One hundred and sixty-five years after a flood of fortune seekers headed to San Francisco in search of riches during the Gold Rush of 1849, a new generation of prospectors will be panning for treasure during the 50th anniversary 'Golden Jubilee' edition of the Rolex Big Boat Series (RBBS) scheduled for September 11-14 at the St. Francis Yacht Club on the Marina.
Founded in 1964, the inaugural regatta attracted nine yachts, with Jim Wilhite’s Sparkman and Stephens 63’ yawl Athene claiming the St. Francis Perpetual Trophy after a narrow victory over Jim Kilroy’s Kialoa II. The popularity of the event saw a gradual expansion through the years to the current six divisions, with accompanying perpetual trophies, two with historical significance: the City of San Francisco Trophy, which was established in 1968, is one of the two golden spades used to break ground for the Golden Gate Bridge in 1933; while the Atlantic Perpetual Trophy, established in 1978, features the ship’s bell of the 1905 TransAtlantic Ocean record holder Atlantic. For the current wave of forty-niners (aka gold seekers), the six coveted trophies – which are awarded based on fleet participation – accompany a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner timepiece presented to the winning skippers.
That the Rolex Big Boat Series has kept pace with the evolution of the sport is evident by its enduring appeal to both professional and Corinthian competitors. Breaking its tradition of including only boats 35’ and larger has recently allowed classes such as the J/70 and Melges 24 to follow Performance Multihulls in being added to the mix of ORR, HPR and One Design classes racing.
Rolex Big Boat Series Event Chair Pat Nolan is expecting a strong turnout by the Farr 40 class, especially as they will be contesting the Rolex Farr 40 World Championship at the club just a month after the Rolex Big Boat Series. The J/70 class will rival the Farr 40s in numbers (expected to be about 25 boats for each class) as the popularity of that class continues to grow.
'That class (J/70) has taken off tremendously,' said Nolan. 'Our event will be the west coast alternative to the worlds in Newport, which will be taking place concurrently. To mark the 50th anniversary, a couple of smaller sport boat fleets popular here on the west coast – Express 27 and Melges 24 – have been invited. We also expect half a dozen catamarans, and the J/120s will be back, while the J/111s should have about 10 boats on the starting line. The biggest challenge with over 100 boats racing is managing them effectively to provide the best racing. Last year, three courses kept everyone out of each other’s way, and having the finish off the club makes for a great spectacle.'
After many years as a sponsor of the St. Francis Big Boat Series, Rolex became title sponsor of the event in 2005. The event has continued to grow in stature, and now sailors from around the world come to the Rolex Big Boat Series expecting some of the best racing offered in the U.S., if not the world. Event website