Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Epic Sailing @ Rolex Big Boat Series

Spinnakers at Rolex (San Francisco, CA)- The record-setting 52nd edition of the Rolex Big Boat Series got underway last Thursday under leaden skies and cool temperatures. But with a westerly wind of 10 to 20 knots blowing, the fleet of 127 boats banged out at least two races on three racing circles.

In classic Big Boat Series fashion, the race committees sent the 11 classes on long courses around San Francisco Bay with the second race finishing off the St. Francis Yacht Club. The formula for success was hard to fathom because the tide shifted from flood to ebb between races, meaning that the side of the course that played in the first race didn’t hold true in the second.

J/105s sailing Rolex Big Boat SeriesWith 26 entrants, the J/105 Class was the second-largest in the regatta and it was frequently in close quarters. The first windward mark rounding saw Ryan Simmons’ (Sausalito, Calif.) BLACKHAWK lead and then quickly throw in a jibe to port. With 20 other boats coming in from all angles, shouts of “Starboard!” were heard frequently. In the end, BLACKHAWK scored two firsts in the tightly contested class. Rick Goebel’s (San Diego, Calif.) SANITY was second with two 2nds and Tom Kennelly’s (San Rafael, Calif.) WONDER was in third with 8 points on finishes of 5-3.

Other leaders with double bullets included David Halliwill’s (New York, N.Y.) PEREGRINE in the J/120 Class.

J/70s at Rolex Big Boat SeriesIn the J/70 Class, the largest class in the fleet with 36 entrants, Joel Ronning’s (Excelsior, Minn.) CATAPULT and Julian Fernandez Neckelmann’s (Valle de Bravo, Mexico) FLOJITO Y COOPERANDO gained slight separation on the pack with some stellar racing. CATAPULT led with 4 points on a scoreline of 1-1-2 and was 1 point ahead of FLOJITO, which posted a 2-2-1 scoreline. Third place was held by Bob Hughes’ (Ada, Mich.) HEARTBREAKER, which had 10 points on a 4-3-3 scoreline.

“Those two are going to be tough to beat,” said Chris Snow (San Francisco, Calif.) racing on fifth-placed COOL STORY BRO. “Flojito is the reigning world champion. Catapult has John Kostecki as tactician and they’ve been practicing a lot. It’s all about the build-up to the Worlds next week.”

The J/70s sailed three races all on the Berkeley Circle, where the class will hold its World Championship beginning Sept. 24. Kostecki, a past world champion in many classes, said they had good starts and good boatspeed, which allowed them to get to the head of the pack. “When you’re in the front of the pack in a big fleet, life is easy,” said Kostecki.

Kostecki, who’s been sailing on San Francisco Bay all his life, said that the Berkeley Circle racecourse levels the playing field. “Compared to some of the other courses on San Francisco Bay, the Berkeley Circle doesn’t lend itself to local knowledge. We sailed three races in flood tide, slack tide and ebb tide, and there was no set game plan. Sometimes the right worked and sometimes the left worked. It was a tricky day.”

J/88 sailing San Francisco Rolex Big Boat SeriesSecond Day- Classic Windy 25-32 kts!
After Thursday’s opening day in grey conditions, Friday saw the marine layer over San Francisco Bay burn off early and that enabled the westerly breeze to increase into the high 20s, with gusts to 32 kts, by the end of racing. With an ebb tide running in the afternoon, a short chop kicked up that made the downwind leg to the finish off the St. Francis Yacht Club a wild ride with broaches aplenty.

All class leaders, however, continued the consistent form that propelled them to the top of their class yesterday. After winning both of yesterday’s races, Halliwill’s J/120 PEREGRINE finished 2nd in the first race followed by a 1st in the second race and led the J/120 Class by 3 points over Barry Lewis’s (Atherton, Calif.) CHANCE, which had a 3-2-1-2 scoreline.

J/88 sailing fast- Rolex Big Boat SeriesThe J/70 Class continued to be a battle between FLOJITO and CATAPULT. Led by world champion tacticians Bill Hardesty and John Kostecki, respectively, the two crews were tied with 9 points at the end of the day, each with three 1sts and three 2nds. FLOJITO, however, won the final race and therefore held the tiebreak advantage.

These two crews have connections that run deeper than San Francisco Bay, and the thread is Hardesty. Hardesty sailed with CATAPULT for two years, including the inaugural J/70 Worlds three years ago. He also was tactician for Neckelmann last year when he won the J/70 Worlds. Additionally, Hardesty raced Lasers against Neckelmann 20 years ago, when both were training for the Olympics.

