Ronstan

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes in the sport

Published on September 19th, 2014

Originally named the St. Francis Perpetual Trophy Series, most only Know the regatta by its modern name: Rolex Big Boat Series. And while the ebb and flow of boat types aren’t quite sized to reflect the event name, the event remains a highlight for Northern California and beyond. Reflecting on the changes in this report is Erik Simonson…


In 2014, the 50th anniversary of the Big Boat Series on September 11-14 will go down a perhaps a turning point where size really doesn’t matter; it’s the length that counts. Four days of long courses with a nice variety of conditions will be remembered long after the bruises and strains have subsided.

Taking a page out of the Key West Race week where the numbers of large boats had also declined, the inclusion of spirited small sprit one designs seems to have provided a needed shot in the arm to the Fall Classic.

Without a feeder race like the Pan-Am Clipper Cup or Kenwood Cup in mid summer to provide a Pacific Rim contingency for the larger offshore programs, and many other interests like the TP 52 series in the Med, owners have opted to keep their larger assets in locations closer to warm water winter retreats and perhaps pick up a less expensive, yet just as exciting sport boat they can compete with, at a much reduced expense and time commitment.

“We saw it with the Farr 40’s back in the 90’s, “said Bill Colombo, sail maker at Doyle Sails Pacific, who has sailed in countless Big Boat Series in the past.”The first move was to the up and coming Melges 32’s and then the Melges 24’s and now the Melges 20’s and J-70’s. Owners seem to be finding just as much fun with these fast sportboats and the competition is very high.”

Bill, who sails regularly with Frank Slootman and his RP 63′ Invisible Hand on offshore campaigns, was tactician with Frank during the series on Frank’s J-70 Little Hand. “We were a little off on our tactics and boat handling, as we have not practiced together in a while, but at the end of the day, it was great fun!”

Frank relates:” It was a bit of a struggle for us. We had not sailed the boat since last year’s BBS, and the conditions didn’t help; it was rough out there, very windy in the afternoon. But it’s a great one design class, super competitive. Fast downwind. We saw 15-17 knots on a tear. Upwind in chop is painfully slow. One design sailing is a humbling experience.”

And comparing the J-70 to his larger offshore ride: “It is physically much more demanding, there is not a comfortable dry spot on that boat, and it gets violent downwind in breeze, wild broaches etc.” Translated, he likes it. Frank mentions the J-70 Worlds look to be coming to San Francisco in 2016, so expect to see much more of the Little Hand. – Read on

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