Front Rudder – by Mark Reid
Save The Best For Next Year!
The 56th edition of the Rolex Big Boat Series has been put on hold until next year. It is only the second time that it has been canceled in its history. The first was with the tragic events of 9/11/2001 and now obviously COVID-19. But with the raging fires in our area and visibility along with air quality at historic lows, it’s doubtful the St. Francis Yacht Club could have pulled off this year’s event anyway.
It has been a tough one for California this year with little or no end in sight. For all of us who champion life by and on the sea, solace can usually be found tacking back and forth towards the Golden Gate Bridge into a strong but steady breeze.
Then spinning around, hoisting our colors and cracking a cold beer for a fast surf ride back into the emerald and turquoise waters of San Francisco Bay then maybe onwards into the muddier brownish waters of the Delta where you can toss off the sweatshirt, layer up on sunscreen and frolic in 90 plus temperatures.
There is not one person who isn’t excited to put 2020 in the rearview mirror and move on from this monstrosity. In more ways than one!
It isn’t just the sailing events that have been missed. For me race weekend and the following days was a harbinger of sensory delights as I would zigzag from one end of the Bay Area to the other. For much of the decade it was on a bike. Yes, all the way up to Sears Point for the IndyCar races, then bus or BART over to Berkeley for the Cal Bears. Though in recent years the pep rallies in front of Sproul Hall were just as enjoyable!
Then of course, when the RBBS concluded. The America’s Cup had finally wrapped up. IndyCar’s season was over as the champagne gave way to wine, especially for the wives and families it was on to Golden Gate Park with 400,000 other revelers to enjoy the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival which was a free-for-all in more ways than one!
With the cancellation and going through the thousands of pictures I have taken of the event, I thought it would be fun to scrapbook my decade of the RBBS from 2011 on to highlight some of the incredible action which took place and remember much of the event’s storied history.
It started with my rearrival in 2011 after dropping my son off in Santa Barbara, which quickly became LA for college. It had been more than 30 years since my last Big Boat Series on the Bay and much had changed.
But getting back on the water and chasing these beautiful boats around Alcatraz hadn’t. Many of the players were still in play. A little grayer like me, but also a lot savvier and smarter about what it takes to be first around the buoy or gate.
There is nothing more enjoyable than bouncing around the Bay on a kidney buster, trying to hold my camera in place as the pulsating action was quicker than my finger. It definitely took a few legs, days and years before I got the hang of taking a decent picture. I shudder at the thought or some of the images of the past.
The formula used to be for me that I would get six or seven good shots per roll of film. But you wouldn’t know it until that night or the next day. Clearly digital photography was a revolution for photographers, just like the laptop was for writers.
2011 was a Groovederci RBBS year in more ways than one. The Farr 30s World Championships were on tap and those luscious ruby red lips that adorn the boat and spinnakers did not disappoint. Neither did the ferocious winds of the final races that weekend. Thirty plus was the norm, and even for seasoned sailors it was a white-knuckle affair.
When the inevitable occurred and the 2020 Rolex Big Boat Series was canceled, St. Francis Yacht Club Commodore Ken Glidewell’s words spoke volumes.
“These are difficult times, and this was a difficult decision, but as a socially responsible member of both our local community and the greater sailing community, it was the right decision for the yacht club and all involved,” Glidewell said.
“Up until the final decision was made, we were fully vested in planning to safely race in 2020,” says Rolex Big Boat Series Regatta Chair Susan Ruhne. “We were encouraged by the 51 skippers who had registered to compete and we had plans in place to mitigate the risk of contracting COVID-19. We weren’t giving up, but reality is not something we can avoid.”
The event was also to serve as the J/88 North American Championships and the Express 37 Pacific Coast Championships. “This would have been the 30th anniversary for the Express 37s, a class that’s been incredibly competitive on our racecourse,” said Ruhne. “We’re sorry we won’t see them this year, but we look forward to next year.”
The next Rolex Big Boat Series is scheduled for Sept. 15-19, 2021.
