Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Thrill-A-Minute @ 50th Rolex BBS!

J/70 Double Trouble- Andy CostelloJ/70s, J/105s, J/111s & J/120s Flying Downwind in Clouds of Spray!
(San Francisco, CA)- Wait, did any of the crews sailing in this years’ 50th edition of the Rolex Big Boat Series not have fun??  After enduring the long beats to the various windward marks, it was pretty clear just about every sailor on every J sailing in this year’s event couldn’t wait to pop the big kite and simply “send it” down the Bay on insanely fast, planing runs zig-zagging around Alcatraz Island as they worked there way down 4 to 6nm runs!  Most spinnaker trimmers reported their arms got so long, friends from the San Francisco Zoo mistakenly reported seeing giant chimpanzees hanging around the docks with bottles of beer and Advil in hand!

A year after the contest for the 34th America’s Cup, world-class sailing is still alive and well on San Francisco Bay. Having developed stadium sailing long before the America’s Cup made it a local colloquialism, the St. Francis Yacht Club ensured fast fun for spectators as well as competitors by designing each day’s second race (always sailed in a blustery afternoon breeze) to finish within cheering distance of the clubhouse’s famous second-story race deck that commands attention east to Alcatraz Island and west to a sun-drenched (sometimes fog-enshrouded) Golden Gate Bridge.

J/111 Madmen in San Francisco BayIn the J/111 class debut for RBBS, Dorian McKelvy’s (Portola Valley, Calif.) MADMEN looked to be the favorite in the J/111 class for the Atlantic Perpetual Trophy and the Rolex Submariner watch, but after two days of leading, the team succumbed to Rob Theis’s (Los Altos, Calif.) AEOLUS, which wound up only one point ahead of MADMEN in the final standings.

The J/105s made up the largest fleet this year, and Bruce Stone’s (San Francisco) ARBITRAGE held the lead every day, earning the team the Commodore’s Cup plus the Rolex watch (the third Rolex for Stone). “This is the toughest fleet in the country I think,” said Stone, who missed winning last year by a narrow margin. “We felt that the courses were really interesting compared to the past, and St. Francis Yacht Club did a really excellent job,” he said.  “For us, it was all about keeping the boat moving with all the lulls and gusts and changing of conditions and tides.”

J/120s sailing San Francisco BayIn J/120s, a tight race between David Halliwill’s (New York N.Y.) PEREGRINE and Barry Lewis’s (Atherton, Calif.) CHANCE tilted to PEREGRINE’s favor for the Rolex watch that was awarded in that class.

Then, the J/70s saw a familiar face racing DOUBLE TROUBLE- J/125 owner Andy Costello sailed with some of his “big boat” crew and added in the famous Paul Cayard as mainsheet trim/ tactician, to lead the fleet from day one and never relinquish their firm grip on the number one spot.

The fleet was blessed with truly epic, fresh-to-frightening sailing conditions all week long.  Stone reported that the average breeze was 18-25 kts and in one race where the J/105s went further east than most fleets to the Berkeley Circle, registered puffs up to 35 kts!!

It was a “rip-roaring” start for the fleet on their first day of racing on Thursday, September 11th.  With two races scheduled for 10 classes (three handicap-rated and seven one-design), the morning started out relatively slow, with J/120s, Farr 40s and J/105s having to abandon their first race on the “Circle” Course (farthest north on the Bay) due to frustrating eight-knot winds across a four-knot flood current. It just took some patient waiting, however, and “Big Boat normal” was back, with plenty of heft in the conditions to fulfill the first day’s racing plans.

McKelvy’s J/111 MADMEN started off on the right foot, turning in finishes of 2-1 to top a seven-boat fleet. “The wind was consistent and less than in the Bay,” said McKelvy when asked about his second race’s upwind leg to Pt. Diablo (west of the Golden Gate Bridge). “[Outside the Gate] was a welcome place to be after all the strong breeze we had experienced.”

