Golden anniversary for premier West Coast regatta

Published on September 3rd, 2014

Anticipation is building for next week’s 50th Anniversary edition of the Rolex Big Boat Series (RBBS), hosted by St. Francis Yacht Club. The regatta kicks off Thursday, Sept. 11, beginning four days of buoy and stadium-style racing in the ever-challenging and seemingly always breezy conditions on San Francisco Bay.

Competition takes place in three handicap-rated divisions (ORR and HPR for monohulls, BAMA for multihulls) and eight one-design classes (J/70, J/105, J/111, J/120, Melges 24, Farr 40, Express 37, Farr 40), providing plenty of thrilling action for participants as well as spectators viewing from various vantage points around the Bay, including St. Francis Yacht Club’s own race deck, which serves as one end of the finish line in each day’s final race.

“This is the premier around-the-buoys regatta on the West Coast every year, period, full stop,” said Donald Payan, who will steer his MC38 Whiplash in HPR class. “It attracts the very best from San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Diego and all over the world. For us, we peak for it. We love it, because the winds typically are in the high teens, low 20s; out-of-towners may get a little intimidated by it, but for us it’s best.”

Payan, who has won the regatta twice before on his previously owned J/120 (sailing One-Design in 2010 and IRC in 2011), says Whiplash is speedy and feisty, similar to the other “fast forties” in HPR. “In 14-15 knots we’re already stepped up and planing, where the heavier boats normally aren’t,” said Payan. “It’s a very, very fast boat that needs a considerable amount of sailing expertise.”

Daniel Thielman’s (Tiburon) RP 44 Tai Kuai may be the boat to beat, as it was the second-place finisher in HPR last year, but there is also the unknown in Anatole Masfen’s IRC52 Beecom (Auckland, NZ), which sailed IRC last year and has switched to HPR, and in newcomers Wicked Sister and Racer X, both Farr 36 ODs, sailed by Richard Courcier (Tahoe City) and Michael Rosenauer/Gary Redelberger (Tahoe City), respectively.

“If we have good long downwind legs, we will do very well,” added Payan.

The ORR class is new this year, with many of last year’s IRC boats making the switch, including 2013 IRC B winner Sy Kleinman (Saratoga) aboard his Schumacher 54 Swiftsure. IRC D’s second-place finisher Wayne Koide (San Anselmo), aboard his Sydney 36 Encore, is also one to watch.

“For ORR, U.S. Sailing has taken the different race courses and the average wind speed and direction here and applied these numbers to determine a single-number San Francisco time-on-time formula for scoring,” said Regatta Co-Chair Norman Davant. “To truly have great handicap racing in such diverse types of boats, this is the next logical step for handicap racing. Early trials for this type of handicap and scoring have proven very good so far, so we look forward to racing under this new system.”

In the one-design world, handicaps aren’t an issue, and nowhere is there a better example of that kind of flat-out, boat-for-boat competition than at the Rolex Big Boat Series, especially in the J/105 class, which traditionally has the largest number of boats competing (18 are currently registered).

Scooter Simmons’ (Sausalito) Blackhawk is the defending Rolex Big Boat Series J/105 champion and the leader in this year’s Fleet 1 San Francisco series. The boat’s project manager Lindsay Browne says the key to success is having the same crew throughout the year. “We try to rotate as little as possible,” he said, explaining that Scooter Simmons’ son Ryan will be taking the helm at the regatta. “This is a team in the true sense. It’s not a throne that Ryan sits on; he is a talented, past college sailor and encourages input. Everyone has a voice, everyone listens.” In recent years, there has been trade off with Bruce Stone’s (San Francisco) Arbitrage on the top podium at major events, and Browne thinks Jeff Littfin’s (San Mateo) Mojo will be a sure contender as well.

The four classes of J Boats will comprise nearly half of the fleet, but it will be the newest J Boats, the J/70s, that might steal the show with their ability to zip along courses set close to shore. Compact (22.75 feet) and trailerable, the high-performance boats have inspired many sailors to abandon their larger boats and discover the fun of sailing with less crew and smaller operating budgets. The first-ever J/70 Worlds, taking place in Newport, R.I. at the same time as this regatta, will host a whopping 91 boats, but the 12 signed up here are looking forward to their own battles. Among those competing is last year’s second-place finisher Frank Slootman (Pleasanton) aboard Little Hand.

Not so far removed from their class’s World Championship are the Farr 40s, of which there will be 15 competing. In fact, the 2014 Rolex Farr 40 World Championship occurs next month at the St. Francis Yacht Club, so the Rolex Big Boat Series is nothing less than an intense dry run for that much anticipated event. With teams from the U.S., Turkey, Italy, Australia, Mexico, Canada, Germany and Austria, this class will be the most international in scope, serving up some of the hottest names in sailing. Alberto Rossi’s Enfant Terrible, as the 2013 World Champion, might be considered the top threat, but also competing will be Helmut Jahn’s (Chicago, Ill.) Flash Gordon 6, the 2012 World Champion, and a slew of other candidates capable of taking the crown at either – or both – of the regattas. And speaking of crowns, the Rolex Big Boat Series is the last event counting towards the international Farr 40 Circuit Championship for 2014, so an overall victor (and for a Corinthian division as well) will be determined by the outcome here.

Sailed since 1964, the St. Francis Yacht Club Big Boat Series added Rolex Watch U.S.A. as a title sponsor in 2005. The event has continued to grow in stature, and now sailors from around the world come to the Rolex Big Boat Series expecting some of the best racing offered in the U.S., if not the world. Six specially engraved Rolex timepieces are traditionally awarded to winners of the St. Francis Yacht Club’s Perpetual Trophies: the St. Francis Perpetual Trophy; the City of San Francisco Trophy; the Richard Rheem Trophy; the Keefe-Kilborn Memorial Trophy; the Atlantic Trophy; and the Commodore’s Cup.

Event website:

Report by Media Pro Intl. Photo by Rolex / Daniel Forster.

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