Since 1964, the Rolex Big Boat Series has been cancelled only one other time: in 2001 after the attack on the World Trade Center, which occurred two days before the start of the regatta. Competitors flying in from New Zealand were turned around midair with no explanation until they landed back in Auckland. That year would have been the biggest field of boats competing in the regatta’s history.
“The St. Francis Yacht Club and Rolex Big Boat Series have been around for a long time and we will be here well past the era of COVID-19. We can take a year off in the name of safety for our sailors, our members and our community,” said Commodore Glidewell. “We look forward to seeing you in 2021.”
Widely regarded as the West Coast’s premier regatta, the Rolex Big Boat Series attracts world-caliber competitors for four days of buoy racing on San Francisco Bay. This is St. Francis Yacht Club’s signature event, featuring racing under ORR, HPR, and BAMA (multihull) handicaps plus multiple one-design classes. Spectators have a ringside view.
In 1964, young Bob “RC” Keefe convinced Commodore Stan Natcher that St. Francis Yacht Club should create a series to showcase big boat talent from points around the compass. The first regatta welcomed nine yachts from Southern and Northern California.
Jim Wilhite’s S&S 63 yawl Athene won the regatta and, with it, the inaugural St. Francis Perpetual Trophy.
Since its inception, the Big Boat Series has been a standard-bearer, showcasing top talent and frequently, boats from around the world. As sailing trends evolve, so does the regatta. It remains on the cutting edge of sailing by continually adding new classes and championships to its lineup.
It hosted the glory days of IOR and IMS racing. It has accommodated Maxis, Sleds and America’s Cup class boats as well as fiercely competitive one-design racing. The event survived the economic ups and downs of the 1980s and soared in entries in the late 90s and early 2000s, reaching a record 115 entries in 2003.
In 2004 St. Francis Yacht Club initiated the use of the IRC handicap formula for entries 35-feet or longer, and in 2005 after three years as presenting sponsor, Rolex Watch U.S.A. became the regatta’s title sponsor.
Throughout the 2000s, the Big Boat Series served double duty for national and world championships including Rolex US-IRC Nationals (2009), Melges 32 Pre-Worlds (2010), Farr 30 Worlds (2011) and US-IRC North Americans (2012.) In 2013 the event directly succeeded the 34th America’s Cup on San Francisco Bay, serving as the HPR National Championship, the J/120 North American Championship, the IRC West Coast Championship and the pre-worlds for the Melges 24 Class.
2014 was the 50th Anniversary, a marquee year for Rolex Big Boat Series. Ninety-nine teams competed in ten classes. Alex Ropers, recipient of the Richard Rheem Perpetual Trophy remarked, “This is one of the most spectacular venues in the world. The breeze is so ‘on’, the vistas are incredible, and with the organization of the St. Francis Yacht Club this is an absolutely outstanding event.”
Each year, Rolex Big Boat Series presents six perpetual trophies to the winners of six distinct classes. The trophies are some of the oldest in St. Francis Yacht Club’s history:
St. Francis Perpetual Trophy: This trophy was introduced at the very first Big Boat Series in 1964, when there were nine yachts competing. After a narrow victory over Jim Kilroy’s Kialoa II, Jim Wilhite’s Athene claimed the trophy. The trophy itself was donated by an anonymous benefactor in 1966. It was destroyed in our 1976 fire and replaced with a substitute.
City of San Francisco Trophy: In 1968, the De Young Museum of San Francisco loaned the club one of the two golden spades used in 1933 to break ground for the Golden Gate Bridge. Hence this coveted trophy. The inaugural winner was the sloop Alpha.
The Atlantic Perpetual: Established in 1978, this trophy is the ship’s bell of the schooner, Atlantic, trans-Atlantic record holder from 1905 to 1997. Introduced to Big Boat Series in 1978, the inaugural winner was Bill Sullivan’s Peterson 43, Blue Norther.
The Keefe-Kilborn Trophy: Established in 1976 to honor the memory of the late St. Francis Yacht Club members, Harold Keefe and Ray Kilborn, the inaugural trophy went to Lucian Taylor’s Peterson 40, Racy.
