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2019 Rolex Big Boat Series at St. Francis Yacht Club - Overall

by Scott Armstrong 15 Sep 16:27 PDT 11-15 September 2019
Ryan Simmons' Blackhawk won the J/105 fleet and a Rolex timepiece - Rolex Big Boat Series © Rolex / Sharon Green

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 of the St. Francis Yacht Club's annual Rolex Big Boat Series (September 11-15, 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.

Given the regatta's proud history, it's not surprising that many StFYC members pride themselves on racking up a deep Rolex Big Boat Series resume. "The regatta's culture has changed as the general culture has evolved," said Steve Taft, who is celebrating his 45th Rolex Big Boat Series this year by serving as tactician aboard Dave MacEwen's Santa Cruz 52, Lucky Duck (USA 28729). "Back in the day, there was more tradition than now, but you had more tradition in society back then. It's about keeping up with the times—it's not like you're going back in time 30 years when you come sail this regatta."

This evolution was especially obvious when one considers the high-level, high-performance racing on the Bay this week. "The sport has evolved and sailors are evolving with it," continued Taft. "Sailing culture changes a little bit every year, and the sailors change a little bit, but I always look forward to getting together with friends from all over the country at the Rolex Big Boat Series. Everybody looks forward to racing on San Francisco Bay."

Others agree. "As regatta chair, I respect the regatta's history and continually look for ways to improve and to continue to deliver the West Coast's best, most competitive regatta," said Susan Ruhne, Regatta Chair for the 55th edition of the Rolex Big Boat Series. "For example, this year we brought in the Classics class, and we continued developing ORR to make the handicap rule work better for our competitors on San Francisco Bay. And we continued to enjoy strong and faithful participation in the One Design classes. It was great to see the J/88s, the Express 37s and the J/105s return to the Rolex Big Boat Series."

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."

Stiff competition was a constant across all classes competing, however four classes—ORR-A, ORR-B, ORR-C and the J/105s—had the special honor of racing for StFYC's perpetual trophies and accompanying Rolex Submariner Date timepieces; the winners of the J/70s, J/88s, Express 37s and Classics were competing for dockside credibility and class honors.

After five races, Skip Ely and his Santa Cruz 52 Elyxir (USA 28474), racing in the ORR-A, won the St. Francis Perpetual Trophy, which was first awarded at the 1964 inaugural Rolex Big Boat Series, and its attending Rolex. It's Ely's second Rolex Big Boat Series timepiece in as many years. Elyxir was followed across the ORR-A class' metaphorical finish line by Ray Paul and his Swan 53-2, Blue (USA 61522), and Gregory Dorn and his Dehler 46 Favonius (USA 38125).

ORR-B sailors raced for The City of San Francisco Trophy, which consists of one of the golden spades used during the 1933 groundbreaking ceremony for the Golden Gate Bridge. After a total of five races and zero drops, Daniel Thielman and his Melges 32 Kuai (USA 7676) earned a new Rolex timepiece for their skipper, plus their name on trophy. Kuai staved-off stiff advances from Zachery Anderson and his J/125 Velvet Hammer (USA 51517) and Paul Dorsey and his Soto 30 Gentoo (USA 001) who finished second and third, respectively.

ORR-C sailors exchanged serious nautical fisticuffs en route to determining the winner of the Richard Rheem Perpetual Trophy, which honors the memory of former StFYC member Richard Rheem and Morning Star, which twice broke the Transpac Record (1949 and 1953). Thomas Furlong and his Swan 42 Elusive (USA 4216) successfully negotiated San Francisco Bay's tide-riven waters to earn an engravement on this perpetual trophy, as well as its accompanying Rolex. Barry Lewis and his J/120 Chance (USA 28484) and David Halliwill and his J/120 Peregrine (USA 25487) finished in second and third places.

StFYC's Commodore's Cup is awarded to the regatta's largest One Design fleet, an honor that once again falls to the 23-strong J/105 class. Ryan Simmons and his Blackhawk (USA 40) crew showcased their big-fleet-management skills to win this proud trophy and accompanying Rolex timepiece; they were joined on top of the J/105 class’ leaderboard by Tim Russell and crew of Ne*Ne (USA 003) and Ian Charles and his Maverick (USA 385) squad. Simmons' father, Scooter, also won an StFYC perpetual trophy aboard Blackhawk in 2011.

While these four classes competed for perpetual trophies and timepieces, the racing was just as tough in other classes. For example, the J/70 class saw 14 boats on the starting lines, making it the regatta's second-largest One Design class. John Brigden and his Cool Story Bro. (USA 369) demonstrated regatta-winning strategy and skills to take home the top prize in this popular class. Cool Story Bro. was joined on the top of the J/70 results page by Scott Sellers, Harrison Turner and Geoff McDonald's 1FA (USA 534) and Tracy and Christy Usher and their Christine Robin (USA 898).

Additionally, the top Corinthian and Open J/70 teams at this year's Rolex Big Boat Series also competed for berths at the 2020 J/70 Worlds (July 27-August 2, 2020), which is being hosted by the California Yacht Club in Marina Del Rey, California. 1FA and Cool Story Bro. emerged as the Corinthian and Open winners; however, because 1FA already earned their Corinthian berth, this slot will go to Tracy and Christy Usher's Christine Robin.

The J/88 made its Rolex Big Boat Series debut in 2018, and the newly launched class returned this year with even more polished skills and tactics, not to mention racecourse strategies honed during last year's regatta. Ultimately, David Britt and his Split Water (USA 78) took first-place honors, followed by Gary Panariello and his Courageous (USA 77) crew and Jim Hopp and White Shadow (USA 23), who took home second- and third-place finishes.

The venerable Express 37 class has been a true staple of the Rolex Big Boat Series since their 1990 debut, and—as always—the class featured tight racing and well-choreographed maneuvers. While the class' mark-roundings were congested, Kame Richards and his Golden Moon (USA 18488) emerged after five races with the lowest number of points to take first place. Bartz Schneider and his Expeditious (USA 18478) and Jack Peurach and his Elan (USA 87700) completed the Express 37's top-placed trifecta.

Finally, while all of the Classic yachts competing in the Rolex Big Boat Series 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.

While all racers care about their results, they also care about sailing on clean, plastic-free water, and StFYC took some significant steps to make their signature regatta a significantly more sustainable event. "I was proud that the StFYC received Sailors for the Sea's Platinum-level status for this year," said Ruhne. "Seeing refillable water-bottles and the West Marine-sponsored water bottle stations was great. We significantly reduced the amount of single-use plastic waste at this regatta, which is a win-win situation for everybody involved."

For more information and full results, please visit the Rolex Big Boat Series' website.

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