J/111 BIG BLAST sailing Rolex Big Boat Series- San FranciscoMcKelvy added that this was his first Big Boat Series and first big event period; he bought the boat in 2011 and sailed it just for fun with kids and family. In the last year and a half, with the help of his sail makers and tactician Geoff Thorp, he has gone from family mode to full-on rocket mode. “It has been an outrageous experience,” he said. “Today was just about the fastest I’ve ever gone on a boat with a spinnaker, so there was a little bit of perspiration and nervousness, but it was great. I’ve been an observer (of this event) for years, and it seemed way outside my comfort level, so to be here is a dream shot. It is a ‘bucket list’ kind of thing and everything I ever heard it would be.”

Racing on Friday saw more of the same scenario, lightish in the morning but the nuclear winds roaring down the Bay and into the Valley beyond kicked in hard by noon time.  The fleet again arrived home exhausted, but elated.  In the J/120 Class, Lewis’s CHANCE has a reputation for making it on to the podium, and this year the team has protected its first place position that it initiated yesterday. “Each day the margin of error gets smaller and smaller at this event, and each boat steps up their game a little more,” said Lewis, adding that there is a strong fleet of competitive boats that race each year, including Halliwill’s PEREGRINE which was biting at his heels, only one point behind in second.

“This year we have some new boats racing, including the Japanese team onboard JULIAN, which is super-fast and very competitive,” commented Lewis.  “In this fleet, if you make a mistake it will cost you big. Our game plan moving forward is to minimize mistakes, sail fast upwind and get great starts.”

Saturday’s racing was, yet again, a near carbon copy of the previous days.  It blew 20 knots and above for a third straight day, and with six races under their sailing belts, many of the classes were counting on one last race (the traditional “Bay Tour”) Sunday to either seal their deals or steal into top-three positions where bragging rights are as treasured as the trophies to be presented.   “It’s all-on for Sunday,” said Norman Davant, the event’s co-chair. “This has been awesome sailing. Controlled chaos is a very good way to describe it,” said Davant. “We wanted to do something different on the land and the water, so we put a mark one mile west of the Golden Gate Bridge where we normally don’t go, and yesterday our class went to it twice.  Last night, we brought food trucks in and had a great party for the sailors.”

J/125 Hamachi sailing San Francisco Big Boat SeriesAfter the two races on Saturday, it was Greg Slyngstad’s (Sammamish, Wash.) J/125 HAMACHI, in first overall in the HPR Division.

Sunday dawned again with fog, which then cleared, then the wind-machine was turned on— “wash, rinse, repeat”!  And, again it blew 18-25 kts for the famous “Around Bay Tour”, a favorite amongst the Rolex Big Boat Series cognoscenti for decades.  No one was disappointed with the fabulous, sunny, windy conditions.  In the end it was all well worth it for many “newbie” sailors in some classes.  The J/70s happened to have at least three, including Andy Costello & Paul Cayard on the J/70 DOUBLE TROUBLE and Wayne Zittel on the J/70 J/WORLD PERFORMANCE SAILING.

Here is Costello’s report from DOUBLE TROUBLE:  “The 70 is an awesome little boat.  We had a solid 25 knots gusting to a bit more on the bottom of the course towards the top of the Berkeley circle on Saturday and we hit 19 knots over the bottom on the Velocitek GPS. We joked afterwards that must be a J/70 record, but probably not. There were some 70's or two washing their Windexs in the bay.... some halyards didn't hold etc, on that late afternoon run in typical SF Bay breeze. The boat and the rig feel pretty bomb-proof.  We stuffed it hard into some big waves a few times, when we couldn't go over the top of them. I thought the rig was going to come down, but no way! Great job with the Southern Spar!

J/70 Double Trouble- Andy Costello and Paul Cayard sailing San Francisco Big Boat SeriesMy crew for the regatta was awesome!! Two of my crew were from my J/125 DOUBLE TROUBLE- James Clappier (a.k.a. “hippie”) on bow and jib trim downwind and Nick Catley (from New Zealand and currently on the World Match Race Tour) on jib trim upwind and spin trimmer downwind.  We then had Paul Cayard on tactics and mainsheet (a Star World and Volvo Ocean Race champion), with me driving.

We had two days before the event to sail for some practice; none of us had stepped on to a J/70 beforehand.  We learned a lot over the Regatta and really progressed over the six days of sailing.

