While the St. Francis Yacht Club’s annual Rolex Big Boat Series has been offering the West Coast’s most competitive fleet racing since 1964, a highlight of the 2017 regatta was the sight of five brand-new Pac52s tearing around San Francisco Bay at speeds well north of 20 knots. Given the superb sailing conditions that the Pac52 class enjoyed during their inaugural Rolex Big Boat Series, it’s not surprising that this West Coast-bred Grand Prix class plans to return to this year’s regatta (September 12-16) with additional numbers on their starting line and with added incentive to sail fast. After all, the winner will sail away with one of the regatta’s six perpetual trophies and its accompanying Rolex chronometer, as well as serious bragging rights going into the class’ annual Pac52 Cup (September 28-30), which is also being hosted by the StFYC.
“Last year we witnessed some stunning sailing and impressive displays of breeze-on boathandling from the Pac52s, and I have no doubt that they’ll be even more competitive this year," said Jenn Lancaster, StFYC's Race Director. “Karl Kwok’s Team Beau Geste won all seven races last year, but I’ll bet that multiple teams will take bullets this year.”
Others agree. “The competition is only getting tougher,” said Tom Holthus, the owner and skipper of BadPak (USA 60052) and the class’ 2017 overall season winner. “There are more boats in the class and lots of rumors of the teams making adjustments to both the boat and crews. We're betting on consistency.”
While consistency, teamwork and vessel preparation are time-honored keys to success at the StFYC’s Rolex Big Boat Series, so too are a commanding knowledge of San Francisco Bay’s tricky tides and currents and real-world experience racing in the famous sea breeze that makes the Bay a world-class regatta venue. Given that the Pac52 class is spending its spring and summer months racing in Southern California, the migration north will require rig tunes and modified tactics.
“San Francisco is a very different venue to other events [of the 2018 season] so I feel it is important to adjust to this venue quickly,” said Gavin Brady, who served as tactician aboard Team Beau Geste (IVB 1997) in 2017 and who will be racing aboard Frank Slootman’s Invisible Hand (USA 5202) for this year’s regatta. “Getting off to a good start is our goal,” he continued. “We did this in 2017, and we were able to hold onto that advantage.”
Fast learning curves are always smart strategy, but Brady isn’t alone in his thinking. “Our goal this year is win the Pac52 Series again,” said Holthus of Bad Pak’s 2018 ambitions. “The Rolex Big Boat Series is huge for us. If we can do well at the Rolex Big Boat Series, we have a real good chance to win the series again.”
Many of the usual Pac52 suspects will be returning to the starting line of this year’s Rolex Big Boat Series, however there have been some important scratch-sheet changes. Notably, Karl Kwok’s Team Beau Geste won’t be competing, however their starting-line spot will be back-filled by new contenders including Austin and Gwen Fragomen’s Interlodge (USA 5210).
“The Rolex Big Boat Series is an event we have discussed for many years, so we’re looking forward to the great competition, big breeze, complex current, and the St. Francis Yacht Club’s hospitality,” said Kristopher Matthews, Interlodge’s boat captain, adding that the Newport, Rhode Island-based team plans to participate in the Pac52 class’ Southern California events before arriving in San Francisco ahead of the Rolex Big Boat Series to acclimatize to local conditions.
All told, at least eight Pac52s are expected at this year’s Rolex Big Boat Series, up from the five class flags that flew in 2017. “The Pac52 class is showing steady growth with new boats scheduled to join at various points throughout the 2018 season,” said Pac52 class manager Julie Servais. “This growth matches what we saw last season: As things heated-up throughout the year, new teams would join the class. This is helped by the amazing venue of San Francisco Bay and the great hospitality of St. Francis Yacht Club at the world-famous Rolex Big Boat Series.”
While all competing Rolex Big Boat Series teams are well-served to log some practice sessions on the Bay before warning flags are hoisted, savvy teams should also register before June 1 to guarantee their spot on the starting line and at the nightly parties and social events and receive preferred-rate pricing. Teams that sign up between June 2 and August 1 will pay full freight, while stragglers registering after August 1 will face financial penalty turns in the form of a late-entry fee.
Festivities and pre-racing events are set to begin on Wednesday, September 12 and will conclude Sunday afternoon, September 16. Weather depending, the Rolex Big Boat Series will feature two races per day for the regatta’s first three days of racing and a final “Bay tour” race on Sunday, which will be balanced with five nights of guaranteed socializing and celebration. So, if you and your crew are up for the challenge, competition and fun that this world-class regatta represents, register soon and arrive early, as the StFYC’s Rolex Big Boat Series has a long history of rewarding teams that bring their A-game to its storied waters.