Richard Rheem Perpetual Trophy: Established in 1972 to honor the memory of Richard Rheem, whose celebrated yacht, Morning Star, set Transpac course records in 1949 and 1955. The inaugural winner was Bill Clute’s Ericson 39, Chiquita.
Commodore’s Cup: Added in 2004, the Commodore’s Cup is awarded to the winner of the one-design fleet with the largest number of entries. Chris Perkins and Dave Wilson’s J/105, Good Timin’, won the inaugural.
Founded in 1927, St. Francis Yacht Club is steeped in over 90 years of yachting traditions. Through the years, the Club has always served the sport and anchored the international game of yachting on San Francisco Bay.
From the beginning, St. Francis Yacht Club’s membership roster has included many of the Bay Area’s most prominent citizens and greatest sailors. Today, sailors such as Paul Cayard, John Kostecki, John Bertrand, Stan Honey, Morgan Larson, Johnny Heineken, Daniela Moroz, Paige Railey, Nicole Breault and Russ Silvestri continue to keep St. Francis in the forefront of sailing.
The Club’s annual regatta schedule is one of the most active in the world. Part of the attraction of racing at St. Francis Yacht Club is the excellent and challenging year-round conditions unique to San Francisco Bay. Both physically beautiful and naturally demanding, the Bay provides a racer with the ultimate in wind, current and weather conditions for truly competitive, exciting sailing.
The clubhouse provides a boating and social venue for members and their guests featuring deep-water guest docks, outstanding dining and incredible vistas of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay. The second floor Race Deck is the premier location to view yacht racing on the renowned City Front.
With the skyline of San Francisco, even with the butt ugly Sales Force Tower and with the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop, St. Francis Yacht Club prides itself on providing visitors with every comfort and amenity while dazzling them with spectacular surroundings.
2011 was all about Deneen Demourkas knocking off her husband, John, a family affair as she drove Groovederci into victory lane nipping barking mad at the end in a strong wind. The James Bond inspired TP52 Vesper Jim Swartz set the stage for the beginning of the Pacific 52 era.
Then in 2012 wow, what to say! We had the RBBS. The America’s Cup World Series and Fleet week all rolled into an action-packed whiz-bang month. While the walloping winds from the previous year largely stayed away, it soon was what it was as advertised as billed with Donkey Jack cleaning up the J105’s over “waiting for” Godot.
That year also saw the largest multihull fleet in the event’s history as seven hit the starting line on opening day! The standings in the end reflected the dominance of Commodore Peter Stoneberg’s Shadow, a ProCat 40.
In 2013 the America’s Cup “Hotel California” may have just concluded, but with the four day RBBS will pick up right where the giant AC75 catamarans left off.
With 107 teams registered to compete, the event will host over 600 competitors sailing in IRC and HPR handicap divisions, as well as five one-design classes (Melges 24, J/105, J/120, J/70 and Express 37) and – what everyone craves more of now – a performance multihull class.
“Our priority as the very first regatta to succeed the 34th America’s Cup here on San Francisco Bay has been to include as many classes and championships as possible while improving on the event’s multiple race courses to benefit the competition and the spectator experience,” said Regatta Chair Norman Davant. “Sailors have been anxious to get their racing real estate back, and we intend to give them an epic racing experience.”
For 49 years the annual event has captured for its competitors the thrill of sailing in a famous venue with even more famous winds; thus, there is always plenty of fast action for spectators to enjoy from multiple vantage points around the Bay including St. Francis Yacht Club’s own race deck, which serves as one end of the finish lines in each day’s final race.
A traditional “Bay Tour” finale, the single long race that wraps up each class’s series and determines final winners the fleet’s final push to the finish was tame in comparison to previous days when boat speeds were jacked up by brisk breezes and a strong flood tide, but the end result was all that mattered.
“It’s one of the more challenging race courses in the world,” said Jim Swartz (Park City, Utah) about San Francisco Bay in general, “which we saw over the last few weeks (with the America’s Cup) that’s why we’re here.”
