(San Francisco, CA)- The 49th edition of the Rolex Big Boat Series sailed from the 26th to 29th, September, was yet another great event for the history books. The RBBS took center stage on San Francisco Bay immediately after the thrilling finale of the 34th America's Cup when Team Oracle (expat- Kiwi version) made their unprecedented comeback to win the Cup over Emirates Team New Zealand (real Kiwi version) against unprecedented odds. This year's RBBS featured the HPR National Championship (with J/125s in the mix), the J/120 North American Championship, a great J/105 fleet and the exciting debut of the J/70 one-design class.
A dedicated spectator-friendly race track was setup for the J/70s. And, as promised by Norm Davant, RBBS Regatta Chairman, it fulfilled the “fast, exciting, racing along essentially the same track as the America’s Cup race courses, with the starts and finishes in front of St Francis YC and major viewing areas.”
Recognized as one of the premier West Coast regattas, the Rolex Big Boat attracts professional and corinthian sailors from around the world. The four day regatta provided the 100+ boats just about every weather condition possible within the "classic" SF Bay westerly sea-breeze. Every day started at the light end of the range, 8-12 kts from the West with very little fog and slowly built to the expected 12-20 kts from the WSW each day at the sunny end of the range. It was idyllic, gorgeous sailing most of the time for everyone.
Thursday's sailing kicked off with two races in light to moderate breezes and a strong flood tide that kept the sailing teams in working hard to outwit each other. In the six-boat IRC D class, the margins on finishes were quite narrow, especially for David Halliwill’s (New York, N.Y.) J/120 PEREGRINE, which finished 2-1. New this year were first-place trophies for daily races and "Boat of the Day" awards. The J/70 LITTLE HAND, owned by Frank Slootman of Pleasanton, Calif. won the latter award for the first day.
Friday's sailing started off with a one-hour postponement ashore, followed by another hour of waiting on San Francisco Bay-- neither dashed spirits nor inhibited competition for the sailors. In fact, just as it did yesterday, the wind faithfully filled in as a westerly—light at first but packing the same punch, at 18-20 knots, by the end of the day— to overpower the morning easterly and accommodate two races for everyone. In the J/70s, a second set of three races was added to three races from yesterday and began to tell a story of “consistency pays off.”
“You’ve got to be in the right place with full speed and clear air,” said St Francis Yacht Club Commodore Jim Cascino, who skippers the J/70 EOS, currently leading their class. “If you do that, as we were fortunate enough to do over these two days, it makes a big difference.”
Sailing on Cascino’s four-person crew was Stu Johnstone, whose family developed the J/Boat line of boats (there are 40 total sailing here, the majority in one-design classes and the others in HPR and IRC) and this latest class, which has become wildly popular in the short year and a half since its launching. His description of the EOS team’s “little scare” in today’s second race, when the team rounded a mark the wrong way, captured the excitement and variety built into the design of multiple race courses used here.
“We started in front of Alcatraz Island and beat all the way up to the Sausalito side of the Bay towards the Golden Gate, and then took off on a screaming plane, reaching, then running all the way down to Treasure Island,” said Johnstone, explaining an approximately eight-mile race that took about an hour and a half to complete. “That was where we rounded the mark first and saw the entire fleet round the other way on starboard, so we went around and corrected ourselves. We were last at the bottom mark.”
The EOS team fought back to second by playing the famous “current cone” alongside Alcatraz and then screaming along the waterfront downwind off of Crissy Field to catch boats. “We hung in there, and then we had this crazy jibing duel back and forth to the finish (off the race deck at St. Francis Yacht Club).”
As they have for over 20 years, J/105 class sailors have shown up en masse for the Rolex Big Boat Series, fielding 22 teams. Skippers and crew members were discussing light-air strategies on the dock this morning, but were hopeful the breeze would pick up, as it did. “These boats are built for heavy breeze,” said Scott Whitney, a co-owner of RISK (currently in third) with Jason Woodley, who says there are 65 J/105s that regularly sail in the San Francisco Bay area. “In light air we have to shift gears, but basically we’re all in the same boat-- literally.”
