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Glorious weekend at Rolex Big Boat Series

by J/Boats 24 Sep 06:16 PDT September 14-17, 2023
2023 Rolex Big Boat Series © Sharon Green /

Variable sailing conditions hounded 79 teams at the 2023 Rolex Big Boat Series, held September 14-17 in San Francisco, CA.

From a challenging ebb coupled with strong gusts in the low 20s on the first day to diminishing breezes each subsequent race day, the 59th edition of the West Coast's premier racing event challenged even the most seasoned competitors.

Heading into the final day of navigating the Bay's famous currents and wind shifts, five class wins were still up for grabs as nearly 700 sailors left the docks. Before racing on the final day, in a longstanding tradition for host St. Francis Yacht Club, boats first rounded "A" Buoy in front of St. Francis Yacht Club to drop flowers in the water in remembrance of recently departed sailors and friends.

It was the first year for StFYC's Race Director Felix Weidling to be on the organizing side of RBBS and he was pleased with how the event unfolded. "It's our pinnacle event and the whole West Coast looks to us to make it spectacular. The preparation needs to be 100 percent and we were fully on it this year. We had to be well-prepared for ORC classes with a rating system that was adopted last year by the club and it's working well."

ORC A Division

In a seven-strong fleet, comprised of the biggest and fastest boats, second place went to Ron Epstein's J/133 BACCHANAL.

ORC B Division

The de-facto "sportboat fleet" in this year's regatta produced a lot of thrilling, wild, planing rides for the collection of J/90, Melges 32s, Cape 31s, Soto 30, and Farr 30. In the end, Dave MacEwen's "classic" sportboat, the J/90 LUCKY DUCK still managed to take fourth place against the latest planing "wedges of cheese".

ORC C Division

This all J/Boats fleet was, perhaps, the most unusual division in the regatta. It consisted of twin J/120s, twin J/111s, and twin J/100s!

In the end, Peter Wagner, owner and skipper of J/111 SKELETON KEY, was thrilled to make it to RBBS this year after being on the road at J/111 championship events over the past few years. That tough one-design competition proved to be worthy of their efforts, sailing very fast and consistently all weekend long. His highly competitive team took first in class for the Keefe-Kilborn Trophy, with second place going to Tom and Cam Hutton's J/100 H-POD. Barry Lewis' J/120 CHANCE took third. Wagner's J/111 SKELETON KEY team scored four bullets and three deuces for a dominating win with 10 pts total.

"The regatta has been really great. We've had really close racing in our class and several of the races were decided by a very small amount of time— one race was two seconds, another race was seven seconds, and one was seventeen seconds. So, to go around race courses of this length and have the boats correcting that close to each other speaks well of the ORC system," said Wagner. "We're really happy to be competing under the ORC rule."

ORC D Division

The Richard Rheem Perpetual Trophy went to ORC D winner REVERIE, the J/109 owned and skippered by John Arens racing in his second RBBS. They posted an enviable record of five bullets in seven races for 12 points total.

"Our edge has been responding to pressure," says Arens. "We took a bullet in the first race on Saturday after taking a fourth on Friday, which undid a lot of our good work. We know who Viva is and who the guys are on the Cal 40 Viva, so responding to that pressure and knocking a bullet out in the first race on Saturday was really commendable!"

J/105 Class

As the largest fleet this year with thirty-two boats, the J/105s competed for StFYC's Commodore's Cup, as well as the PCYA Jesse L. Carr Perpetual Captain and Crew Trophy, and a Rolex Submariner timepiece. Racing BLACKHAWK with his well-seasoned crew of six years, including his wife Kristin, Ryan Simmons pulled off his third RBBS win.

"The competition has been very tight and with the lighter air, it's been an interesting regatta. Some boats not normally at the top have been in contention— we are typically faster in heavy air!" said Kristin Simmons. "The top five boats traded places a lot. We just focused on executing moves at marks, working hard to get our spinnaker up as quickly as possible, great communication, and trying to win our side of the course."

Jeff Littfin's MOJO finished in second place, while Bruce Stone and Nicole Breault's ARBITRAGE completed the top-of-class trifecta.

J/88 Class

After taking second in class last year and third the year before, the top of the podium was finally PELAGIA's. Christos Karamanolis helmed to first place in the tightly contested J/88 fleet, winning the Atlantic Perpetual Trophy. Brice Dunwoodie's RAVENETTE finished in second place and Mark Howe's SPLIT WATER finished third.

Notably, it was woman skipper and owner Logan Ashcraft's HIJINKS that posted the second-best record in their last three races, with a 3-4-3... a remarkable improvement for her team as they shook off pre-regatta anxiety to bring it home in the grand finale on Sunday- the famous "Bay Tour".

Yacht Club Trophy

Recognizing the top three boats sailing from the same yacht club with the best cumulative results, the Yacht Club Team Trophy was awarded to the St. Francis Yacht Club team of Kristin and Ryan Simmons on the J/105 BLACKHAWK, Peter Wagner's J/111 SKELETON KEY in ORC B, and Logan Ashcraft on the J/88 HIJINKS. Congratulations to the all J/Boat team for the St. Francis YC!

"This is the first time that I feel that we are fully back to pre-2020 pandemic levels, catching up with old friends surrounded by so many happy people. It has just been fabulous!" said Beau Vrolyk, StFYC's 2023 Commodore. "The competition in several classes has been incredibly close and we've had a different winner. You couldn't wish for a better regatta than that."

The 60th edition of the Rolex Big Boat Series in 2024 will be on September 11-15.

More information at

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