Rolex Big Boat Series Rocks and Rolls Through Day 3

Veteran racers rely on local knowledge while others rely on outright boatspeed

By Sean McNeill

Photo © Rolex / Daniel Forster

SAN FRANCISCO — The marine layer hovering over San Francisco Bay took a while to burn off today, causing a slight delay to racing. Once it cleared, a strong seabreeze gusting upwards of 30 knots filled for Day 3 of Rolex Big Boat Series hosted by St. Francis Yacht Club.

The conditions have been typical for this time of year which has allowed Rolex Big Boat Series veterans to rise to the tops of their classes. Kame Richards (Alameda, Calif.) is one such case. Racing his Express 37 Golden Moon, Richards and crew are the only team of the 127 registrants with a perfect scoreline—all 1sts for six races.

“My secret is that I’m scared to death of failure; don’t screw it up,” Richards said with a hearty laugh. “The Express 37 is like a rockin’ station wagon. It beats very well and the tacking angles are fine—we reached 13 knots boatspeed sailing on the Bay.”

The Express 37 is the oldest class at the Rolex Big Boat Series and has been racing for 26 years. Richards estimates he has raced the regatta 30 to 35 times. Local knowledge is defined as an experienced racer in a proven design, and Richards makes no bones about that advantage.

“You have to see the passing lane in order to set up for it,” Richards said. “Yesterday we rounded a windward mark in 4th but climbed up to 2nd because we set the spinnaker and held low while others were jib-reaching for a while before setting the spinnaker. Once they set, they had to sail a deep run, but we stayed low knowing we were going to be lifted. The dominant boat knows the line.”

© Rolex / Daniel Forster

While experience is paying off for the classes racing off the city front, the J/70 class is racing on the Berkeley Circle in the eastern Bay. There, local knowledge is less of a factor because the current flows more uniformly.

In one of the more compelling battles of the Rolex Big Boat Series, Julian Fernandez Neckelmann’s (Valle de Bravo, Mexico) J/70 Flojito y Cooperando laid down the hammer today, winning all three races to open an 8-point lead over Joel Ronning’s (Excelsior, Minn.) Catapult. The two boats had traded 1st and 2nd through the first two days of racing, but Catapult tripped up in today’s first race, placing 6th, followed by a 2-3.

Holding 3rd place in the J/70s is Chris Kostanecki’s (Ross, Calif.) Jennifer, which has 63 points and trails Flojito by 51 points. Still, Kostanecki is happy with his crew’s performance. “Practice is paying off,” said Kostanecki, who grew up in Darien, Conn., sailing on Long Island Sound. “We’re getting off the line without drama. The first two minutes of the race are critical. It’s so important to get poked out and we’re holding our own.”

Kostanecki was buoyed today because they were trading tacks with Flojito. “We almost got them one race,” he said. “We came to the windward mark with them but they got inside us and just sailed away. They’re so quick changing modes from upwind to downwind. The good thing is we learned what they’re doing downwind: rocking the boat to windward and getting the angle to the waves.”

In the J/120s, David Halliwell’s (New York, N.Y.) Peregrine is putting forth a solid performance. Peregrine has a scoreline of four 1sts and two 2nds for the low score of 8 points, good for a 3-point lead over Barry Lewis’s J/120 Chance

Peregrine helmsman Mike O’Callaghan is another veteran of the Rolex Big Boat Series, having raced at least 20 times. He grew up sailing on the Bay and has raced with some of his crew since he was a teenager. “We’re putting the boat in the right place on the racecourse, getting off the start line well and holding our position.”

Chance won today’s first race, but Peregrine bounced back for the win in the second race. “Chance is no slouch. They got on us in that race and kept driving us back. It’s fun stuff. In another race we passed them on a reach going about 1.5 knots faster, just sailed right over the top of them. We hit 16 knots on that leg. That’s a lot for this boat.”

© Rolex / Daniel Forster

A few classes saw the leader turn over today, including the PHRF Sportboat class in which Paul Dorsey’s (San Francisco, Calif.) Gentoo (Soto 30) overtook Daniel Thielman’s (San Francisco, Calif.) Kuai (Melges 32).

Kuai means “fast” in Chinese, but the gentoo is a penguin and purportedly the fastest diving bird on the planet, reaching speeds up to 22 mph. Today, the penguin was faster than fast—Gentoo posted two 1sts to Kuai’s 2-3 and now leads by 2 points going into the final day.

“We’ve got awesome crew work and smart tactics,” said Dorsey.

The lead also changed hands in the J/105 Class, which is the closest class in the regatta. Philip Laby’s (Oakland, Calif.) Godot started the day in fifth place but leapt to first after posting a 1-2. Godot has 29 points, good for a 2-point lead over Ryan Simmons’s (Sausalito, Calif.) Blackhawk. Bruce Stone’s (San Francisco, Calif.) Arbitrage is in third with 32 points and Rick Goebel’s (San Diego, Calif.) Sanity is in fourth with 33 points.

The California 40 Class (a.k.a. Farr 40) also saw the lead change. Michael Shlens’s (Palos Verdes Estates, Calif.) Blade II finished 3-1 and overtook Tony Pohl’s (Alamo, Calif.) Twisted, which finished 5-2. Blade II now leads by 1 point.

In other classes, the song remained the same: Dan Cheresh’s (Saugatuck, Mich.) Extreme 2 leads the C&C 30 One-Design Class, Victor Wild’s (San Diego, Calif.) Fox (Pac 52) leads ORR A, Tim Fuller’s (Murrieta, Calif.) Resolute (J/125) leads ORR B, Scott Kokka’s (Encinitas, Calif.) Audacity (Morris 52) leads ORR C, and Tom Siebel’s (Redwood City, Calif.) Orion (MOD 70) leads the multihull class.

The regatta concludes tomorrow with the J/70s scheduled to sail two races and all other classes one race, beginning at 11 am PST.