Today’s conditions benefitted Phil Laby’s J/105 GODOT, which finished second in both races to replace yesterday’s leader, Scooter Simmons’s BLACKHAWK, at the top of the scoreboard. “Yesterday we were in fifth at the end of the day,” said Godot. “We went into today not wanting to make too many mistakes, make sure we had a game plan, and follow it the whole way through. We managed to get good starts and just stay in the game, and it turns out we made some good decisions.”
Godot added that last year, his team was in an almost identical position on the second day, and on the last day, they had to beat several boats to win. In the end, they lost a tiebreaker for first. “This year we’re back to avenge,” he said.
Peter Krueger’s J/125 DOUBLE TROUBLE, which has “three-peated” here as a class victor in the past, posted two bullets in HPR, jumping from fourth to second place overall and tying on point score. DT was named Boat of the Day, the second day in a row a J/Team was named Boat of the Day.
Saturday's racing was simply classic SF Bay sailing. As 22 J/105s came running down San Francisco Bay with the Golden Gate Bridge rising from behind their colorful spinnakers, other boats sailed upwind toward them in a freshening 8-12 knot westerly that enabled the fleets to comfortably negotiate the current and wind for optimum speed. It was the third glittering day of sailing for the fleets.
Steve Madeira’s J/120 MISTER MAGOO elbowed its way in between Barry Lewis’s CHANE and John Wimer’s DESDEMONA on the scoreboard today, and the three teams were mathematically tied on points in the six-boat J/120 fleet!!
New leaders emerged in three additional classes, as Peter Krueger’s J/125 DOUBLE TROUBLE traded places to take the top spot in HPR class; Scooter Simmons’s BLACKHAWK jumped from second to first in the J/105 class while yesterday’s leader, Phillip Laby’s GODOT, slid to sixth; and Jim Cascino’s EOS maintained their lead the J/70 class. In fact, Commodore Cascino's J/70 EOS was named Boat of the Day on Saturday.
For Sunday's traditional “Bay Tour” finale— the single long race that wraps up each class’s series and determines final winners— the fleet’s final push to the finish was tame in comparison to previous days when boat speeds were jacked up by brisk breezes and a strong flood tide, but the end result was all that mattered. Six class winners were awarded St. Francis Yacht Club Perpetual Trophies along with Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner timepieces, while new title holders were named in the 2013 HPR National Championship and the J/120 North American Championship.
It was touch-and-go for the outcome of the HPR Class, sailing for the Richard Rheem Perpetual Trophy. The light air postponed the start and forced race managers to relocate the starting area, which in turn shortened the length of the Bay Tour. Peter Krueger’s (Reno, Nevada) J/125 DOUBLE TROUBLE was in the lead in points, but only by two in a class that had Daniel Thielman’s (Tiburon, Calif.) RP 44 Tai Kaui leading the first two days, with others waiting closely in the wings. “We had to remember to sail our race and if we tried to sail somebody else’s race that just doesn’t work,” said Krueger. “It gets down to basics: whoever makes fewer errors and has the best crew work. Ours was fantastic, so everything went well.” By earning a third today it was good enough for Krueger and the J/125 DOUBLE TROUBLE team to take the National Championship, the first-ever for this class, by one point.
“This is a huge win, not just because it’s the HPR National Championship but also because DOUBLE TROUBLE has won here the last two years, but last year when it won in HPR, it wasn’t up against the McConaghy 38, the RP 44, and other boats like that,” said Brian Ledbetter, DOUBLE TROUBLE’s tactician, a Finn Olympic Silver Medalist from Seattle. “Sailing in HPR is like sailing in catamarans. Even if it’s a bad day out there you are ripping around the race course and having fun.”
