Good wind is almost never in short supply on San Francisco Bay during the Rolex Big Boat Series, and day two of racing at the 53rd edition of this legendary big-air contest (September 13-17, 2017) was no exception, even if it required a one-hour shore-side postponement to allow the breeze to build. But once the starting signals began sounding, the air pressure gathered with the steepening seas, delivering what the 89 registrants came here for: full-on San Francisco Bay conditions that tested each team’s boathandling skills and endurance levels during two races stretching into the late afternoon. And while the wind speed kept ratcheting upwards as the day progressed, so too did racecourse competition levels, especially given the fact there are no discarded races at the Rolex Big Boat Series, meaning that everyone is sailing for keeps.
While the brand-new Pac52 class has been commanding headlines this week, the Rolex Big Boat Series’ heart and soul lies with classes such as J/105s, Express 37s, Farr 40s and J/120, which are crewed by high-level Corinthian teams that have been racing in this regatta for years, if not decades. But make no mistake: many of these crews are also studded with former professional and Olympic-level sailors who, while they may no longer collect paychecks for trimming sails, are still ultra-competitive when it comes to racing against their classmates.
“Unlike short-course windward-leeward racing, the Rolex Big Boat Series uses longer courses that cover diverse parts of the Bay, which makes it possible to make significant navigational gains or losses—where a good move can reap large dividends or an error can prevent you from being able to dig back in by catching a shift,” said Bruce Stone, co-skipper of the J/105 Arbitrage (USA 116). “As a no throw-out regatta, you can’t take fliers or make large mistakes, but good straight-line boat speed is rewarded on the long legs, and any of the top boats who had a bad start will generally be able to make their way back at least to the middle of the pack and can still win the regatta.”
After four races, Chris & Phil Perkins’ Good Timin’ (NZL 35) is topping the J/105 leaderboard, followed by Phillip Laby’s Godot (USA 44) and Adam Spiegel’s Jam Session (USA 434).
Much like 24-boat-strong J/105s, Express 37s aren’t new builds, but their place on a Rolex Big Boat Series starting line is cemented by the class’s deep history on these waters. “The Express 37 fleet started racing in the Rolex Big Boat Series sometime in the mid-1980s, and we’ve competed as a fleet in every edition since then,” said Bartz Schneider, owner and skipper of the Express 37 Expeditious (USA 18478). “No other fleet has even come close.”
Interestingly, while Kame Richards’ Golden Moon (USA 18488) has dominated the Express 37 class in recent years, the defending champions were unable to return this year, placing this always-stout class in the up-for-grabs column. “We have a new dark horse in the fleet,” continued Schneider. “For the first time, Shawn Ivie will be sailing Limitless. Shawn is a highly accomplished sailor who won his division in the 2016 Pacific Cup, so Limitless is probably the boat to watch in our fleet at the Rolex Big Boat Series this year.” As for his own crew, Schneider didn’t have to waste much time making crew introductions. “We’ll be sailing with pretty much the same team we have had for the 30-40 races we have done this year.”
Sandy Andersen Wertanen’s Eclipse (USA 18495) is currently leading the hunt in the Express 37 class, however Schneider’s Expeditious and Jack Peurach’s Elan (USA 87700) are applying ample pressure from astern.
Farr 40s had their time in the spotlight as the hottest 40-footers afloat, and this class still attracts top-notch Corinthian sailors who deliver tight racing. “This is my fourth Rolex Big Boat Series,” said Gordon Leon, the owner and skipper of the Farr 40 Foil (USA 50060). “San Francisco Bay is one of the most challenging and scenic sailing venues, and we’re always rewarded with good weather, strong breezes, and close racing.” James Bradford’s Bright Hour (USA 50092) is currently topping the Farr 40 class’s results page, however with multiple races to go, this class could still be anyone’s game, especially for Michael Shlens’s Blade 2 (USA 37) and Ray Godwin’s Temptress (USA 40050) who are currently sitting in second and third places, respectively.
Skipper David Halliwill and his Peregrine (USA 25487) team won the past three editions of the J/120 class at Rolex Big Boat Series, and after four races the StFYC-flagged team is again topping the leaderboard, followed by Barry Lewis’s Chance (USA 28484) and Stephen Madeira’s Mister Magoo (USA 28289). “The crew is mostly small boat and dinghy sailors that have been sailing together for decades in large competitive fleets,” said Halliwill of his talented crew.
As for the gravity that keeps drawing the Peregrine crew back to this regatta each year, Halliwill echoed the entire regatta’s sentiment: “The high level of competition, the big-breeze and strong-current racing conditions, the camaraderie, and the StFYC and their volunteers—they consistently deliver the best experience in the world.” And, added the skipper with a fine collection of Rolex Big Boat Series trophy hardware, “Winning is fun.” Amen!
Racing continues through Sunday at this Grand Prix-level event, so please stay tuned to www.rolexbigboatseries.com for the latest news, as it breaks.