Embracing the past to grow the future
Published on May 24th, 2019
Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” So when it comes to creating excitement and interest for regattas, doing something different can be what is needed.
The Rolex Big Boat Series may be among the premier west coast events, but the boats aren’t so big anymore and don’t come from far and wide like they once did. But as the crown jewel of St. Francis Yacht Club’s racing calendar since its inaugural 1964 event, this year the mission is to embrace the past with a new spin.
The 2019 event on September 12-15 will have a Classics Class for any boat built before 1955 and measuring longer than 48 feet on deck.
“The Classics will compete in one race per day on San Francisco Bay that will start and end off of StFYC’s Race Deck,” explains Susan Ruhne, Chair of the 55th edition. “This will give spectators ashore a real proximity to the boats and a sight that hasn’t been seen at this regatta in years.”
In addition to being historic, the racing is setting itself up to be as competitive as all the other classes competing in this high-level regatta, with well-known Bay Area wooden boats already registered, including Terry Klaus’ 95-year-old Herreshoff schooner Brigadoon and Daniel Spradling’s 52-foot yawl Bounty.
“Up to the first warning signal, the Classics Class will be a bit more relaxed than other classes,” says Beau Vrolyk, the owner and skipper of the Alden-designed 59-foot schooner Mayan, built in 1947 and previously owned by David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young fame. “But once the first gun sounds, I think we’ll see the competitive juices flowing.”
As for what, exactly, that entails, Vrolyk admits that this style of sailing differs widely from the Rolex Big Boat Series’ IOR, IMS, IRC and ORR handicap classes in which he has previously competed. “Pushing these heavy Classics around the racecourse requires a return to arcane sailing techniques,” he says. “They lack the advantages of modern winches, lines and sailcloth, so their crews compensate with size, determination, and strength.”
Vrolyk has begun his preparations with a new non-ablative racing bottom job and a new fisherman staysail, the latter of which he specifically ordered for the regatta’s expected racecourse. Additionally, he plans to compete in four Bay Area classic-yacht races as warm-ups, and he’ll ask his sailmaker to evaluate Mayan’s gollywobbler, spinnakers and advance staysail to ensure that her inventory is ready to race.
“We’re really looking forward to lining up, varnished-rail-to-varnished-rail, with old friends aboard these beautiful classic yachts,” says Vrolyk.
While not meeting the requirements of the Classics Class, the famous Bill Lee-designed 70-foot sled Merlin, launched in 1977, will return to this year’s starting line after competing in 2019 Transpac, and intent on earning her way onto the winner’s podium for the first time since 1980.
“My hope is that there will be a lot of competitors and that a few more sleds will register for this classic race with a lot of classic yachts,” said Merlin’s new owner and skipper Chip Merlin from Tampa, Florida.
While Merlin’s much-anticipated return to San Francisco Bay heralds back to a different chapter in the Rolex Big Boat Series’ proud history, there’s no question that the regatta has become a lot greener and more environmentally sensitive since Merlin last competed.
“We’re not using bow stickers anymore,” says Ruhne, explaining that—despite competitors’ best efforts—these placards typically peel off after a few days. “Rolex listened to competitors’ requests and they made this positive change out of an environmental point of view. That’s to be applauded.”
Also, says Ruhne, StFYC is providing multiple new water-bottle refilling stations inside and outside the clubhouse and has fully implemented reusable or compostable hot and cold beverage service. “We’re asking all sailors to do their part and reuse their water bottles,” she says. “It can make a huge difference in our sustainability level over the course of the regatta. Our goal is to eliminate as much single-use plastic as possible from the regatta.”