Hardesty said that whoever gets to the right side of the racecourse on the Berkeley Circle and rounds the windward mark in the lead is able to extend. “I think there’s a shaft of wind coming off of Angel Island that makes the right favorable,” he said.

Besides watching the wind, Hardesty has been keeping a close eye on Kostecki. “He’s sailed here all his life. He knows this place like no one else,” said Hardesty. “So if I see he’s tacking one way or the other, we’re going to tack soon after.”

FLOJITO won the day’s final race in such fashion. “We lined up to start at the boat end but had a general recall,” said Hardesty. “We saw that Kostecki was starting at the pin end. So, in the second start we were at the pin end. We had a long beat all the way across the Bay to the city front. Because we started at the pin, we were able to nose into the ebb tide first and then just got swept out the Bay. Good thing we had a general recall!”

J/105 Sanity- Rick GoebelIn the J/105 Class, Goebel’s SANITY overtook the lead from Simmons’s BLACKHAWK. Simmons placed 12th in the first race and 3rd in the second while Goebel finished 3-5. Although Goebel is the only class leader to not win a race, he leads with 12 pts to Simmons’s 17 pts.

Goebel is another veteran racer at the Rolex Big Boat Series, but hasn’t competed here since 2011. In fact, his history on San Francisco Bay stretches back to the mid-1980s when he was a crewman for the Canada II syndicate for the America’s Cup and they were in town training against Tom Blackaller’s USA syndicate.

J/105 Sanity- Rick Goebel- San DiegoGoebel trailered his boat to San Francisco from San Diego because they’re ultimately headed to the East Coast for the J/105 North Americans later next month and needed practice. As he noted, eight of the 26 entrants are past class winners.

“It’s a ton of fun to travel to San Francisco and race in the big breeze,” said Goebel, who’s originally from Edmonton, Canada. “It’s a different world here from San Diego, with the waves and chop. You always have to be conscious of the current. There are some areas that are hard to handle under the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s like a washing machine.”

Third day- more epic winds!
The marine layer hovering over San Francisco Bay took a while to burn off early Saturday, causing a slight delay to racing. Once it cleared, a strong seabreeze gusting upwards of 30 knots filled for Day 3.

J/70 MUSE sailing Rolex Big Boat SeriesThe conditions have been typical for this time of year that has allowed RBBS veterans to rise to the tops of their classes. While experience is paying off for the classes racing off the city front, the J/70 class is racing on the Berkeley Circle in the eastern Bay. There, local knowledge is less of a factor because the current flows more uniformly.

In one of the more compelling battles of the regatta, FLOJITO laid down the hammer on the day, winning all three races to open an 8-point lead over CATAPULT. The two boats had traded 1st and 2nd through the first two days of racing, but CATAPULT tripped up in the first race, placing 6th, followed by a 2-3.

Holding 3rd place in the J/70s is Chris Kostanecki’s (Ross, Calif.) JENNIFER, which has 63 points and trails FLOJITO by 51 points. Still, Kostanecki is happy with his crew’s performance. “Practice is paying off,” said Kostanecki, who grew up in Darien, Conn., sailing on Long Island Sound. “We’re getting off the line without drama. The first two minutes of the race are critical. It’s so important to get poked out and we’re holding our own.”

Kostanecki was buoyed today because they were trading tacks with FLOJITO. “We almost got them one race,” he said. “We came to the windward mark with them but they got inside us and just sailed away. They’re so quick changing modes from upwind to downwind. The good thing is we learned what they’re doing downwind: rocking the boat to windward and getting the angle to the waves.”

In the J/120s, Halliwell’s PEREGRINE continued to put forth a solid performance. PEREGRINE had accumulated a scoreline of four 1sts and two 2nds for the low score of 8 points, good for a 3-point lead over Lewis’s J/120 CHANCE.

J/120s sailing Rolex Big Boat SeriesPEREGRINE helmsman Mike O’Callaghan is another veteran of the RBBS, having raced at least 20 times. He grew up sailing on the Bay and has raced with some of his crew since he was a teenager. “We’re putting the boat in the right place on the racecourse, getting off the start line well and holding our position.”

CHANCE won the first race, but PEREGRINE bounced back for the win in the second race. “Chance is no slouch. They got on us in that race and kept driving us back. It’s fun stuff. In another race, we passed them on a reach going about 1.5 knots faster, just sailed right over the top of them. We hit 16 knots on that leg! That’s a lot for this boat!”

The lead also changed hands in the J/105 Class, which is the closest class in the regatta. Philip Laby’s (Oakland, Calif.) GODOT started the day in fifth place but leapt to first after posting a 1-2. GODOT had 29 points, good for a 2-point lead over Simmons’s BLACKHAWK. Bruce Stone’s (San Francisco, Calif.) ARBITRAGE was in third with 32 points and Goebel’s SANITY was in fourth with 33 points.

