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Let the racing begin at the 59th Rolex Big Boat Series at St. Francis Yacht Club

by St. Francis Yacht Club 13 Sep 04:25 PDT September 13-17, 2023
59th Rolex Big Boat Series at St. Francis YC © Daniel Forster / Rolex

The energy is palpable and anticipation high as the 79 teams registered to race gather at the docks of St. Francis Yacht Club for last-minute preparations before tomorrow's start of the 2023 Rolex Big Boat Series.

Three one-design classes (Express 37, J/105 and J/88), a diverse ORC class split into four fleets, and a stately gathering of classic yachts make for an intense lineup of competitors for the 59th edition of the West Coast's premier racing event.

"Rolex Big Boat Series is a fantastic opportunity for the West Coast sailing community to end the summer sailing season on a high note. There is no better place to do it than on San Francisco Bay," said Beau Vrolyk, St. Francis Yacht Club's 2023 Commodore, and the owner/skipper of the classic Alden schooner Mayan. "StFYC is proud to support the high level of competition that this regatta draws, with world-class race management and great parties when we all return to the docks."

This marks the 33rd year for Express 37s competing in this regatta, and the highly competitive J/105 fleet has drawn 31 entries for its 31st Rolex Big Boat Series, including seven previous class winners, three of whom have won twice—Scott Sellers, Ryan Simmons and Bruce Stone. In the J/88s, Speedwell and Fly are new to the class while 2022 division winner Split Water returns to defend its title. Both veterans and newcomers will be racing in the Classics and the ORC fleets.

Shepard Kett's Santa Cruz 50 Octavia is fully prepped to hit the starting line tomorrow. The boat made her Rolex Big Boat Series debut in 1984, four years after she was ordered from legendary boat designer Bill Lee (who is also racing this year, aboard Mayan). Kett's father sailed Octavia for 10 years before Kett took over in 1990. Designed for fast downwind runs to Hawaii, Kett has made modifications to optimize the boat for buoy racing, specifically switching to an asymmetrical spinnaker for easier and safer handling. He has sailed Octavia in three past Rolex Big Boat Series and is looking forward to getting back on the Bay this week with a crew of 14, including StFYC's Vice Commodore, Chris Perkins.

"It's such a great inshore racing venue. It's probably the best," Kett said. "There is a lot of area on the Bay, a lot of variation and so many different conditions depending on where you are and at what time of day. And, of course, the competition is strong so it's a real test for the boat and for the crew."

The race committee plans to score seven races for most fleets, with two races per day starting at 1100 hours for the first three days of racing, followed by a longer Bay Tour course on Sunday. The Classics will race once per day starting at 1200 hours Thursday—Saturday and 1100 on Sunday.

"The preparation leading up to Rolex Big Boat Series is both exciting and hard work, and we are so grateful to our many volunteers who help make this event happen," said Susan Ruhne, Chair of Rolex Big Boat Series. "The reward is so worth it when we see a fleet of almost 80 boats duking it out during four days of world-class racing on the country's best natural sailing amphitheater."

Trophies and Rolexes

At the Competitors' Briefing on Wednesday, September 13, at 1730 hours, St. Francis Yacht Club announced which classes will be racing for the six perpetual trophies and two Rolex timepieces.

As the largest one-design fleet this year, the J/105s will compete for StFYC's Commodore's Cup, as well as the PICYA Jesse L. Carr Perpetual Captain and Crew Trophy. The top J/105 skipper will also receive a Rolex timepiece.

The St. Francis Perpetual Trophy, which was anonymously donated to StFYC in 1966 to encourage competition between large offshore racing yachts, will be presented to the winner of the ORC A fleet, who will also be awarded a coveted Rolex timepiece.

The ORC B fleet will be racing for the City of San Francisco Trophy, which has been contested since 1968.

The Keefe-Kilborn Trophy, established in 1976 to honor the memory of late StFYC members Harold Keefe and Ray Kilborn, will go to the winner of the ORC C fleet.

The Richard Rheem Perpetual Trophy, named for longtime StFYC member and skipper of Morning Star—the yacht that proudly broke the Transpac course record in 1949 and 1953—will go to the winner of the ORC D class.

The Atlantic Perpetual Trophy, featuring a ship's bell from the 1905 Transatlantic-record-breaking schooner Atlantic, will be awarded to the winner of the J/88 class.

The Classics will race for a Perpetual Trophy and Express 37s will be racing for class trophies.

Additionally, for the second year, the Rolex Big Boat Team Trophy will be awarded to three boats from the same yacht club with the highest cumulative results. To qualify, one boat must be racing in an ORC class, one must be in a one-design class, and the third can be competing in any of the fleets.

"With 79 boats and nearly 700 sailors, I'm very pleased with the entry numbers, especially in the J/105s and ORC," said StFYC's Race Director Felix Weidling. "Running three racecourses at the same time requires a lot of talent on the race committee and we're fortunate to have that. There are always challenges with large events like this and it's great to rely on a strong team. We wouldn't be able to host such a stunning week of racing and socials without our sponsors Rolex, Mount Gay Rum, Mustang Survival, Quantum Sails, North Sails, Fort Point Beer and Jeff Brown Yachts."

Quantum Sails will be hosting Daily Weather Briefings every race day at 0730. All sailors are invited to tune in for the forecast from experts at Sailflow Weather and to hear local knowledge about San Francisco Bay conditions and currents with Jeff Thorpe from Quantum Sails.

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