The final day of the 2021 Rolex Big Boat Series, hosted by St. Francis Yacht Club, featured long courses for all eight divisions, sending boats into every corner of San Francisco Bay. Clear skies, a steady westerly and the vagaries of current providedplenty of opportunities to mix things up as sailors vied for podium positions, perpetual trophies and—for three classes—Rolex Submariner Date watches.
The final downwind run delivered all 78 competitors to a finish line positioned directly in front of St. Francis Yacht Club, where a crowd of spectators cheered from shore. Winners were awarded in the following divisions: ORR A, ORR B, ORR C, J/105, J/88, J/70, Express 37 and Classics. Competition at the event also determined the J/88 North American Champion and the Express 37 Pacific Coast Champion.
The oldest trophy of the regatta, the St. Francis PerpetualTrophy, has been awarded since 1964 with a deed of gift granting it to boats greater than 40 feet in length. This year’s winner, with six bullets in seven races, was the J/111 Rock & Roll sailed by Bernard Girod (Santa Barbara). Girod also took home a Rolex Submariner Date watch. Second in ORR A was Thomas Furlong’s Swan 42 Club Elusive (San Francisco Yacht Club) followed by Romeo Uriarte’s Landmark 43 Destin(Richmond Yacht Club) in third.
The Atlantic Perpetual Trophy, established in 1978 and featuring the ship’s bell of the yacht Atlantic, was awarded to ORR B winner Sandra Askew and her IC37 Flying Jenny (Annapolis Yacht Club, New York Yacht Club – featured image). Racing with an East Coast-based team in this highly competitive class, the win also earned Askew a Rolex Submariner Date watch. Daniel Thielman’s Melges 32 Kuai (Corinthian Yacht Club) finished second and Dave MacEwen’s Rogers 46 Lucky Duck (St. Francis Yacht Club) was third, bested by Kuai by only one point.
The Keefe-Kilborn Trophy was established in 1976 to honor the memory of the late St. Francis Yacht Club members, Harold Keefe and Ray Kilborn. This year, it went to the top competitor in the ORR C Class, Scott Easom, aboard the J/100 Eight Ball (San Francisco Yacht Club). Second place in ORR C went to Rodney Pimentel’s Cal 40 Azure (Encinal Yacht Club) and David Halliwill’s J/120 Peregrine (San Francisco Yacht Club) finished third.
Every year, the Commodore’s Cup is awarded to the largest one-design class at the Rolex Big Boat Series, with a preference for fleets based in San Francisco Bay. This year, 22 J/105s raced amidst exceptionally tight competition. In the end, Ryan Simmons’ Blackhawk (San Francisco Yacht Club) and Tim Russell’s Ne Ne (San Francisco Yacht Club) tied for first on points, granting the overall win to Simmons for his four first-place finishes, compared to Ne Ne’s two. The win also earned Simmons a Rolex Submariner Date watch.
Simmons and Russell both finished the regatta with 22 points, followed by third place Keith Laby’s Godot with 37 points. Notably, fourth place finishers Bruce Stone and Nicole Breault aboard Arbitrage (St. Francis Yacht Club) ended with 40 points.
The Richard Rheem Perpetual Trophy was established in 1972 to honor the memory of St. Francis Yacht Club member Richard Rheem, whose yacht Morning Star was the elapsed time winner in the 1949 Transpac race to Honolulu. The Express 37 class, celebrating 30 years as a one-design fleet at Big Boat Series, raced for it this year and top honors went to Shawn Ivie’s Express 37 Limitless (Seal Beach Yacht Club/SMWYC). Ivie and team delivered Limitless up the coast from Los Angeles to compete in the Pacific Coast Championship at Rolex Big Boat Series, and will stay in the area for the 2021 Nationals this October. In the runup to RBBS, Ivie completed two boat tests with fellow LA-based Express 37, Bladerunner, which unfortunately had to scratch due to injury. Ivie carried some of Bladerunner’s crew aboard, plus local tactician Mike Quinn.
Andy Schwenk’s Spindrift V (Richmond Yacht Club) finished second in Express 37s with Mark Chaffey/Heidi Hall’s Loca Motion (Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club) in third.
Racing for the City of San Francisco Trophy as well as the title of J/88 North Americans, Iris Vogel’s Deviation (HYC, STC, NYYC) was in the hunt today. Though Deviation scored a bullet in Race 7, it was not enough to overcome the lead by Gary Panariello’s Courageous (Sausalito Yacht Club), who locked in the championship. Panariello finished first in J/88s with 15 points; Vogel had 17; and third went to Sergey Lubarsky’s Pelagia with 20
Though today’s DNF broke an otherwise perfect picket fence, John Brigden’s Cool Story, Bro. (St. Francis Yacht Club) prevailed to win the J/70 division with 16 points. Taking the bullet in race seven and finishing the regatta with 18 points overall was Geoff McDonald and Scott Sellers’ IFA (St. Francis Yacht Club). Peter Cameron’s Kangaroo Jockey (St. Francis Yacht Club) finished third with 23 points.
This was the second year that Classic yachts participated in Rolex Big Boat Series. With such a diversity of rigs and boat lengths in a class unified by vintage, camaraderie was the name of the game for these five competitors, who hope to draw even more entries as this class continues to grow.
As with the J/105s, the top two Classics tied on points, with eight points over four races for both Beau & Stacey Vrolyk’s Alden Schooner Mayan (St. Francis Yacht Club) and Neil Gibbs’ Sparkman & Stephens Kay of Göteborg (Sausalito Yacht Club). The overall win went to Vrolyk whose two first-place finishes beat out Gibbs’ four second-place finishes. Michael Zolezzi tookthird aboard the 8-Meter Yucca, finishing with 9 points.
How to race through a global pandemic
Close calls and tight racing were the name of the game this year, even for those who planned Rolex Big Boat Series, as the pandemic continues to disrupt daily life around the world. Luckily for the 635 competitors on the water and hundreds of friends and fans ashore, St. Francis Yacht Club found ways to work within local COVID restrictions to safely and successfully pull off this major event.
“The St. Francis did a great job stepping up the program with provisions outdoors so it’s not just sailing,” said Tom Duggan, Principal Race Officer, who also worked this year’s Tokyo Olympics and experienced the difficulties of running a safe regatta during a lockdown.
“It’s hard to gear up for a big event and cover all the contingencies without it being some totally stripped-down, ‘meet on the water, sail and go home’ situation. But, the socials at Big Boat Series were as good as ever and on the water we had great teams and great race management, which makes it easy to keep your head out of the boat from the PRO perspective.”
His first time back to Rolex Big Boat Series in eight years, Duggan noted that a slimmer menu of courses, plus keeping fleet starts in the same area morning and afternoon made a difference for the on-the-water experience. “They get more sailing now, so in addition to the quality socials there’s quality time on the water. It’s fantastic being back here and I’ve had a blast.”