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St. Francis Yacht Club completes preparations for COVID-Safe Rolex Big Boat Series

by St. Francis Yacht Club 10 Sep 2021 13:55 PDT September 15-19, 2021
Rolex Big Boat Series © Sharon Green / Rolex

With one week to go until boats jostle for position on the starting line, organizers of the 2021 Rolex Big Boat Series are prepared to safely accommodate the hundreds of skippers, crews and spectators who attend this legendary event, now in its 56th edition. Racing is set to commence on Thursday, September 16, and boats are already docking at St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco, California, to begin final preparations for the most competitive regatta on the West Coast.

Leading up to the regatta, as the pandemic continues to upend sporting competitions across the United States and globally, St. Francis Yacht Club remained ready to pivot as needed at the advice of the Club's Covid Safety Task Force. Comprised of the club's leadership, management team, legal team and several knowledgeable health experts, this group has been meeting weekly for over 18 months, advising on the best health practices for club operations. "Our task force is extremely knowledgeable and has remained committed to the highest level of care for all who enter our doors," said the club's 2021 commodore, Bill Dana, who will be competing in the ORR division of Rolex Big Boat Series with his Santa Cruz 52 Pinball Wizard. "This season, we've been able to safely host nearly every regatta that was on the 2021 calendar and we're delighted to welcome Rolex Big Boat sailors back, too."

Rolex Big Boat Series Chair Susan Ruhne has been at the forefront of planning operations and said, "We have over 80 boats competing, which is more than in 2019, so we feel confident that sailors are comfortable with the safety precautions we've taken. St. Francis Yacht Club's venue is equally sublime inside and outside which will allow us to safely host all skippers, crews, club members and guests. All socials will be held outside with ample space for sailors to mingle, enjoy food and beverages, and still be within sight of the docks, the clubhouse and the Bay. Inside, we'll be closely following health orders from the City and County of San Francisco."

That includes proof of vaccination to enter the building and mask wearing at all times while inside, except when actively eating and drinking. The club has installed enhanced facilities outside for competitors as well as expanded seating along the waterfront for spectators.

Anyone wishing to follow the action remotely is invited to tune in to a daily livestream of the finish line, starting at approximately 2:45pm PT and broadcast on the Rolex Big Boat Series Facebook page. Commentators will be longtime San Francisco-based sailing journalist Kimball Livingston, and Team USA member, sailing champion and professional sailing broadcaster Genny Tulloch.

"The daily downwind finishes can be spine-tingling to watch, with crews visibly giving their all and powering up the rigs to cross the finish line at top speed," said Ruhne. "They pass so close to the clubhouse they can hear spectators cheering from shore, and it will be great to convey that sensory experience to all the fans, friends and family members viewing remotely."

Competitors are looking forward to the downwind thrills, too. John Brigden has been quarantining with his family throughout most of the pandemic, and only started racing again in March, attending the J/70 North Americans and J/70 Worlds. "Rolex Big Boat Series is always a windy and exciting regatta—in 2019 it came down to the last 500 yards, during the last race on the last day, right in front of the clubhouse," he said of his 2019 win, skippering Cool Story, Bro. in the J/70 class. "I am sure it will be close this year as well."

In terms of what he's looking forward to off the water, he added, "The Rolex Big Boat Series is such a classy event. After two years of build-up, it will be super-charged on the water and super-fun hanging out outside with competitors from across the fleets. There is no doubt St. Francis will host a responsible and safe event!"

When it comes to super-charged competition, the local J/105 fleet always delivers. Even throughout the pandemic, this dedicated group found a way to keep racing safely. Ian Charles, skipper of Maverick, placed third in Rolex Big Boat Series 2019, but has his eye on the first-place podium this year. "Team Maverick is invested in all aspects of our racing program," he said. "We have made improvements in rig tune, optimizing crew weight, boat handling, electronics and tactics by using the best information from coaches and consultants. We had a very successful 2021 season and we are hoping to carry that momentum into RBBS."

He, too, is feeling reassured that the event will be as safe as it is fun. "I'm confident the club will keep safety first," he said. "I am looking forward to seeing many of our competitors who have been distanced by Covid. RBBS is as much about the Rolex Owners Dinner, Mount Gay Rum Party and the Saturday Crew Dinner as it is about the racing. It was sorely missed last year and we are all excited to see it come to life again."

Come to life it will on Wednesday, September 15 at 6:00pm when skippers, crews and fans convene at the Rolex Regatta Tent on the East Lawn of St. Francis Yacht Club for the Competitors' Briefing and Commodore's Reception. There, trophy classes will be announced, as well as which of the eight divisions will be competing for a coveted Rolex Submariner Date timepiece, awarded by the event's lead sponsor, Rolex.

"Rolex has been incredibly supportive as we've endeavored to create a safe event, which shows the inherent strength that comes from 18 years of working together," said Ruhne. "Being able to reward the top competitors with Rolex timepieces is always one of the great moments of the week."

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