Sailing in IRC A, Swartz’s TP 52 Vesper added yet another victory to six others posted before it, and with that accomplishment the team not only received the St. Francis Perpetual Trophy but also the distinction of being named 2013 IRC West Coast Champion. (The team was named 2012 IRC North American champion at last year’s Rolex Big Boat Series.)
Vesper sailed head-to-head with Isao Mita’s (Kanagawa, Japan) TP 52 Beecom, while five teams sailed in IRC Class B and six sailed in Class D. Sy Kleinman’s Swiftsure (Saratoga, Calif.) won five of seven races to claim the City of San Francisco Trophy in IRC Class B.
Perhaps the most toughly contested battle here was in the J/120 class, where Barry Lewis’ Chance pegged an early regatta lead but wound up tied on points with final winner, Mr. Magoo, going into the final day.
The dead air lingering at the eastern end of the Bay wreaked havoc on the J/120 fleet when it caused them to come to a screeching halt at their bottom mark. Chance, which had been leading comfortably, was overwhelmed by a flock of J/105s that descended on its territory, and only the luckiest boats escaped the pile up unscathed.
In particular, while everyone was drifting, Mr. Magoo wiggled away to victory and by one point in overall scoring won the J/120 National Championship as well as the Keefe-Kilborn Perpetual Trophy.
The J/105 Blackhawk, skippered by Scooter Simmons (Belvedere, Calif.), managed a sixth to maintain its lead in that class, the next largest fleet (22 entries) here and take home the Atlantic Perpetual Trophy.
Breaking with the tradition of allowing only boats of 30 feet and longer to compete, this year’s regatta welcomed the emerging J/70 class and the Melges 24s which sailed their “Pre-Worlds” in preparation for their World Championships the following week.
In 2014 the RBBS was getting ready for another 50 years as the 50th anniversary edition of the event which has hosted hundreds of sailors on 99 teams, rotating onto three strategically placed race circles that triangulated the constant wind and tide challenges of the largest Pacific estuary in the Americas.
Having developed stadium sailing long before the America’s Cup made it a local colloquialism, the StFYC has ensured fast fun for spectators as well as competitors by designing each day’s second race (always sailed in a blustering afternoon breeze) to finish within cheering distance of the clubhouse’s famous second-story race deck that commands attention east to Alcatraz Island and west to a sun-drenched, or alternately fog-enshrouded, Golden Gate Bridge.
There is one person who can tell the full story of the Rolex Big Boat Series in amazing detail starting from its humble beginnings. It is the man whose idea it was to start it back in the 1960s: St. Francis Yacht Club’s Staff Commodore (1975) Robert C. Keefe, who at the age of 84 has been a member for 65 years and remembers the early days of the then-called St. Francis Perpetual Trophy Series as if it were yesterday.
As a traveling sales manager for (and eventually President of) Barient Winches, Keefe spent plenty of time in Southern California getting to know the area’s principal yachtsmen. Recognizing that the respective collections of fine yachts there and in Northern California should get together, he suggested establishing a race. It was 1963, and there would be time to organize it for 1964.
“The Commodore said it wasn’t the worst idea in the world, but we needed an organizer, someone to ramrod this,” said Keefe, who was the natural choice for filling the role. “The Southern California sailors said ‘we’d really like to do it, but we have to stay on our home waters for the events on our sailing calendar. When it tapers off later in the year, we’ll come to San Francisco.’ That’s how September came about.”
That first year, the yacht club invited 25 boats to sail in its series, the vast majority of them over 60-feet long. “They were mostly from Southern California, but we asked some from New York, Florida, Boston… not so much because we thought they’d drop in, but we wanted to play with the big boys. We ended up with four from here and four from Southern California.”
The inaugural regatta was raced on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday so the out-of-town sailors could go back and forth to their offices. “That worked well, and in ’65 a few more boats came from San Diego, some from Seattle… even Storm Vogel arrived from Holland, sailing through the Golden Gate.
In ’67, the regatta ran a little out of gas only because California boats began going to the Eastern Seaboard to race, but we still had a big fleet of 50-footers (about 20), so we created a second trophy for them.
Then in 1970, big boats matriculated back to the West Coast.
