Rolex Big Boat Series launches 50th Anniversary edition

Published on September 11th, 2014

San Francisco, CA (September 11, 2014) – In typical fashion for this time of year, the wind on San Francisco Bay piped up to 15-18 knots this afternoon, thrilling hundreds of sailors competing in their first day of the four-day Rolex Big Boat Series.

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.

The first-ever St. Francis Perpetual Cup Series was held in 1964, with Jim Wilhite’s 63-foot Sparkman & Stephens yawl Athene claiming the St. Francis Perpetual Trophy after a narrow victory over Jim Kilroy’s Kialoa II. Eventually changing its name to the Rolex Big Boat Series (Rolex became title sponsor in 2005, after three years as a presenting sponsor), the regatta has been going strong ever since, with the somber exception of 2001 when the regatta was scheduled to start only two days after 9/11.

Now at the event’s 50th Anniversary edition, sailors are still lusting after the St. Francis Perpetual and five other trophies that St. Francis Yacht Club Commodore George Dort last night ceremoniously announced as being for the taking in ORR, HPR, Farr 40, J/111, J/105, and Express 37 classes, along with Rolex timepieces. (A Rolex timepiece will also be awarded to the winner of the J/120 class.)

Dorian McKelvy’s (Portola Valley, Calif.) J/111 Madmen started off on the right foot today, 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.”

McKelvy added that this is 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.”

San Francisco native Don Jesberg (Belvedere, Calif.) is one of the longest-standing Melges 24 owners, and that showed today in his 1-1 scoreline sailing Viva, which was awarded Boat of the Day for its performance. Jesberg was the 2012 Melges 24 North American and 2013 Melges 24 World Champion (both in Corinthian division) and has also won the Melges 32 North Americans.

“We first sailed the Melges 24 in 1994,” said Jesberg, adding that the light-displacement sport boat, sailed with a crew of four, was first introduced in 1993. “They’re fun to sail and very fast.”

Jesberg has been racing in the Rolex Big Boat Series since 1972 on various boats. “It is a Fall ritual, and I hope that this year we can keep winning races.”

Kame Richards’ (Alameda, Calif.) Golden Moon in Express 37 Class and Wayne Koide’s (San Anselmo, Calif.) Sydney 36 Encore in ORR Class also scored double bullets today.

Bernie Girod (Santa Barbara, Calif.) and his team on Rock & Roll were excited about their return to the Rolex Big Boat Series’ HPR class (they finished fourth last year); this past spring their Farr 400 underwent bow modifications to improve its performance. The change must have worked, because today’s performance puts them on top of the HPR Class leaderboard.

“I am very bullish about the bow modification. The first thing you would notice is that the boat is dry, as hard as it is to believe,” said Girod. “Instead of plunging into the next wave, the 400 now slices right through the waves, and the water is diverted to the sides instead of coming over the top. It’s a very nice improvement, both upwind and down.”

Event websiteResults

Report by Media Pro Intl. Photo by Erik Simonson.

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