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Rolex Big Boat Series at St. Francis Yacht Club - Day 1

by St. Francis Yacht Club 13 Sep 2018 22:58 PDT 12-16 September 2018
Rolex Big Boat Series 2018 © Daniel Forster / Rolex

It's not often that Mother Nature's agenda perfectly aligns with a regatta's racing schedule, but that's exactly what unfurled for the first day of racing in the St. Francis Yacht Club's 54th annual Rolex Big Boat Series (September 12-16, 2018).

The 76 participating teams hoisted sail in 12-15 knot breezes and flat seas for their first race of the West Coast's most prestigious regatta. Warm sunshine and a flooding tide ensured that the good times only compounded as the day unfurled and the breeze slowly but consistently built, eventually just knocking the tops off the waves to punctuate San Francisco Bay with sporadic white caps.

And while the racers more or less stayed dry (by San Francisco Bay standards, of course), the smiles were visible from multiple boat lengths away as teams put their steeds through the paces, their sails staying powered-up throughout both of the day's races.

"I'm really excited about all three ORR classes," says regatta co-chair Susan Ruhne, about the week's racing. "It's the most robust and competitive handicap fleet that we've had in years. I'm also excited about the first race of each day, as some fleets will have their finishes off of the Race Deck. This is new and it will bring racing to the clubhouse windows."

Sailors competing in Class ORR-B began their day on the Treasure Island racecourse, and while the flood tide effectively lengthened each beat, the fastest teams did a great job finding maximum current relief along the Cityfront.

"This is my third or fourth Rolex Big Boat Series, but it's my first time doing it as just the Big Boat Series and not as a pre-Worlds," says Charlie Enright, who is serving as tactician aboard Julian Mann's C&C 30, Don't Panic (USA 30026), and who served as skipper of Vestas 11th Hour Racing in the 2017/2018 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race. "We left the dock yesterday afternoon at 4:30 PM and we came back in at 6:15 PM," jokes Enright about the team's pre-Rolex Big Boat Series preparations. "We sailed the boat for two weeks in the Caribbean this spring, and the owner Julian Mann, is an old friend and even came and sailed Leg Zero of the Volvo Ocean Race with us aboard Vestas 11th Hour Racing from Plymouth, England to Saint Malo, France."

When pressed for the team's favorite conditions, Enright points squarely at today's conditions: "We like 18 knots and flat seas," he says, adding that, "our strategy is to get better as the week goes on, [make] no big mistakes and keep it close, like in golf."

These flat, fast waters offered opportunities for huge leaderboard changes, especially in the Pac52s with the straggler in the first race, Invisible Hand(USA 5202), reversing fortunes to win the second. Gary Panariello's Courageous (USA 77) and Marc McMorris in M Squared(USA 75) mixed up first and seconds in the J/88 fleet. Two boats dominated their classes: David Halliwill's J/120 Peregrine(USA 25487) in ORR C and Kame Richards' Express 37 Golden Moon(USA 18488).

The Express 37 class has served as one of the Rolex Big Boat Series' true beating hearts for several decades and sailed their second race of the day on the Alcatraz Race Course, out under the Golden Gate Bridge, passing several humpback whales en route and hugging the Bay's north shores for current relief as they charged into a growing breeze that at times registered as high as 18 knots.

"We pay no attention to the weather," says Richards, a former (and repeat) Rolex Big Boat Series perpetual trophy winner. "You can spend a lot of energy on stuff that you don't have any control over. We leave the dock saying that these conditions are the best [conditions]—we're not looking for any specific conditions, we just want to go sailing."

Instead, explains Richards, the team focuses on the variables that they can directly influence. "Our strategy is good communication—we want to make sure that everyone knows what the next play is, and we want to sail with our heads out of the boat and be ready," he says. "We're a group of friends who like sailing together. We prepare [for the Rolex Big Boat Series] with beer can racing at Oakland Yacht Club, and we don't stress too much about preparing. We have a few new sails, but not lots of practice."

While this strategy might not work for all teams, Richards' two wins today speak volumes for the kinds of onboard communication that he and his friends have developed and fostered over their years of racing—and winning Rolex watches and beer-can races—together. "Our measure of success is good mark roundings," says Richards. "It's not about finishing in first, second or last place; it's about sailing the boat well. That's always our goal. There are some very good sailors here and it's a non-trivial regatta, so we're going to do the best that we can do."

Judging by all empirical evidence, Richards and his Golden Moon team can be proud of more than just their day's mark roundings, but with five additionally scheduled races over the next three days of sailing, complacency has no spot aboard any boat in any Rolex Big Boat Series class.

Racing continues tomorrow, Friday, September 14, with the first guns scheduled to sound at 1100 hours, and sailors should again enjoy similarly great late-summer winds and (relatively) flat flood-tide waters tomorrow.

Click here for full results.

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