but that’s exactly what unfurled for the first day of racing in the St. Francis Yacht Club’s 54th annual Rolex Big Boat Series (September 12-16, 2018). The 76 participating teams hoisted sail in 12-15 knot breezes and flat seas for their first race of the West Coast’s most prestigious regatta. Warm sunshine and a flooding tide ensured that the good times only compounded as the day unfurled and the breeze slowly but consistently built, eventually just knocking the tops off the waves to punctuate San Francisco Bay with sporadic white caps.
And while the racers more or less stayed dry (by San Francisco Bay standards, of course), the smiles were visible from multiple boat lengths away as teams put their steeds through the paces, their sails staying powered-up throughout both of the day’s races.
“I’m really excited about all three ORR classes,” says Susan Ruhne, regatta co-chair of the Rolex Big Boat Series, about the week’s racing. “It’s the most robust and competitive handicap fleet that we’ve had in years. I’m also excited about the first race of each day, as some fleets will have their finishes off of the Race Deck. This is new and it will bring racing to the clubhouse windows.”
Sailors competing in Class ORR-B began their day on the Treasure Island racecourse, and while the flood tide effectively lengthened each beat, the fastest teams did a great job finding maximum current relief along the Cityfront.
“This is my third or fourth Rolex Big Boat Series, but it’s my first time doing it as just the Big Boat Series and not as a pre-Worlds,” says Charlie Enright, who is serving as tactician aboard Julian Mann’s C&C 30, Don’t Panic (USA 30026), and who served as skipper of Vestas 11th Hour Racing in the 2017/2018 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race. “We left the dock yesterday afternoon at 4:30 PM and we came back in at 6:15 PM,” jokes Enright about the team’s pre-Rolex Big Boat Series preparations. “We sailed the boat for two weeks in the Caribbean this spring, and the owner Julian Mann, is an old friend and even came and sailed Leg Zero of the Volvo Ocean Race with us aboard Vestas 11th Hour Racing from Plymouth, England to Saint Malo, France.”
When pressed for the team’s favorite conditions, Enright points squarely at today’s conditions: “We like 18 knots and flat seas,” he says, adding that, “our strategy is to get better as the week goes on, [make] no big mistakes and keep it close, like in golf.”
These flat, fast waters offered opportunities for huge leaderboard changes, especially in the Pac52s with the straggler in the first race, Invisible Hand (USA 5202), reversing fortunes to win the second. Gary Panariello’s Courageous (USA 77) and Marc McMorris in M Squared (USA 75) mixed up first and seconds in the J/88 fleet. Two boats dominated their classes: David Halliwill’s J/120 Peregrine (USA 25487) in ORR C and Kame Richards’ Express 37 Golden Moon (USA 18488).
The Express 37 class has served as one of the Rolex Big Boat Series’ true beating hearts for several decades and sailed their second race of the day on the Alcatraz Race Course, out under the Golden Gate Bridge, passing several humpback whales en route and hugging the Bay’s north shores for current relief as they charged into a growing breeze that at times registered as high as 18 knots.
“We pay no attention to the weather,” says Richards, a former (and repeat) Rolex Big Boat Series perpetual trophy winner. “You can spend a lot of energy on stuff that you don’t have any control over. We leave the dock saying that these conditions are the best [conditions]—we’re not looking for any specific conditions, we just want to go sailing.”
Instead, explains Richards, the team focuses on the variables that they can directly influence. “Our strategy is good communication—we want to make sure that everyone knows what the next play is, and we want to sail with our heads out of the boat and be ready,” he says. “We’re a group of friends who like sailing together. We prepare [for the Rolex Big Boat Series] with beer can racing at Oakland Yacht Club, and we don’t stress too much about preparing. We have a few new sails, but not lots of practice.”
While this strategy might not work for all teams, Richards’ two wins today speak volumes for the kinds of onboard communication that he and his friends have developed and fostered over their years of racing—and winning Rolex watches and beer-can races—together. “Our measure of success is good mark roundings,” says Richards. “It’s not about finishing in first, second or last place; it’s about sailing the boat well. That’s always our goal. There are some very good sailors here and it’s a non-trivial regatta, so we’re going to do the best that we can do.”
Judging by all empirical evidence, Richards and his Golden Moon team can be proud of more than just their day’s mark roundings, but with five additionally scheduled races over the next three days of sailing, complacency has no spot aboard any boat in any Rolex Big Boat Series class.
Racing continues tomorrow, Friday, September 14, with the first guns scheduled to sound at 1100 hours, and sailors should again enjoy similarly great late-summer winds and (relatively) flat flood-tide waters tomorrow. Please visit www.stfyc.com for the latest news about this exciting regatta, as it becomes known.
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.
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.