Keefe continued “ramrodding” the event for ten years, and it was his and his fellow club members’ fine salesmanship that convinced some of the greatest boats of all time to compete.
They included the 67-foot yawl Chabasco from Newport Beach and John B. (Jim) Kilroy’s various Los Angeles based Kialoas (Kialoa II competed in the inaugural event, finishing second to Jim Wilhite’s 63-foot Sparkman & Stephens yawl Athene, which won the original St. Francis Perpetual Trophy.)
“Jim was the guy who would say ‘this has got to be the best place in the world for this kind of sailing,’” said Keefe. “This is no hurricane gulch, but certainly we have 15, 18, 20 knots every day. Then if you want light air, you can go over to Marin County and on the same day have 10-12 knots of breeze. The range of wind the gods gave us here in San Francisco did wonderful things for us. We had this wonderful asset.”
Keefe recalls the very first race of the first series, which started at noon and went out under the Golden Gate Bridge into the ocean. “We didn’t get back until midnight. God love it out there, but besides being cold, wet and miserable, that’s not what the sailors had come for. They wanted to have good, fair racing in our little puddle right out there between the bridges and on the waterfront here,” said Keefe, pointing to the water that famously laps at the club’s northern facing side and presents the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island in one sweeping glance.
Keefe also remembers the endearing moments that are typical of those that keep many participants coming back year after year, if not decade after decade. “Roy Disney had many occasions to have his boats here (Shamrock and various Pyewackets.)
The first year Rolex was a presenting sponsor it was opening night and there was a watch display out front. When I went by, what was sitting on top of the glass case but a Mickey Mouse watch with a nice little stand and a big dial. That really kind of broke everyone up. I thought it was hilarious, but Roy never admitted to it; maybe his crew cooked it up.”
“We have a lot of fun,” said Keefe. “That’s one reason these guys come back. It’s an enjoyable experience the racing, the club and San Francisco itself.”
2015 brought “passion plays on the Bay” as when one looks past what is now so obvious after 51 years of this regatta making a name for itself, there is something much deeper to be found. It is a profound spirit of adventure mixed with passion for achievement that is reflected here, as it is at all Rolex-sponsored events around the globe, whether in yachting, motor sports, tennis, golf, equestrianism, the arts or exploration.
As for the Melges being the smallest boat here at 24-feet, it is still a keelboat as opposed to the “dinghies” and on the opposite end of the size spectrum, at 78-feet, is perhaps one of the most famous big boats in the world: the Sparkman and Stephens designed Kialoa III, sailing in ORR B. From the mid- to late-1970s and ’80s, the yacht accumulated more sailing trophies and records than just about any other campaign, including an elapsed time record in a downwind Sydney Hobart Race that was held for 21 years.
She was recently bought by a syndicate of enthusiasts who formed the K3 Foundation to restore her and revisit many of the races that made the boat so legendary in ocean racing circles. (Kialoa III competed in the St. Francis Big Boat Series in ’76 and ’78.)
“It’s an amazing boat with a lot of history, and it’s quite special to sail her here – our first regatta – with the other big boats, especially the multihulls, which show the development of sailing over the years,” said tactician Roy Heiner, a sailor from The Netherlands who has represented his country four times at the Olympics, spent three years on the World Match Racing Tour and has three Volvo Ocean Races and an America’s Cup campaign on his resume.
Heiner explained that in taking Kialoa III back as much as possible to her former condition, there is not much room for upgrading. “We have a lot of speed, but not a lot of height in sailing to windward, so we’re currently sitting sixth (out of six), but the thought is to inspire people to go sailing as she travels all over the world.”
Lynn Lynch, the longtime StFYC Race Director penned and explained what it takes to run a RBBS.
“Throughout my career in sailing race management, one of the best parts has been witnessing the behind-the-scenes operations that go into running complex regattas,” wrote Lynch. “Every event has its own specific aura and its own set of challenges and rewards. When I worked at Chicago Yacht Club, the Race to Mackinac presented a slew of hurdles.”