I'll be purchasing my own boat soon! Mark Howe let me use his J/70 for the RBBS and we had Sharon Green from Ultimate Sailing out on my Protector RIB shooting some awesome photos!

The J/70 fleet was competitive and the racing was incredibly tight.  It was my most enjoyable Big Boat series in the 10 years that I have done it!! Go figure, and it was on the smallest boat!!”

The final standings in each class were the following:

J/70 fleet sailing San Francisc Bay in Rolex Big Boat SeriesIn J/70s, Costello’s team ruled the roost, taking an 8-1-2-1-2-1-2 for 17 pts to win class by a comfortable margin.  However, it was a battle royal for the balance of the top five behind them.  Hanging tough in the last race was Chris Andersen’s PERFECT WIFE, posting a record of 5-3-6-2-4-7-4 for a total of 31 pts to take the silver.  Just missing out was Geoff McDonald’s 1FA, starting out slowly but closing with a flourish with a 7-7-1-8-3-3-3 for 32 pts, taking the bronze on a tie-breaker over David Schumann’s BOTTLE ROCKET that had a “snakes & ladders” record of 3-2-4-4-11-2-6 also on 32 pts.  Fifth was Tom Jenkins & Eric Kownacki’s DFZ with 39 pts.

J/105 Arbitrage- Bruce Stone & Nicole Breault- sailing Rolex Big Boat SeriesIn the J/105s, Stone’s ARBITRAGE sailed fast and finished with three 1sts, plus 2-3-4-5 for a total of 17 pts.  Staying close but not able to close the gap was Scooter Simmons’ BLACKHAWK, taking a 5-1-3-5-5-1-1 record to the finish for 21 pts.  Third was Phil Laby’s GODOT with 27 pts, then 4th was Jeff Litfin’s MOJO and 5th was the DONKEY JACK trio (Shannon Ryan, Rolf Kaiser, & Ken Turnbull).

As noted earlier, the big upset for any class leader took place in the J/111s.  After leading the first five races, McKelvy’s MADMEN simply went mad and went off the deep end on Saturday, digging themselves a big hole with a 5-8 after posting a fleet-leading 2-1-3-1 Thursday and Friday.  On Sunday’s Bay Tour, MADMEN won the race but could do nothing to stop Theis’ AEOLUS from finishing in 3rd place to take the trophy and the watch!  Also having a mathematical chance at winning was Roland Vandermeer’s fire-engine red BIG BLAST!, posting a 5-2-1-3-6-2-4 for just 23 pts to take third on the podium, only 3 pts out of first— the last race being the determining factor!  Fourth was Dick Swanson’s BIG DOG and fifth was Nesrin Basoz’s SWIFT NESS.

J/120s sailing into finish- Rolex Big Boat SeriesThe J/120s saw both veterans of the BBS scene as well as fresh new faces in the crowd competing hard for class honors.  While Halliwill’s PEREGRINE won with just 14 pts, the next four spots were close enough that where you finished on Sunday’s Bay Tour determined the class pecking order.  Steadily sailing in the top three was Lewis’ CHANCE, taking second with 19 pts.  Class newcomer, Yasuhide Kobayashi on JULIAN from Tokyo, Japan, took a well-deserved third overall with 24 pts, even winning two races along the way.  Fourth was the familiar dark-green machine, Steve Madeira’s MISTER MAGOO, and in fifth was Timo Bruck’s TWIST.

Finally, in the HPR Class, it looked like the J/125s were going to do it again and sweep the top spot in HPR/ IRC for the third straight year at RBBS.  After Saturday’s racing, Slyngstad’s Seattle, WA crew on HAMACHI were indeed winning class. However, the “ultra-reachy” (meaning jibs, not spinnakers) Sunday Bay Tour for their particular class proved to be their undoing, settling for second overall.  Sailing photo credits- Rolex/ Daniel Forster and Erik Simonson/ and Sharon Green/ Ultimate Sailing

T2P-TV video Sailing highlights
Summary Music Video-
Dock Talk with crews-
For more Rolex Big Boat Series sailing information