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Racing for Rolexes and Perpetual Honors at Rolex Big Boat Series

by St. Francis Yacht Club 15 Sep 18:57 PDT September 15-19, 2021
Rolex Big Boat Series © Sharon Green / Rolex

The excitement was palpable as hundreds of sailors gathered this evening on the lawn of St. Francis Yacht Club for a Competitors' Briefing and Commodore's Reception, marking the official start of the 56th edition of Rolex Big Boat Series, the West Coast's premiere regatta.

As halyards slapped against rigging and 79 race-ready boats tugged at their docklines, regatta organizers announced which of the eight classes will race for the six perpetual trophies and three Rolex Submariner Date timepieces, to be awarded this Sunday, September 19, following four days of highly competitive racing on San Francisco Bay.

This year, the legendary regatta features eight classes: ORR A, ORR B, ORR C, J/105, J/88, J/70, Express 37 and Classics, for boats older in vintage than 1955 and greater in length than 48 feet. The event concurrently serves as the J/88 North American Championship and the Pacific Coast Championship for Express 37s.

What's on the line for each class?

The oldest trophy of the regatta, the St. Francis Perpetual Trophy, which has been awarded since 1964 with a deed of gift granting it to boats greater than 40 feet in length, will go to the ORR A division. The first-place winner among the nine boats racing ORR A will also receive a Rolex Submariner Date watch.

The Atlantic Perpetual Trophy, established in 1978 and featuring the ship's bell of the yacht Atlantic, will go to the top boat in ORR B. The winner of the nine boats racing ORR B will also receive a Rolex Submariner Date watch.

Every year, the Commodore's Cup is dedicated to the largest one-design class, with a preference for fleets based in San Francisco Bay. This year, the 22-strong J/105s will compete for this perpetual trophy, which comes with a Rolex Submariner Date watch.

"It's an honor to have Rolex USA as the title sponsor for this event for the eighteenth year, and we are proud of our enduring relationship of excellence," said Bill Dana, 2021 Commodore of St. Francis Yacht Club, who will be competing aboard his Santa Cruz 52 Pinball Wizard, in the ORR A division.

The Keefe-Kilborn Trophy was established in 1976 to honor the memory of the late St. Francis Yacht Club members, Harold Keefe and Ray Kilborn. This year, it goes to the top competitor in the ORR C division.

The Richard Rheem Perpetual Trophy was established in 1972 to honor the memory of St. Francis Yacht Club member Richard Rheem, whose yacht Morning Star was the elapsed time winner in the 1949 Transpac race to Honolulu. The Express 37 class, celebrating 30 years as a one-design fleet at this regatta, will race for the Richard Rheem in 2021.

The J/88 class will race for the City of San Francisco Trophy, originally a golden spade used to break ground on the Golden Gate Bridge, which provides an iconic backdrop for spectators attending this iconic regatta.

Resetting the racecourse after 2020

After the global pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 edition, three of the 2019 winners couldn't return in 2021, opening the field for new leaders to emerge. And after a year away, many competitors are bringing a heightened focus to the regatta, as are newcomers keen to test their skills at a new venue.

For the owner and crew of Bretwalda 3, Rolex Big Boat Series has been a bucket list regatta. "We actually had Big Boat Series shirts made in 2013 but we never made it here," said Gary Warner, who has been racing with Bretwalda 3's owner, Bob Pethick, since 2000. The Bretwalda 3 team has had a strong year, winning the Newport to Cabo race and breaking the Transpac course record for boats under 50 feet. They will be closely watching the other Rogers 46, Lucky Duck, which is new to owner Dave MacEwen, a past winner in his previous boat.

"The ORR fleets have a number of sister ships that will be battling each other around the racecourse, which will be fun to watch," said Adam Corpuz-Lahne, Senior Sailing Director of St. Francis Yacht Club. When it comes to planning the racecourses this year, Corpuz-Lahne said the goal was for more windward-leeward racing. "We want the fairest racetrack possible, with two course areas, one to the north and one to the south. Fleets will sail the same course areas for both races each day. That way, what they learn in Race 1 they can use in Race 2."

To assist with delivering well-managed racing that optimizes the challenging currents and wind of San Francisco Bay sailing, Corpuz-Lahne is joined by Principal Race Officers Tom Duggan, Peggy Lidster and Jeff Johnson, who is fresh off the Tokyo Olympics.

Racing will commence on Thursday, September 15 at 1100 hours PST, with two races scheduled daily for each division. The Classics, which will lend a vision of grace to the speed often on view at this regatta, will complete in one race per day.

Livestreams of the finishes will be broadcast daily at 1445 on the Rolex Big Boat Series Facebook page.

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