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2022 Rolex Big Boat Series at St. Francis Yacht Club - Day 1

by St. Francis Yacht Club 15 Sep 18:21 PDT September 14-18, 2022
Adjudicator on day 1 of the Rolex Big Boat Series in San Francisco © Daniel Forster / Rolex

The weather gods delivered plenty of get-up-and-go on the first day of racing at the 2022 Rolex Big Boat Series, running September 14-18 at St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco, California.

Morning conditions were moderate for the 76 boats gathered for the West Coast's most competitive regatta, pressing their sails in 8-12 knots of breeze and flat seas. Conditions built to 20-22 knots raising white caps against the flood tide for the day's second race, giving all teams the opportunity to air out their sail inventories and lock in for what promises to be three more fantastic days of racing in the country's greatest natural sailing amphitheater.

While all classes are highly competitive, from the eight-strong J/70 class to the five stately Classics, the two handicap classes present some interesting match-ups. Last year while still racing under the ORR rule, the decision was made to split the handicap fleets based on their sailing characteristics, rather than their waterline metrics. Boats with planing capabilities and enough sailcloth to properly light up the afterburners were sorted into one class, while the other class was comprised of displacement keelboats that show plenty of authority to the weather when sailing uphill.

The regatta employed this same handicap-fleet division for the 2022 edition while also matriculating from the ORR to the ORC handicap rule. As a result, this year's ORC A fleet runs the gamut from Chip Merlin's Bill Lee 68 Custom Merlin to Dave MacEwen's J/90 Lucky Duck. The former measures 72.5 feet LOA, while the latter measures in at just 30 feet, however both are plenty quick off the breeze, as are the other four boats that comprise this class.

The result was tight corrected-time deltas in both the ORC A and ORC B fleets. For example, ORC A's first race took roughly 90 minutes, yet the corrected time between the top three boats was less than three minutes apart, using ORC's heavy-air scoring models.

While the highly pedigreed Merlin attracts plenty of attention on and off the racecourse, Adjudicator, Paul Dorsey's Carkeek-designed FAST 40 is displaying fine form in her second Rolex Big Boat Series, posting two wins today.

"We've been preparing," says Dorsey of this year's Rolex Big Boat Series. "Because of Covid, we did 28 days of practice before our first regatta [with the boat]. Before the Rolex Big Boat Series last year, we were probably at 36 days of practice." Dorsey estimates that his crew, which he describes as a 50-50 blend of pros and amateurs, now have about 100 days on the boat.

"It's not a huge fleet, but there are a lot of quality sailors," says Dorsey about the ORC A class. Dorsey points to Daniel Thielman's Melges 32, Kuai, and Marc McMorris' Cape 31, M2, as some of Adjudicator's biggest competition. "We're all totally tooled-up and optimized" he says. "Everyone is coming to win."

When asked about his yacht's distinctive name, Dorsey explains that it comes from the 2019 neo-noir John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum film. The adjudicator, says Dorsey, is a "very powerful character, everyone understands her authority." Much like Adjudicator's 1-1 scorecard so far.

Dave MacEwen's Lucky Duck may be ORC A's smallest entry, but the boat demonstrated plenty of kick off the breeze in both of today's races. Interestingly, the J/90 is MacEwen's inshore boat; his regular ride for the Rolex Big Boat Series, a Rogers 46 also named Lucky Duck, is currently awaiting a new rig after a mishap in the second stage of this year's California Offshore Week.

"It's not like you can just buy a new rig in a short time," says MacEwen, adding that this dismasting created an interesting dilemma for this year's Rolex Big Boat Series. As a result, the team decided to race the J/90. "The minimum size for ORC is 30 feet or greater—we just barely squeak in," says MacEwen. "It's really awesome to participate in this year's Rolex Big Boat Series, and to keep our program going. I'd like to give a big thank-you to the StFYC for organizing another great Rolex Big Boat Series."

While Lucky Duck's entry into this year's Rolex Big Boat Series might have stemmed from less-than-lucky circumstances, there's still the matter of completing seven challenging races on San Francisco Bay aboard a boat that only weighs 3,400 pounds. "Most of these boats weigh more, so they have more punch in the chop," says MacEwen. "Our challenge is to be able to hang reasonably in touch with the boats going upwind so that we can put up the kite and go flying downwind."

Keeping in touch with the leaders was a more manageable ask in the regatta's J/70, J/88, Express 37 and Cal 40 One Design classes. Given that these boats are nearly identical within each class, the game became one of nailing the Bay's hidden escalators, such as the famous Cone of Alcatraz. While these escalators often require local knowledge to properly leverage, the sailors competing in these fleets know these waters well. Still, the day presented plenty of opportunities for skippers willing to withstand short periods of racecourse pain to realize down-the-road returns on their investments.

"We couldn't have asked for better conditions for the first day of racing," says Susan Ruhne, Chair of the Rolex Big Boat Series. "The breeze built as the day progressed, and all teams enjoyed exciting race-deck finishes for their second race. This is the kind of sailing that draws competitors back, year after year, and what makes this regatta so special."

Racing is set to resume on Friday, September 16, at 1100 hours local time.


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