J/111 - Peter Wagner at Rolex Big Boat SeriesFourth day- Pretty, Gentle Breeze for the Finale
The regatta drew to a close on Sunday in splendid late-summer sailing conditions. After a two hour delay waiting for the breeze to fill, a seabreeze of 15 to 18 knots arrived and brought with it decidedly warmer temperatures. For the first time in four days, crews shed their foul weather gear and fleeces as they took to the racecourse.

Tim Fuller’s (Murrieta, Calif.) J/125 RESOLUTE won the City of San Francisco Trophy, one of the two golden spades used for the ground-breaking ceremony of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1933, for winning ORR B. Peter Wagner’s (Atherton, Calif.) J/111 TOPZY TURVY finished second and also was the top-scoring J/111 in the fleet. Completing a sweep of the podium by J/crews was Viggo Torbensen’s J/125 TIMESHAVER from Dana Point, CA.  Taking 5th was Dick Swanson’s J/111 BAD DOG.

The Atlantic Perpetual Trophy, a ship’s bell from the schooner Atlantic, which established a transatlantic record in 1905 that stood for 92 years, was presented to Philip Laby’s (Oakland, Calif.) Godot, winner of the J/105 Class. In a seesaw battle that came down to the seventh and final race, Godot scored a 1-point victory over Simmons’s BLACKHAWK.  Never recovering from a scoring penalty in race 3 and a broken sprit pole while winning a race by a 1/4 mile was Goebel’s SANITY, having to settle for 3rd place.  Rounding out the top five was Stone and Breault’s ARBITRAGE in 4th and 5th was Jeff Litfin’s MOJO.

J/70 Rolex Big Boat Series winners- FlojitoThe Commodore’s Cup Perpetual Trophy was awarded to the winner of the largest one-design class in the regatta, the J/70 Class that had 36 entrants. The top-finishing J/70 was Neckelmann’s FLOJITO.  The win did not come easy as they posted their worst finish of the regatta in the first race of the day, an 11th, while Ronning’s CATAPULT took a 4th. Winning the first windward-leeward 1.6nm leg race was Jud Smith’s AFRICA.  With one point separating the two, CATAPULT had to put one boat between them and FLOJITO to win the regatta in the final race home.  The last race was started near red bell #2 on the east side of the shipping channel and course #37 was chosen by PRO Jeff Johnson (San Diego YC), a long 4.6nm beat to a drop mark next to Blackaller Buoy in the shadows of the southern tower of Golden Gate Bridge.  After a port rounding, it was downwind to the finish line at StFYC.  Both leaders started at the port end of the line, hoping to be the first to drop their bows into the building ebb along the city front, south of Alcatraz Island.  Though CATAPULT got into the 3 kt ebb first, FLOJITO was close enough, and fast enough to win the first cross.  Thereafter, FLOJITO kept CATAPULT covered all the way to the mark to win the race.  Meanwhile, Heather Gregg & Joe Bardenheier’s MUSE team sailed fast, played the shifts off the shore to pass CATAPULT on the final leg home to take 2nd in the race.  As a result, FLOJITO won, with CATAPULT second.  Taking third was Kostanecki’s JENNIFER, fourth was Smith’s AFRICA and fifth was Brian Keane’s SAVASANA.

J/70 MUSE- Corinthians Division winnersWinning Corinthians Division was Gregg/ Bardenheier’s MUSE (and finished 10th overall), followed by the San Francisco team of 1FA skippered by Scott Sellers in second and the Newport Beach team of SUGOI (Chris Raab & Dale Williams) in third.  Fourth in Corinthians was Pat Toole’s Santa Barbara team on 3 BIG DOGS and fifth was Jim Cunningham’s LIFTED.

Halliwell’s Peregrine won the J/120 Class with the low score of 9 points, accumulated on five 1sts and two 2nds. Lewis’s CHANCE placed second with 13 points, followed by Steve Madeira’s MR MAGOO in third.  Taking 4th place was Timo Bruck’s TWIST and 5th position was Tom Grennan’s KOOKABURRA.

Sailing PHRF Sportboat division was a trio of J/88s taking on a Soto 30, M32s and Farr36s.  In the end, it was Marc McMorris’ M-SQUARED taking third as top J/88, while Gary Panariello’s COURAGEOUS and Jim Hopp’s WHITE SHADOW finished 6th and 7th, respectively.  Sailing photo credits-    Rolex/ Daniel Forster- danielforster.comLeslie Richter- Sharon Green/ UltimateSailing   Facebook Rolex Big Boat Series sailing video summary  For more Rolex Big Boat Series sailing information