“Namely, how do you get 300 boats safely across 333 nautical miles of Lake Michigan from Chicago to an island with no cars, spotty power, a harbor built for 60 boats and finishes that occur 24 hours a day for multiple days?
“Now, as Race Director at the St. Francis Yacht Club, I’ve learned that the (RBBS) is equally capable of presenting its own unique hurdles. From dodging 1,000+ foot container ships to sending 10 classes on different Bay tours without running them into each other, it regularly provides excitement for the organizers.
“The secret to any successful event is planning,” said Lynch. “That is something St. Francis has perfected. Within weeks of the conclusion of one RBBS, the planning commences for the next. There are the obvious tasks that the committee handles: fleet outreach and recruitment, course development, party planning, media relations, race committee volunteers, international jury organization and trophies. And there are the logistical tasks that the Race Department handles: permits, dockage and support boats.
“Then, there are the behind-the-scenes tasks you might not know are happening. Volunteers laminate bag tags, attach lanyards to crew badges and pack 100 skipper bags. On the docks they greet arriving boats, direct them to their slips and apply bow stickers. The front desk hands out guest cards.
“The kitchen is all-hands-on-deck prepping the week’s food. Support trailers fill the parking lot. Media descends to set up camp, cameras, TVs and drones. Coral Reef Apparel builds a pop-up merchandise store. Rolex representatives deck out the club in sponsor colors and decorations. At the regatta entrance of the Club, the red carpet gets rolled out – literally – to welcome sailors and guests.
“One of the biggest tasks is dividing the boats up into sections to compete for the coveted Rolex timepieces. There are a lot of facets that influence these much-anticipated section breaks. We start with the ratings themselves and then consider additional research about boat type, race history and fleet preference. The final decisions come only after extensive consideration and reconsideration. Finally, at the Commodore’s Reception following the skippers’ meeting, the sections are revealed. And it’s off to the races.
“The first boats on the water on Thursday are race committee volunteers who set marks for two race courses. Throughout each day there are no fewer than 60 volunteers and 10 support boats on the water. While many regattas stick to windward-leeward courses using dropped marks, RBBS runs windward-leeward courses in the mornings using a combination of dropped and fixed marks, and long-distance Bay tour courses in the afternoons.
“These courses are laid out and analyzed months in advance so that when the day arrives everyone knows where they need to be and when,” continued Lynch. “In addition to making the courses challenging for the sailors, we have to think about the spectators. That’s why every afternoon, all classes finish just off of the Race Deck at the same time.
“Come Sunday afternoon, a year of hard work comes to a close at the awards ceremony where trophies and Rolex timepieces are presented to deserving sailors. The winners and runners-up come together to celebrate and spin yarns. The volunteers are often as exhausted as the competitors, but everyone – hopefully – is satisfied.
“Over the next few days, borrowed boats are returned, equipment is stowed away, Rolex gear is packed up and decorations are taken down. Another event is in the books.
“And we start planning for the next one!” exclaimed Lynch in conclusion. “And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you run a Big Boat Series!”
In 2016 it was the year of the multihull again as the 70-foot trimaran Orion cutting through the water with its windward hull high in the air, three sailors perched atop it, looking like tiny toy soldiers dressed in white with black helmets to match the colossal multihull’s paint job.
Then comes the bold-red Golden Gate Bridge into the scene, a certified wonder of the modern world with suspension towers almost eight times the height of Orion’s 30-metre (98 foot) mast.
The bridge spans a mile wide straight, which is boiling with ripping current that Orion must negotiate on its way to a race mark set “outside” of San Francisco Bay, a 60-mile-long, 12-mile-wide estuary that is the primary stage for the Rolex Big Boat Series.
“Because we’re so fast and so big, the consequences are that we require a lot of forethought to plan our maneuvers well ahead of time,” said Orion’s tactician Charlie Ogletree, who was the USA’s 2004 Olympic Silver Medalist in the Tornado multihull class. “We go three to four times the speed of the other boats in other classes, so they become obstacles that we have to avoid. That’s the challenge, but it’s also the fun.”
