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2022 Rolex Big Boat Series at St. Francis Yacht Club - Day 2

by St. Francis Yacht Club 16 Sep 2022 23:09 PDT September 14-18, 2022
2022 Rolex Big Boat Series © Daniel Forster / Rolex

Moderate airs, sunny skies and flatter seas defined the second day of competition and offered crews some reprieve from yesterday's heavier conditions at the Rolex Big Boat Series, hosted by St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco, California.

Peak-puff metrics might have dipped a bit from day one's fresh velocities, but this did nothing to diminish competition levels at a regatta that has defined West Coast big-boat racing since its creation in 1964. Talent, smart tactics and local wisdom run deep across all 76 teams. Polish and preparation were evident on the racecourse today, with multiple boats continuing picket fence results.

After four races, the Cal 40 Viva, J/70 1FA and Express 37 Spindrift V posted their fourth bullets in their respective One Design classes. Mayan also scored her second bullet on corrected time in the Classics class, which only races once per day. Among the two ORC classes, Paul Dorsey's Adjudicator and Scott Easom's Eight Ball have commanding leads.

The 29-strong J/105 fleet is the event's largest class and stacked with talent. J/105s have a long and storied history at Rolex Big Boat Series and on San Francisco Bay and this year's large fleet is likely bolstered by the 2022 North American Championships at nearby San Francisco Yacht Club, September 26-October 2. Many talented teams are leveraging this regatta as a tune-up against their toughest rivals at that championship. The entry lists for both events reveal a huge amount of overlap.

While some J/105 teams that are competing in both regattas—including Ryan Simmons' Blackhawk, Jeff Littfin's Mojo, and Bruce Stone and Nicole Breault's Arbitrage—have previously won their class at Rolex Big Boat Series, past performance is once again no guarantee of future results.

Take, for example, Randy Hecht's Niuhi. He acquired the boat on the East Coast in November 2021, shipped it to the West Coast and whipped the boat into racing form, with a new bottom job, topsides paint and non-skid decks. "I didn't even bother bringing the sails back," Hecht says, adding that building a new sail inventory was part of the program, as was assembling a top-flight crew. The latter includes Russ Silvestri, who represented the USA at the Sydney 2000 Olympics in the Finn class, Maggie Bacon, Spencer Cole, Juliana Testa and Ryan Treais.

Despite some starts that Hecht described as "not great", the team quickly found their way to pole position in both of yesterday's races, and the boat was amongst the leaders today as well.

"It's always nice when you see blue sea in front and a sea of sails behind you," says Hecht, adding that while the boat reached racing trim in May, they couldn't get it weighed until recently. As a result, the 2022 Rolex Boat Series is the team's first official regatta.

Onboard attitude matters as much as sailing skills. "Things happen at a regatta that don't go your way," says Hecht. "You need to get over the negativity and get to what I call 'the next play'. We sailed clean and didn't mess with other boats. I think if you've sailed in very competitive fleets, this is a successful way of sailing. It's really important to find clean lanes, and it's not easy to do."

Especially amongst 28 other well-sailed boats, many of which also know the Bay's secrets and know how to optimize their boats. Case in point: Tim Russell's Ne*Ne, which won the 2021 J/105 North Americans, and was sailing wing-on-wing on several downhill runs, a seldom-seen tactic on A-sail rigs that other crews further astern began emulating.

The Express 37 class also has a deep history on these waters and at this regatta, however one of the biggest stories from this fleet comes courtesy of this year's Pac Cup. Andy Schwenk, the owner and skipper of Spindrift V and a sailor with more than 300,000 miles under his seaboots, won his class but then suffered a life-threatening encounter with flesh-eating bacteria on the return delivery and required medical evacuation.

For most boats and crews, a medical emergency of this magnitude would likely have retired the rest of the racing season.

Not Mr. Schwenk, and not Spindrift V. Schwenk instead organized a crew and handed Spindrift V to Bart Hackworth, who is serving as co-skipper and helm while Schwenk continues his recovery ashore.

"Andy has been incredibly supportive," says Hackworth. "He's our team captain. For all the struggles that he's been through, it can't keep him down. He organized the crew for this regatta and every aspect of the program. He's a huge energizer for the team. We want to grow as a team, try our hardest and make him proud."

Making someone proud at an event as competitive as Rolex Big Boat Series requires stem-to-stern skills.

"The crew comes from different areas and we haven't raced or sailed together before this regatta, so it's a quick learning process," explains Hackworth, adding that he typically races smaller keelboats like Melges 24s and Moore 24s. "So, I got some advice from a friend who is very good sailor. He said to sail the boat like a Moore 24, so, we're doing things like launching the kite from the hatch and running floating douses. It's working well."

Indeed. After four races, Spindrift V's results read 1-1-1-1.

"We're seeing great racing across all classes, and across a range of wind conditions," says Susan Ruhne, Chair of the Rolex Big Boat Series. "This is the exact kind of testing that sailors come here to experience, and it's been great to see happy faces, on and off the water."

Racing is scheduled to resume on Saturday, September 16, at 1100 hours local time.

Full results available here.

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