Variable sailing conditions hounded this year’s 79-strong Rolex Big Boat Series fleet, but the competition was as fierce as ever for the 59th edition of the West Coast’s premier racing event. The unpredictability influenced the leaderboards daily, with shifts across most of the eight classes competing. From a challenging ebb coupled with strong gusts in the low 20s on Thursday, to diminishing breezes each subsequent race day, even the most seasoned RBBS competitors had to work hard to earn points. But, that’s sailboat racing!
Heading into the final day of navigating the Bay’s famous currents and wind shifts, five class wins were still up for grabs as nearly 700 sailors left the docks. Only Shawn Ivie helming his Express 37 Limitless, and Shepard Kett racing his well-seasoned Santa Cruz 50 Octavia could feel satisfied that their teams were free and clear, having banked six bullets each in their respective classes.
Prior to racing on Sunday, in a longstanding StFYC tradition, boats first rounded A Buoy in front of St. Francis Yacht Club to drop flowers in the water in remembrance of recently departed sailors and friends.
It was the first year for StFYC’s Race Director Felix Weidling to be on the organizing side of RBBS and he was pleased with how the week unfolded. “It’s our pinnacle event and the whole West Coast looks to us to make it spectacular. The preparation needs to be 100 percent and we were fully on it this year. We had to be well-prepared for ORC classes with a rating system that was adopted last year by the club and is working well. I am very happy that we had great participation in our one design classes with 31 boats in the J/105 class and almost 30 boats racing in four ORC divisions. Our PROs and race committee teams did a great job of managing the courses, and our sailors benefitted from daily weather briefings courtesy of Quantum Sails.”
The sleek Santa Cruz 50 Octavia took a commanding lead from day one and carried it all the way through to the end, resulting in owner and skipper Shepard Kett winning the St. Francis Perpetual Trophy and a Rolex timepiece. In a seven-strong fleet, comprised of the biggest and fastest boats, second and third places in ORC A went to Ron Epstein’s J/133 Bacchanal and Aaron Wangenheim’s Santa Cruz 52 City Lights, respectively.
“We put time into preparing the boat and equipment, and having a longtime consistent crew is a big part of doing well. We have lots of experience on this boat and racing on the Bay,” said Kett. “It’s been great being on the boat for four days getting to know the boat again, and spending time with my crew is like a family get-together.”
ORC B proved to be an exciting fleet this year with relative newcomers, the Cape 31s, leading throughout the week. After an intense seven races, Mark McMorris on his Cape 31 M2 won the City of San Francisco Trophy, followed closely by Cape 31 Full Send, owned and skippered by Dirk Freeland. Third place went to Daniel Thielman’s Melges 32 Kuai.
Peter Wagner, owner and skipper of J/111 Skeleton Key was thrilled to make it to RBBS this year after being on the road at championship events over the past few years. His highly competitive team took first in class for the Keefe-Kilborn Trophy, with second place going to Tom and Cam Hutton’s J/100 H-Pod. Barry Lewis’ J/120 Chance took third.
“The regatta has been really great. We’ve had really close racing in our class and several of the races decided by a very small amount of time—one was two seconds, one was seven seconds, one was seventeen seconds, so to go around racecourses of this length and have the boats correcting that close to each other speaks well of the ORC system,” said Wagner. “We’re really happy to be competing under that rule.”
The Richard Rheem Perpetual Trophy went to ORC D winner Reverie, the J/109 owned and skippered by John Arens racing in his second RBBS. Competition was again extremely close with Don Jesberg on his Cal 40 Viva taking second and Elliott James’ Mancebo 31 Bloom County in third.
As the largest one-design fleet this year, the J/105s competed for StFYC’s Commodore’s Cup, as well as the PCYA Jesse L. Carr Perpetual Captain and Crew Trophy and a Rolex timepiece. Racing Blackhawk with his well-seasoned crew of six years, including his wife Kristin, Ryan Simmons pulled off his third RBBS win.
“The competition has been very tight and with the light air, it’s been an interesting regatta in that the boats not normally at the top have been in contention—we are typically faster in heavy air!” said Kristin Simmons. “The top five boats traded places a lot; we just focused on executing moves at marks, working hard to get our spinnaker up as quickly as possible, great communication and trying to win our side of the course.”
Jeff Littfin’s Mojo finished in second place, while Bruce Stone and Nicole Breault’s Arbitrage completed the top-of-class trifecta.
After taking second in class last year and third the year before, the top of the podium was finally Pelagia’s. Christos Karamanolis helmed to first place in the tightly contested J/88 fleet, winning the Atlantic Perpetual Trophy. Brice Dunwoodie’s Ravenette finished in second place and Mark Howe’s Split Water finished third.
It was a home run all the way with six firsts and a third for Shawn Ivie and crew on Limitless. Racing his fifth RBBS, Ivie praised his crew for their consistent work.
“We put together a great team who practiced hard for this, we’ve had decent breeze and while the class is pretty competitive, we were very fortunate not to make too many mistakes,” said Ivie. “We had Mike Quinn from Richmond Yacht Club calling tactics and navigating, which was very helpful for local knowledge.”
Brendan Busch’s Spy vs. Spy was second and Mark Chaffey and Heidi Hall’s Loca Motion was third. All three took home class trophies.
“Our edge this week has been responding to pressure,” says Arens. “We took a bullet in the first race on Saturday after taking a fourth on Friday, which undid a lot of our good work. We know who Viva is and who the guys are on Viva, so responding to that pressure and knocking a bullet out in the first race on Saturday was really commendable!”
“I’m from the Bay Area and this is the event I look forward to every year,” said McMorris. “This is our second RBBS in the Cape 31 and my crew is outstanding. Needless to say, it’s a competitive group, but that’s okay as it drives us forward and I’m always learning from them.”
The six-strong Classics were graced by newcomer Gesture, the custom 57’ S&S owned by skipper Alex Mehran, an ocean racer competing in the division for his first time. Lead changes prevailed daily with Gesture at the top early in the event, but in the end it was Michael Zolezzi who steered the stunning 8-meter Yucca to first place and the Classics Perpetual Trophy, one-point over Gesture, and two points ahead of Mayan, Commodore Beau & Stacey Vrolyk’s Alden-designed transitional-rigged schooner, who took third.
YACHT CLUB TROPHY
Recognizing the top three boats sailing from the same yacht club with the best cumulative results, the Yacht Club Team Trophy was awarded to the St. Francis Yacht Club team of Kristin & Ryan Simmons on Blackhawk, Peter Wagner’s J/111 Skeleton Key racing in ORC B and Logan Ashcraft on J/88 Hijinks.
“Rolex Big Boat Series this year has been tremendous—we have seen smiling faces on the boats, on the docks and in the clubhouse. This is the first time that I feel that we are fully back to pre-Covid levels, catching up with old friends surrounded by so many happy people. It has just been fabulous!” said Commodore Vrolyk. “The competition in several classes has been incredibly close and we’ve had a different winner. You couldn’t wish for a better regatta than that.”
St. Francis Yacht Club looks forward to hosting the 60th edition of the Rolex Big Boat Series in 2024; please join us September 11-15, for the best racing of the year on San Francisco Bay