Battling superstition at Big Boat Series
Published on September 13th, 2019
San Francisco, CA (September 13, 2019) – Generally speaking, Fridays that fall on the 13th don’t enjoy a strong reputation for events unfurling smoothly, and when it coincides with hot, onshore temperatures in San Francisco, the situation on the Bay can become light, patchy, or even downright breathless.
Such was the case today for the 79 yachts and crews that have gathered at St. Francis Yacht Club to contest the 55th edition of Rolex Big Boat Series.
The morning dawned bright, blue and warm, with barely a cat’s paw aggravating the Bay. While this certainly wasn’t the lucky start that many competitors were hoping for at a regatta that does not drop races, the day’s silver lining was a weather forecast that promised breeze by mid-afternoon. The AP flag remained hoisted with sailors idling ashore until 1400 hours, when enough sea breeze arrived to allow the race committee to score a single race.
“The high temperatures ashore make it difficult to run races,” said Graham Biehl, StFYC’s Race Director, noting that today played out much like the first day of racing at this high-level event, with a single—albeit high-quality—race scored in all eight fleets. “But the good news is that the final two days look to be typical San Francisco Bay conditions.”
Competitors made the most of the onshore postponement, but perhaps no crew earned as many style points as some members of skipper Dave MacEwen’s Santa Cruz 52 Lucky Duck (USA 28729), who took turns cruising past the clubhouse riding a surfboard towed astern a power yacht flying the team’s colors.
Once the AP flag dropped, however, all tomfoolery ceased and the Rolex Big Boat Series race-faces emerged from dry storage. This was especially evident in the ORR handicap classes, which saw action on the Alcatraz Island starting area sailing a 10.1 nautical mile course, specifically selected from StFYC’s library of 43 different Rolex Big Boat Series courses based on its modest distance.
“Last year we lost our mast in race four,” said Bobbi Tosse, who is serving as navigator aboard John Clauser’s One Design 48 Bodacious+ (USA 48005). “It seems that each prior year there has been something we broke that took us out of trophy contention. So, this year our hopes are to have fun and not break anything major!”
Bodacious+ was fortunately spared any Friday the 13th calamities, but Tosse was clear about what she and her fellow shipmates are up against in the highly competitive ORR-A class. “As far as I can see looking at the crew lists, we’re the only ORR-A boat without any professional, Group 3 sailors,” he said. “We’re all Group 1, and we plan on prevailing using old age and guile.”
While a smart tactic for Bodacious+, other boats in the ORR-A class have different ambitions for the regatta. “The boat is brand new,” said Ashley Perrin, a veteran Rolex Big Boat Series competitor and captain aboard Gregory Dorn’s Dehler 46 Favonius (USA 38125), which is making her Rolex Big Boat Series debut. “We’re a young campaign so it would be great to have a steady improvement of results over the series, and being in the top one-third of the fleet would be really great.”
As for the curveballs that Mother Nature has been throwing at the 2019 fleets, Perrin made it clear that she doesn’t blame the dearth of wind on the calendar date. “The conditions can vary dramatically at the Rolex Big Boat Series and it’s always satisfying if you can sail well in light air and heavy air.”
Skip Ely’s Santa Cruz 52 Elyxir (USA 28474) corrected out on top of Ray Paul’s Swan 53 Blue (USA 61522) and Lucky Duck in ORR-A and, after a total of two races, Blue sits in first place overall, followed by Favonius and Elyxir.
Competition was likewise plenty stiff in ORR-B. “It’s a competitive fleet and the boats are exciting, with sport boats and sport-boat-like boats, so it attracts some great talent,” said Rich Jepsen, who is serving as vice president of US Sailing and as tactician aboard Dick Swanson’s J/111 Bad Dog (USA 103). “We’re an amateur crew, so we’ll be happy to stay in contact with the best boat, which I think will be Kuai, the Melges 32, and there’s another J/111 that we spar with, Swift Ness.”
Staying in the hunt is also the name of the game aboard Flying Jenny (USA 24), skipper Sandra Askew’s brand-new IC37. Unlike most of the ORR-B fleet, the 2019 edition of StFYC’s signature Rolex Big Boat Series marks a series of firsts for Askew, including her first time racing on the Bay.
“My crew is very competitive and we want to do well but it’s a brand-new boat and this is our first regatta with her, so we’re excited to see how she goes against the other boats in the fleet.”
Once the finishing guns fell silent and the handicap corrections applied to finishing times, Daniel Thielman’s Kuai (USA 7676) delivered the day’s best ORR-B performance, followed by Paul Dorsey’s Soto 30 Gentoo (USA 001) and Mark Kennedy’s Melges 32 Nuckelavee (USA 174). This puts Kuai in first place overall for ORR-B, followed by Gentoo and Nuckelavee.
C lags behind A and B alphabetically, but this does nothing to diminish the level of competition in the ORR-C class, which is competing for the StFYC’s prestigious Richard Rheem Perpetual Trophy and one of the regatta’s four coveted Rolex timepieces.
“The ORR-C class competition always changes a little each year,” said Thomas Furlong, skipper of the Swan 42 Elusive (USA 4216). “There are always well-sailed boats in the class. Some of these boats have proven themselves in Bay conditions, and, as well-sailed boats that are optimized to the Bay’s challenging conditions, they’re stiff competition.”
Others agree. “We’ve got two very competitive J/120s and a SunFast 3600 that’s well-sailed,” said Gerard Sheridan, skipper of the Elan 40 Tupelo Honey (USA 28908), about this year’s ORR-C class. “And it’s nice to see the new addition of Raven, Brice Dunwoodie’s C&C 115—they’re welcome in the fleet, and they’re pretty fast downwind.”
When asked about his thoughts on racing sailboats on a rather inauspicious calendar date, Sheridan made clear that he would happily sail offshore with bunches of bananas aboard. “I’m not superstitious at all,” he said with a smile. “If someone wants to believe, maybe they can make that work for or against them, but I don’t believe it!”
After all, it should be noted that Sheridan and crew blew up their kite yesterday, Thursday the 12th, not Friday the 13th.
All told, Elusive proved to be the quickest horse around ORR-C’s course, followed by Barry Lewis’ J/120 Chance (USA 28484) and David Halliwill’s J/120 Peregrine (USA 25487). Big-picture, Peregrine is perched in first place overall, followed by Chance and Elusive.
Racing continues tomorrow with two planned races and a significantly improved forecast, followed by a long-form Bay Tour course on the final day.
Racing is planned from September 12 to 15.