The America’s Cup may have just concluded, but with the four-day Rolex Big Boat Series scheduled to start tomorrow (Thursday, Sept. 26th), high-intensity sailing on San Francisco Bay will pick up right where the giant AC catamarans left off. Nurtured by host St. Francis Yacht Club for almost five decades, the annual Rolex Big Boat Series is in its 49th running.
Commodore James M. Cascino at the Rolex Commodore’s Reception
It has evolved into one of the West Coast’s premier regattas and is its own brand of 'stadium sailing.' 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, adding that the four-day Rolex Big Boat Series will serve as the HPR National Championship, J/120 North American Championship, IRC West Coast Championship and the Melges 24 Pre-World competition. 'Sailors have been anxious to get their racing real estate back, and we intend to give them an epic racing experience.'
This will be the HPR class’s inaugural National Championship, and eight boats, measuring in between 36 and 41 feet, are vying for the first-time bragging rights. Among them is Peter Krueger’s (Reno, Nevada) J/125 Double Trouble, which last year won five of seven races to win both the IRC C class and HPR, which was dual-scored with IRC. Now the team will have to match up with the likes of Donald Payan’s (Hillsborough, Calif.) Whiplash, a new McConaghy 38 which has been purpose-built for HPR racing.
'This year HPR has its own (separately scored) class, and it is a mixture of newish and older boats,' said Payan, explaining that the High Performance Rule made its official debut last year at the Rolex Big Boat Series and the dual scoring allowed sailors to try it out.
'It takes a lot of sailing knowledge to do well in this boat,' said Payan, who marks this as his 15th year competing at the Rolex Big Boat Series. 'It’s like a complex musical instrument that you have to tune very carefully.'
IRC racing will be as strong as ever with another 13 teams entered in three classes (A, B and D), including Isao Mita’s (Kanagawa, Japan) TP 52 Beecom, which will match up against last year’s IRC A winner Vesper, the TP 52 owned and skippered by Jim Swartz (Park City, Utah). In IRC D, Frank Morrow’s (San Francisco, Calf.) IMX 38 Hawkeye will defend his victory in that class while working to take overall honors as the West Coast IRC champion, which is nothing short of a tall order.
In the battle for the North American title in J/120 class, all bets will be on John Wimer’s (Half Moon Bay, Calif.) Desdemona and Barry Lewis’s (Atherton, Calif.) Chance to lead the charge. Last year, in the most dramatic of conclusions at the Rolex Big Boat Series, it boiled down to a last-race surge by Desdemona to determine that the team had an edge, if only slight, to steal Chance’s thunder and win.
Crew member applies Rolex bow sticker the day before racing starts
Attracting the largest numbers here is the Melges 24 class (38 entrants), which is prepping for its World Championship immediately following the Rolex Big Boat Series. According to Italian Riccardo Simoneschi, who is president of the international Melges 24 class, this is a 'truly international fleet,' with 13 countries represented.
'We have some very good professional teams and Corinthian teams,' said Simoneschi, who is a top contender with his team Audi, which won the European circuit this year and the class’s world circuit last year. 'In fact, it’s an extremely high level--the best in the last five-seven years.'
Simoneschi named among the top competitors Franco Rossini’s Swiss entry Blue Moon, Alec Cutler’s Bermudian entry Hedgehog, and from the U.S. Brian Porter’s (Fontana, Wis.) Full Throttle, Bora Gulari’s (Detroit, Mich.) New England Ropes/West Marine Rigging, and Elizabeth Harned’s (Hartland, Wis.) Windhover, with brothers Harry and Hans Melges aboard. 'Most of us will use this event as training,' he added, 'and are very thankful to Rolex and the St. Francis Yacht Club to have admitted the class to the Rolex Big Boat Series, giving us the possibility to join this beautiful event and sail in San Francisco in a real race before the World Championship.'
Express 37s will feature perennial favorite Kame Richards (Alameda, Calif.) sailing Blue Moon, while J/105s will see Shannon Ryan/Rolf Kaiser/Steve Kleha’s (San Francisco) Donkey Jack defending. J/70s, a relatively new class, will sail here for the first time, while the High Performance Catamaran Division, which was first added to this event last year, promises another exciting show.
'This is just the best racing on the West Coast,' said Bill Turpin (Los Gatos, Calif.), who will be racing with a crew of three onboard his D Class Catamaran Rocket 88 and won the Bay Area Multihull Association series last year. 'For buoy racing and all, the Rolex Big Boat Series is as good as it gets. We’ve done a lot of modifications to the boat over the year and look forward to a great event.' (Peter Stoneberg of Tiburon, Calif. will defend in his ProSail 40 Shadow.)
Sailed since 1964, the St. Francis Yacht Club Big Boat Series added Rolex Watch U.S.A. as a title sponsor in 2005. Six specially engraved Rolex timepieces are traditionally awarded to winners of the St. Francis Yacht Club’s Perpetual Trophies: the St. Francis Perpetual Trophy; the City of San Francisco Trophy; the Richard Rheem Trophy; the Keefe-Kilborn Memorial Trophy; the Atlantic Trophy; and the Commodore’s Cup.
Evening ambiance at the St. Francis Yacht Club
For the NOR and more information, go to Rolex Bigboat Series. Find us on Facebooknw at St. Francis Yacht Club – Racing, and follow @bigboatseries. Competitor details and results can be found at Event Website.