As San Francisco awaits the verdict on whether or not the next America's Cup will be held on its shores, the St. Francis Yacht Club's Rolex Big Boat Series, in its 46th year, has been reminding the sailing world why the city's namesake bay is the perfect arena for world-class racing.
Sunday's Bay Tour" race sent 98 teams on a picturesque circuit around San Francisco Bay. It included legs that featured Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge as iconic backdrops and a downwind finish set directly in front of St. Francis Yacht Club, which allowed a parade of spinnakers to pass within shouting distance of the seawall. This was the fourth and final day of the event, which has become a hallmark of racing excellence and awarded perpetual trophies as well as Rolex Oyster Perpetual Stainless Steel Submariners to winners in six of the nine classes competing.
"People come from all over the world to sail in this event, because it's one of the most challenging sailing venues on the planet
," said Event Chairman Norman Davant. High winds prevailed on day one but dwindled progressively over subsequent days. Thankfully, so dwindled heavy fog, but its benefit was that it added great drama to the racing.
"We sailed in fog like I've never sailed in for 25 years here
," said Norman Davant, the event's chairman who also served as tactician aboard Jim Mitchell's (Zurich, Switzerland) winning Vincitore in IRC A, "and there were weather systems that don't normally happen at this time of year. A lot of local-knowledge guys were scratching their heads, but it just added to the technical challenges that inspire the top people in our sport to show up and race here.
St. Francis Perpetual Trophy - IRC A
In IRC A, it was a full-on match race between Jim Mitchell's (SUI) Vincitore
and Jorge Ripstein's (MEX) Patches
, since it was a matter of who-beat-whom today. Vincitore, with New Zealand's Chris Dickson
driving, prevailed after they planned simply to come off the line ahead of Patches and then keep them behind. "Usually you plan it all out and it doesn't happen like you want it to," said Dickson, an America's Cup veteran and World Match Racing Champion several times over, "but this was one of those times that it worked out. Having said that...they still had a good shot at it: at the last mark (only five minutes away from the downwind finish), with all that work done, we still needed 10-15 seconds on our time to beat them. We ended up with about 30 seconds
." Vincitore finished fourth to Patches's fifth, making a one-point difference in total scores for each.
City of San Francisco Trophy - IRC B
In IRC B, Daniel Woolery's (USA) Soozal
did not have to sail today, since it had mathematically cinched their series yesterday. The team, however, went out today and won for good measure. "If you come out to race, you don't back peddle," said Woolery, "so we decided to go out and stay out of everyone's way, since there was a three-way tie behind us." He chuckled, admitting that they "ended up in the middle of everyone
," but that Lani Spund's (USA) Kokopelli managed to sort out in second place.
Richard Rheem Perpetual Trophy - IRC C
Although he won all of his races in the six-boat IRC C class, Dale Williams (USA), skipper of Wasabi
, said victory was never "in the bag." In fact, the differential his crew had calculated for their margin of victory over seven races was under 1% (based on elapsed time). "We won the last race by only 11 seconds
," said Williams. "Racing on San Francisco Bay, you are never secure
." His tactician Kevin Miller (USA) agreed: "There is never a time when you are not thinking about something-windshifts, geographic windshifts, currents...if you are behind, you can always increase your risk factor and get back in the game
Keefe-Kilborn Perpetual Trophy - IRC D
Thomas Brott's (USA) Electra
knocked Gerard Sheridan's (USA) Tupelo Honey
out of first place today in IRC D (seven boats) by finishing second to Tuplelo Honey's fifth. "We just had to put a boat between us and Tupelo, which we did when we got an advantage on them at the start
," said Electra's tactician Harry Pattison (USA). "Then they had trouble with their spinnaker set and jibed, taking a gamble that didn't pay
." He described the first race of the series, a bad one for them right off the bat, with a jib halyard problem before the start that made it impossible to sail. "With a DNF that first race, we were coming from behind the whole regatta
," added Thomas Brott, "but it was having a great crew and being able to concentrate on driving that did it
Atlantic Perpetual Trophy - J 105
After having a rudder bearing fail (and ultimately become irreparable) on the first day, Bruce Stone (USA), skippering Arbitrage
, still managed a victory in the first race of his seven-race series, albeit with great difficulty steering. He went on to finish out the next three days with a borrowed boat from a friend and finished consistently enough to lead his 24-boat fleet at the end of every day. "We transferred sails, tuned the rig and kept racing
," said Stone, who has further distinguished himself this year by winning J 105 fleet series (Fleet 24 in San Francisco and Fleet 14 in Newport, R.I.) on both coasts this year. "Even though we switched to a boat we'd never sailed before, we managed to make it go fast."
Arbitrage finished the series with 27 points to Scooter Simmons's (USA) 33 accumulated aboard Blackhawk.
Commodore's Cup - Melges 32
The new kid on the block, Italy's Luca Lalli in B-lin, won the Melges 32 competition, which served as the Pre-Worlds to next week's Melges 32 World Championship. Going into today as leader, he had only one point on Jeff Ecklund's (USA) Star
and had to watch Pieter Taselaar's (USA) Bliksem
as well. When Star
dropped out for unknown reasons, Bliksem
became Lalli's sole target. "I had to control Bliksem (which eventually finished second to B-lin's first). Rumor on the docks had Star
withdrawing because, in sailor's racing lore it could be bad luck to win a practice race (or in this case series) before a major championship, but Lalli didn't seem to worry. "You have to believe in your potential and make all you can for a win,
" said Lalli. When told he had won a Rolex watch, his eyes got wide as he looked at the braided rope bracelets on his wrist. "Really? That is so great because I was needing to buy a watch
," he said.
J 120, Express 37 and One Design 35
With three victories in his score line, Donald Payan (USA) skippering Dayenu
, maintained his early class lead to top the eight-boat J 120 class. "Usually at this regatta it's a nail biter going into the last leg, but going into today, we knew we could win it, since we had had fantastic boat speed
," said Payan. "The trick was execution, and it's the old paradigm of teamwork: everybody had to be in sync
Another eight-boat fleet for Express 37s was topped by Kame Richards's (USA) Golden Moon
, which claimed four victories. Jonathan Hunt's (USA) Dark and Stormy
, in One Design 35 class, had the regatta sewn up as of yesterday, and with six bullets finished a whopping 16 points ahead of its closest competitor.
Regarded by sailors as one of the world's premier sailboat racing events, Rolex Big Boat Series is part of the Rolex Yachting Portfolio that includes over 20 world-class sailing events that take place around the world including the Rolex Miami OCR, Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, Rolex Fastnet Race, Rolex Farr 40 World Championship, New York Yacht Club Race Week at Newport presented by Rolex, and the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
Follow the action at the event website - www.stfyc.com and on Regatta News - www.regattanews.com