Successful San Francisco businessman, Tom Seibel owns Orion and has steered her to victories in five races over the last three days. The team was leading going into today. However, light winds gave the advantage to Randy Miller’s Marstrom 32 Miller Racing, which after winning today’s race is now tied on points with Orion going into tomorrow.
“It’s a shame for us that sometimes the wind doesn’t hold out but that’s the reality of the sport, right?” said Ogletree, noting that on day one, Orion unleashed her awesome power to reach 35 knots of boat speed in 19-20 knots of breeze.
While the speed and prowess of the multihulls are spiking the blood pressure of those sailing them as well as those watching, heart-pounding battles are playing out in other classes as well.
There’s an old adage that it’s best to have a comfortable seat when the music stops. While nobody is overly concerned with creature comforts at an athletic competition, all teams wishing to secure their spot on the starting line are kindly reminded when the entry deadline music officially stops.
Once teams secure their “seat” at this regatta, they can look forward to four days of well-organized racing on San Francisco Bay’s jaw dropping natural amphitheater, directly in front of the club. On these waters, Marin County, Alcatraz Island, Angel Island and the Golden Gate Bridge provide the backdrop as Mother Nature tests competitors with a constantly changing set of tidal and meteorological challenges.
“September is the sweet spot for weather,” said Jim Kiriakis, in 2017 as commodore of St. Francis Yacht Club, who added that while it can get breezy in the afternoon, the Bay rarely delivers “nuclear” conditions in September. “The day develops from morning’s tranquility into a dynamic performance art project that’s cloaked as a serious competition.
“It’s massive to have the brand new Pac52 yachts coming to Rolex Big Boat Series in force,” said Commodore Kiriakis. “Classes are living, breathing organisms that shift with technology and momentum, and Pac52s are currently the apex predators of the sport boat food chain.”
In 2018 strong airs and freshening white caps greeted the racers at the 54th edition as long uphill bashes in three to four-foot seas and 20 knots gusting higher, were rewarded with blistering downwind runs and adrenaline saturated kite rides juiced by a flooding tide.
“I’d say these conditions are typical of San Francisco Bay, but the courses are so much longer that it’s testing people’s endurance,” says Jenn Lancaster, StFYC’s Race Director. “We tried to improve the reaching angles on the course for the handicap boats, and it’s been exciting to see them perform.”
Cool onshore temperatures, ebbing fog, flooding waters and a gathering sea breeze greeted the 79 teams gathered on San Francisco Bay to contest the final day of racing at the 55th edition in 2019. Despite a slow start to the regatta, courtesy of higher than usual onshore temperatures earlier in the week, today’s longer-form Bay Tour course gave teams a chance to whip their horses around the West Coast’s most competitive racecourse one last time. Better still, the day’s course selection allowed all teams to strut their big air skills while enjoying a stadium style finish in front of cheering fans ashore on StFYC’s Race Deck.
While racing was tight across all classes, there’s no question that the five strong Classic class commanded plenty of optical attention during the four days of racing. “A great addition this year is the Classics,” said Paul Cayard, two-time Olympian and StFYC’s chairman of the board, who sailed aboard Dewey Hines’ Rhodes 54, Ocean Queen (USA 177). “We’ve finished, overlapped practically every race. It’s really good competition.”
Finally, while all of the classic yachts competing in the RBBS were built before 1955, 2019 marks the first time that these elegant ladies have raced in this prestigious regatta.
All told, five yachts ranging in size from 50-feet to 59-feet contested this year’s regatta, with Terry Klaus and his 50-foot Herreshoff-designed schooner Brigadoon (888) taking top prize. Beau and Stacey Vrolyk and their 59-foot Alden-designed schooner Mayan (1947) and Ocean Queen completed the winner’s circle, but it’s fair to say that all sailed away richer for the experience of having watched these elegant ladies pressing their canvas and leaded ballast against San Francisco Bay’s tide and breeze.
It’s sad to have a year go by without a RBBS, but hopefully there is always next year! I hope you enjoyed reading a bit of this historical montage.
Thank you to the StFYC media staff and to Rolex for their background contributions and historical news reports that were included in this column. Please join us next month and write to firstname.lastname@example.org