Burgees flutter and spectra halyards slap against carbon-fiber and aluminum masts on 89 highly tuned raceboats assembled at the St. Francis Yacht Club for the 53rd edition of the Rolex Big Boat Series (September 13-17, 2017). This marks the West Coast’s premier regatta and one of the international sailing circuit’s most celebrated and anticipated Grand Prix events. To say that there’s a crackle of excitement in the late summer air as crews complete their final pre-race preparations is akin to saying that it can sometimes get a “bit windy” on San Francisco Bay, where racing is set to unfurl over the next four days.
While the competition is always stiff at this high-level regatta, all eyes are on the five brand-new Pac52s, one of the newest and hottest monohull classes afloat. This red-hot fleet was revealed at last year’s Rolex Big Boat Series, and the owner-driver class has grown rapidly. Award-ceremony recognition may go to the top three boats in each class, but amongst Pac52 sailors, which include some of the biggest names in professional sailing, nobody will waste time swooning over the bride’s maids.
The StFYC Race Committee has split the impressive entry list into eleven classes consisting of six one-design fleets (11 J/70s, 24 J/105s, five J/120s, six Farr 40s, seven Express 37s and five Pac52s), three ORR fleets (nine ORR-A entrants, nine ORR-B boats and five ORR-C entrants), a six-strong PHRF sportboat class and a multihull class that includes Tom Siebel’s lightning-quick MOD70 trimaran, Orion, which holds the distinction of being the biggest racecourse weapon on this year’s scratch sheet.
While all sailors compete for the respect of their peers, it’s no secret that one of the plumpest plums at all Rolex-sponsored regattas is the chance to win a Rolex timepiece, and six classes—Farr 40s, J/105s, ORR-A, ORR-B, ORR-C classes and the brand-new Pac 52s—will be competing for an engraved Swiss-made Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner chronometer. Additionally, these same six winning boats will also be honored with an engraving on the perpetual trophies, which reside in the StFYC clubhouse.
This year, the Atlantic Perpetual Trophy, which is the ship’s bell from the Transatlantic-record-breaking schooner Atlantic (1905), will be awarded to the winner of the ORR-B class; the City of San Francisco Trophy, which consists of one of two golden spades that were used during the 1933 ground-breaking ceremony for the Golden Gate Bridge, will be awarded to the winner of Pac52 class; the Commodore’s Cup will be awarded to the winner of the largest one-design class, the 24-boat-strong J/105s, and the Keefe-Kilborn Trophy (established 1976) honors the memory of the late StFYC members Harold Keefe and Ray Kilborn, and will go to the winner of the ORR-C class. Additionally, the Richard Rheem Perpetual Trophy, which honors the longtime StFYC club member and skipper of Morning Star—the yacht that proudly broke the Transpac course record in 1949 and 1953—will be presented to the winner of Farr 40 class, while the St. Francis Perpetual Trophy, which was first awarded at the 1964 inaugural Rolex Big Boat Series, will be presented to the winner of the ORR-A class.
While trophy talk has certainly been a component of dock chatter leading up to tomorrow’s racing, course shape is another popular topic, given that Jenn Lancaster, the St. Francis Yacht Club’s Race Director, has 78 possible courses to choose from as she determines the week’s racing agenda. “We’re going to set courses that challenge the sailors while also providing plenty of tactical opportunities,” said Lancaster. “I’ve got a lot of course options available for varying conditions and starting areas, with the goal of giving people experience in all conditions on the Bay.”
Lancaster will be working closely with Peter and Anderson Reggio, the well-respected father and son Principal Race Officer team. “Our job is all about fairness and giving the sailors what they want while considering what the weather and the venue will allow,” said Peter Reggio about the work that he and Anderson will be doing during this week’s Rolex Big Boat Series. “Currently, the plan is to run two races each day for most classes, with the traditional Bay Tour race to wrap up the event on Sunday.”
Racing is set to commence tomorrow, Thursday, September 14, with the first warnings sounding at 1100 hours, and will continue through Sunday, September 17. America’s Cup- and Volvo Ocean Race-winning navigator Stan Honey will be giving a North Sails-sponsored weather briefing to all crews at 0800 hours tomorrow morning to help prepare for the week’s racing. Please visit www.rolexbigboatseries.com for the latest news about this exciting regatta, as it becomes known.
All photos © Rolex / Daniel Forster