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Colorful Stories from the Big Boat Series

Published on September 18th, 2015

San Francisco, CA (September 18, 2015) – It’s easy to describe the Rolex Big Boat Series as the West Coast’s premiere event where regional, national and world champions fill the ranks and Rolex timepieces are awarded along with six historically significant perpetual trophies stewarded by host St. Francis Yacht Club. But when one looks past what is now so obvious after 51 years of this regatta making a name for itself, there is something much deeper to be found. It is a profound spirit of adventure mixed with passion for achievement that is reflected here, as it is at all Rolex-sponsored events around the globe, whether in yachting, motor sports, tennis, golf, equestrianism, the arts or exploration.

“It’s cool to be around these really professional sailors and actually be able to compete with them,” said Josselyn Verutti, a 16-year-old main trimmer for Ian Collignon on the Melges 24 M1 from Santa Cruz. Because of her age, Verutti isn’t your typical Rolex Big Boat sailor, but neither is Collignon, who skippers M1, nor Olivia Beers who tends M1’s bow. Collignon and Beers are only 17 and 16, respectively, but their young team has quickly gained respect here from their older counterparts due to consistent mid-fleet finishes in what even the most veteran of racing sailors call testing winds. (M1’s scoreline is currently 4-7-5-5, putting them fifth overall among nine boats.)

The M1 team’s talent has developed because Collignon’s father, Dave Collignon, who also sails aboard M1, saw the passion his son had for sailing and bought M1 in time for Ian to skipper it in the 2013 Melges 24 Worlds, where he sailed in Corinthian division to finish 11th. Last August, Collignon’s team tied for 10th in Corinthian division and finished 20th overall out of 36 teams (including pros) at the Melges 24 North Americans held at the Columbia River Gorge, also known for its challenging winds.

“At the Gorge, it was not that people didn’t expect much from us,” explained Verutti, “but by the end of the regatta they actually had a higher level of respect for us, because we could compete with them.”

As for M1’s performance here, Collignon says teamwork and tactics are sound but boat speed needs improvement. It doesn’t faze him that Doug Belham’s Wilco and Steve Boho’s The 300, currently sitting in first and second, are irreproachable; some day he will be right up there with them. “They are really good teams of pros, all well knit together, so they are hard to sail against,” he said, with Verutti not hesitating to add: “We’ve paced next to them and proved we can stay with them; now we just have to carry it out.”

As for the Melges being the smallest boat here at 24 feet, it is still a keelboat as opposed to the “dinghies” (without keels) that Collignon and his young teammates sail on their high school teams. “These are world-renowned boats sailing in Europe and elsewhere with pro teams, so in my opinion they are ‘big boats,’” said Collignon.

On the opposite end of the size spectrum, at 78 feet, is perhaps one of the most famous big boats in the world: the Sparkman and Stephens designed Kialoa III, sailing in ORR B. From the mid- to late-1970s and ’80s, the yacht accumulated more sailing trophies and records than just about any other campaign, including an elapsed time record in a downwind Sydney Hobart Race that was held for 21 years. She was recently bought by a syndicate of enthusiasts who formed the K3 Foundation to restore her and revisit many of the races that made the boat so legendary in ocean racing circles. (Kialoa III competed in the St. Francis Big Boat Series in 1976 and ’78.)

“It’s an amazing boat with a lot of history, and it’s quite special to sail her here – our first regatta – with the other big boats, especially the multihulls, which show the development of sailing over the years,” said tactician Roy Heiner, a sailor from The Netherlands who has represented his country four times at the Olympics, spent three years on the World Match Racing Tour and has three Volvo Ocean Races and an America’s Cup campaign on his resume.

Heiner explained that in taking Kialoa III back as much as possible to her former condition, there is not much room for upgrading. “We have a lot of speed, but not a lot of height in sailing to windward, so we’re currently sitting sixth (out of six), but the thought is to inspire people to go sailing as she travels all over the world.”

Such are the colorful stories that come out of the Rolex Big Boat Series experience every year. The regatta, one of many in Rolex’s international portfolio of sailing events, continues through this weekend and will name victors in 11 classes on Sunday.

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