Finishing behind them, but also in a "come-from-behind" mode, was Tim Fuller's J/125 RESOLUTE, taking mostly 3rds to capture third overall for the regatta. Fourth, ironically, was former J/105 sailor Bernie Girod from Santa Barbara YC in his Farr 400 ROCK & ROLL-- a very competitive team from Santa Barbara, CA. Said Bernie in a conversation one morning on the dock, "we're a bit faster off the wind than the J/125s, but we simply cannot hold them back upwind, amazing to see an older boat like that go so fast!"
The lone J/120 sailing in IRC D was David Halliwill's PEREGRINE from New York, NY. Taking a 1-2 in their last two races pulled them into the top ranks to take third for the regatta, just point out of second.
Perhaps the most toughly contested battle was in the J/120 class, where Barry Lewis’ CHANCE pegged an early regatta lead but wound up tied on points with final winner MR MAGGO going into today. The dead air lingering at the eastern end of the Bay wreaked havoc on the J/120 fleet when it caused them to come to a screeching halt at their bottom mark. CHANCE, which had been leading comfortably, was overwhelmed by a flock of J/105s that descended on its territory, and only the luckiest boats escaped the pile-up unscathed. In particular, while everyone was drifting, MR MAGOO wiggled away to victory, and by one point in overall scoring won the J/120 North American Championship as well as the Keefe-Kilborn Perpetual Trophy. CHANCE ended up second followed by John Wimer's DESDEMONA in third.
The J/105 BLACKHAWK, skippered by Scooter Simmons (Belvedere, Calif.), managed a sixth to maintain its lead in that class and take home the Atlantic Perpetual Trophy. It was a tough battle all regatta long with Bruce Stone's ARBITRAGE team. Going into the last race, both teams were essentially tied and the final race would determine the final outcome. Stone's ARBITRAGE could only manage to put three boats between the two when they needed six to win overall. As a result, Simmon's team won their second Rolex watch in the last three years. Stone's team managed second overall, despite sailing to the wrong mark in the 3rd race (while winning the race). Third was Jason Woodley's and Scot Whitney's RISK, followed in fourth by Jeff Litfin's MOJO and early regatta leader Phi Laby's GODOT team in fifth.
In the J/70's, St. Francis Yacht Club Commodore Jim Cascino won half of his eight races to win their class, but only after winning a tie-breaker in overall scoring with Frank Slootman’s (Pleasanton, Calif.) LITTLE HAND sailing with trimmer/ tactician Bill Erkelens (manager of Larry Ellison's SAYONARA offshore program). Taking third for the regatta were Mark & Cameron Howe on RED. The J/70 fleet were not without their mishaps interpreting how to sail the race course and navigating certain race amendments. In the fourth race, Cascino's team was winning and rounded the leeward mark the wrong way, self-correcting the rounding incorrectly, still finishing 2nd in the race, but having to withdraw for re-rounding incorrectly (got it?-- it's called "the string theory"). In the final "around SF Bay tour" race on Sunday, Cascino's team was winning again by a significant margin but rounded the leeward mark as a "mark", not as a "gate", as did most of the rest of the fleet-- consequently retiring again! Lessons learned? Navigators are important on J/70s if sailing in San Francisco Bay-- bring the GPS!
In the end, another memorable Rolex Big Boat Series, punctuated by the "beer girls" serving local micro-brewery brews every evening as each team docked their boats, full trays of beers in hand for every member of the crew! And, who can forget "breakfast" served each morning at the head of the dock ramp, with fresh-made coffee, eggs cooked to your liking, fresh pastries and other sundries. The sponsor's Rolex and their partners Mt Gay Rum and the St Francis YC team ashore did a masterful job of ensuring all crews were happily taken care of in every way possible-- kudo's to Commodore Jim Cascino and the entire StFYC crew! Time for a day off, one would presume before next weekend's infamous "Stag Cruise" to Tinsley Island in the Delta!?
Sailing photo credits- Rolex/ Daniel Forster. For daily video recaps by T2P-TV with the famously gorgeous rockstar Annie Gardner. For more Rolex Big Boat Series sailing information