Just as the America's Cup finals did for two weeks before it, the Rolex Big Boat Series-St. Francis Yacht Club's signature regatta-took over San Francisco Bay for four days of spirited racing, giving 107 teams in 10 classes the chance to enjoy stadium sailing at its finest.
In fact, for 49 years the annual event has captured for its competitors the thrill of sailing in a famous venue with even more famous winds; thus, there is always plenty of fast action for spectators to enjoy from multiple vantage points around the Bay, including St. Francis Yacht Club's own race deck, which serves as one end of the finish line in each day's final race.
For the traditional "Bay Tour" finale-the single long race that wraps up each class's series and determines final winners-the fleet's final push to the finish was tame in comparison to previous days when boat speeds were jacked up by brisk breezes and a strong flood tide, but the end result was all that mattered. Six class winners were awarded St. Francis Yacht Club Perpetual Trophies along with Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner timepieces, while new title holders were named in the 2013 HPR National Championship, the J/120 North American Championship and the IRC West Coast Championship.
It was touch-and-go for the outcome of the HPR Class, sailing for the Richard Rheem Perpetual Trophy. The light air postponed the start and forced race managers to relocate the starting area, which in turn shortened the length of the Bay Tour. Peter Krueger's (Reno, Nevada) J/125 Double Trouble was in the lead in points, but only by two in a class that had Daniel Thielman's (Tiburon, Calif.) RP 44 Tai Kaui leading the first two days, with others waiting closely in the wings. The superior speed of the McConaghy 38 Whiplash would also come into play today, not to mention other J/125s that could act as spoilers should the faster boats save their corrected time margins.
"We had to remember to sail our race and if we tried to sail somebody else's race that just doesn't work,"
said Krueger. "It gets down to basics: whoever makes fewer errors and has the best crew work. Ours was fantastic, so everything went well."
By earning a third it was good enough for Krueger and team to take the National Championship, the first-ever for this class, by one point.
"This is a huge win, not just because it's the National Championship but also because Double Trouble has won here the last two years, but last year when it won in HPR, it wasn't up against the McConaghy 38, the RP 44, and other boats like that,"
said Brian Ledbetter, Double Trouble's tactician, a Finn Olympic Silver Medalist from Seattle. "Sailing in HPR is like sailing in catamarans. Even if it's a bad day out there you are ripping around the race course and having fun."
The IRC classes also were switched from a planned starting area near Treasure Island to one just west of iconic Alcatraz Island where the one-design classes had launched their race an hour earlier. The IRC A and B (along with Multihull class) version of the Bay Tour took its participants under the Golden Gate Bridge, for a short stint into the Pacific Ocean: a new variable added to courses this year for times when wind conditions were moderate enough to allow it.
"It's one of the more challenging race courses in the world,"
said Jim Swartz (Park City, Utah) about San Francisco Bay in general, "which we saw over the last few weeks (with the America's Cup) - that's why we're here."
Sailing in IRC A, Swartz's TP 52 Vesper added yet another victory to six others posted before it, and with that accomplishment the team not only received the St. Francis Perpetual Trophy but also the distinction of being named 2013 IRC West Coast Champion. (The team was named 2012 IRC North American champion at last year's Rolex Big Boat Series).
Vesper sailed head-to-head with Isao Mita's (Kanagawa, Japan) TP 52 Beecom, while five teams other teams sailed in IRC Class B and six sailed in Class D. Sy Kleinman's (Saratoga, Calif.) won five of seven races to claim the City of San Francisco Trophy in IRC Class B. His helmsman Steve Taft holds the record for most Rolex Big Boat Series sailed (39), while Kleinman, in his '90s now, has sailed 30. Tad Lacey's (Belvedere, Calif.) A 35 Mirthmaker won IRC Class D.
Perhaps the most toughly contested battle here was in the J/120 class, where Barry Lewis' Chance pegged an early regatta lead but wound up tied on points with final winner Mr. Magoo going into today. The dead air lingering at the eastern end of the Bay wreaked havoc on the J/120 fleet when it caused them to come to a screeching halt at their bottom mark. Chance, which had been leading comfortably, was overwhelmed by a flock of J/105s that descended on its territory, and only the luckiest boats escaped the pile-up unscathed. In particular, while everyone was drifting, Mr. Magoo wiggled away to victory, and by one point in overall scoring won the J/120 National Championship as well as the Keefe-Kilborn Perpetual Trophy. The J/105 Blackhawk, skippered by Scooter Simmons (Belvedere, Calif.), managed a sixth to maintain its lead in that class, the next-largest fleet (22 entries) here, and take home the Atlantic Perpetual Trophy.
Breaking with the tradition of allowing only boats of 30 feet and longer to compete, this year's regatta welcomed the emerging J/70 class and the Melges 24s, which sailed their "Pre-Worlds" in preparation for their World Championships next week. St. Francis Yacht Club Commodore Jim Cascino won half of his eight races to win the J/70 class, but only after winning a tiebreaker in overall scoring with Frank Slootman's (Pleasanton, Calif.) Little Hand.
In a surprise ending for the Melges 24 fleet, the largest here with 38 teams, Scott Holmgren's (Edmond, Oklahoma) Rosebud, skippered by Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Terry Hutchinson (Annapolis, Md.), used today's final race to topple Franco Rossini's Swiss entry Blu Moon from the top of the leaderboard, a position which Rossini's skipper Flavio Favivi had assumed for the first three days here. For their efforts the Rosebud team took home the Commodore's Cup.
Kame Richards' (Alameda, Calif.) Golden Moon, a perennial favorite here, topped the scoreboard every day in the Express 37 class to win, while Urs Rothacher's (Oakland, Calif.) SL33 BridgeRunner topped the Performance Multihulls after breaking a point-score tie with Jerome Ternynck's (San Francisco) Extreme 40 SmartRecruiters. Introduced last year, the multihulls thrilled spectators with their blazing speed and daring moves, especially at mark roundings where they often mixed with monohulls holding a steadier pace.
Sailed since 1964, the St. Francis Yacht Club Big Boat Series added Rolex Watch U.S.A. as a title sponsor in 2005.
Rolex Big Boat Series Webste