It’s hard to find a purer form of sailing than a lineup of polished teams on identical platforms, all with an equal shot at racecourse glory. This is precisely what makes One Design racing the heart and soul of the St. Francis Yacht Club’s annual Rolex Big Boat Series. From September 12-16, top teams will race in at least seven different One Design fleets, as well as several highly-competitive handicap fleets, making this the West Coast’s most competitive regatta. J/88s, J/105s, J/111s, Express 37s, J/120s, Farr 40s and Pac 52s have all met the NOR requirement of six or more entrants. Other classes that register by the upcoming July 31 deadline will be eligible for their own start – and beat the late entry fee.
Held on San Francisco Bay’s beautiful, but always challenging waters, prepared teams who know how to press their boats hard will benefit from the conditions by creating micro-advantages in fleets that define the term “stacked.”
“Two important factors draw sailors to his event,” says StFYC Commodore Theresa Brandner, skipper of J/105 Walloping Swede (USA 157). “One is the Rolex sponsorship, which the StFYC appreciates immensely. The other is the combination of our unparalleled sailing venue, with extreme winds and variable currents, which presents an unusually challenging scenario for even the most experienced sailors. Add to that the depth of talent on the crews, the large number of fleets, the seasoned rivalries and the adrenaline of the race to the finish, and you have the complete Rolex Big Boat Series package.”
Registration remains open after July 31, however late-entry fees will apply. The J/105 class has shown impressive pre-event motivation, with 22 boats currently registered and more expected.
“We love racing in the big fleet—it’s without a doubt one of the most attractive aspects to racing J/105s,” says Ryan Simmons, skipper of Blackhawk (USA 40). “It’s our biggest regatta of the year and something we all enjoy being a part of.”
Others agree. “The Rolex Big Boat Series is the preeminent regatta on the West Coast and arguably in the U.S.,” says Ian Charles, skipper of the J/105 Maverick (USA 385). “The StFYC does a truly exceptional job at producing, hosting and managing, which makes it a ‘must-not-miss’ event if you have the ability and the opportunity to compete in it.”
Charles should know, having recently returned to the class and the Rolex Big Boat Series after a 12-year hiatus spent competing in Ironman Triathlons. “I bought my [boat] in August last year on the East Coast and had it shipped out to the West Coast in anticipation of the 2018 racing season,” he says, adding that—depending on how Maverick’s crew weight pencils-out—he hopes to draft his wife and two sons, aged 13 and 16. “I’ve [finished in] second place at the Rolex Big Boat Series twice in the past, so stepping onto the top of the podium this year is the number-one goal for me and our team.”
While there’s no question that it takes serious talent to be a two-time bridesmaid in the Rolex Big Boat Series’ largest One Design class, all teams competing in this legendary regatta will face their share of physical and metaphoric starboard-tackers come September’s racing. “The competition is tough, mark roundings are intense and we all want to hear the finish gun first,” says Commodore Brandner. “It’s a regatta sailed by the best and bravest. This year, leading the StFYC fleet as Commodore, combined with racing in the Bay Area’s largest One Design fleet, brings a great deal of pride to me.”
While not all classes can draw the numbers of the J/105 fleet, the J/88 class pulled enough entries to enjoy their inaugural Rolex Big Boat Series as a One Design class.
“I think it changes our approach preparations in that we need to practice, practice, practice as best we can given the short time remaining,” says Aya Yamanouchi, skipper of the J/88 Benny (79169). “We're a new boat and new team still gelling… We're presently planning to race in the StFYC’s Aldo Alessio and Phyllis Kleinman Swiftsure Cup [August 17-19] as a warm-up, and hopefully some of the other J/88s will come out so we can get a 'sneak-preview' of the Rolex Big Boat Series.”
Weather depending, the StFYC aims to score seven races at this year’s Rolex Big Boat Series, with two scheduled races per class per day from Thursday through Saturday, followed by Sunday’s planned “Bay Tour” race. While the StFYC’s Race Committee can’t promise big breeze and blue skies, they can ensure world-class racecourse management, engaging evening entertainment and a great awards ceremony. Caveat Emptor: entry fees go up on August 1, so register now to ensure preferred-rate pricing and your team’s spot on the line.
Rolex, the Swiss watch brand headquartered in Geneva, enjoys an unrivalled reputation for quality and expertise the world over. 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. Rolex is also actively involved in supporting the arts, sports, exploration, the spirit of enterprise, and the environment through a broad palette of sponsoring activities, as well as philanthropic programs.
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.
Article by Amanda Witherell
St. Francis Yacht Club