What goes up must come down, but the flat, fast conditions that greeted sailors at Day One of the 54th edition of the Rolex Big Boat Series, hosted by the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco, California (September 12-16, 2018), continued on Day Two, following a short postponement to let the breeze gather.
But once the starting guns began sounding, racers were rewarded for their pre-racing patience by a flood tide and 10 to 15 knots that built all day. The net result of westerly wind cooperating with tide was long beats juxtaposed with blistering runs, bow spray and big grins aboard the boats that gathered on San Francisco Bay to contest the West Coast’s most prestigious regatta.
“It’s been awesome!” says Gary Panariello, skipper of the J/88 Courageous (USA 77), about conditions. “It was a long way upwind—it took days. I needed to shave! But downwind was super quick with the flood tide.”
San Francisco Bay’s legendary breeze was the gravity that pulled Panariello to the Bay Area from New York City. First in his fleet after four races, he’s clearly adapted well to his new hometown. “If we can just dial up [the wind] it would be awesome!” he says with a smile reflective of the week’s phenomenal conditions and his team’s enviable 2-1-3-1 scorecard. Tied for points with Marc McMorris’ M Squared (USA 75) and only three points ahead of Aya Yamanouchi’s Benny (USA 79169), means he’ll have to keep working to hold his place.
“Everyone in the fleet has been having a great time, irrespective of where they are in the fleet,” says Betsy Weiler, who is serving as Panariello’s strategist. “On Day One we finished both races within one boat length of M Squared.”
M Squared’s McMorris echos Weiler’s sentiments, even if the two crews are fierce on-the-water rivals. “It’s been lots of fun,” he says. “It’s a great group and great competition. It’s our first year having our own start, which has been terrific.” As for strategy, McMorris is succinct. “Stay fast,” he says with a knowing smile.
While the flat waters have been making for long uphill legs for the sailors, the swiftly flooding tides haven’t exactly been making racecourse management easy. Here, however, the StFYC’s highly experienced teams of professionals and volunteers, as well as the father-and-son team of Peter and Anderson Reggio, the event’s Principal Race Officers, have a steady pulse on an otherwise highly complex situation.
“No two races are ever the same,” says Anderson Reggio. “That’s what makes it interesting in my mind. StFYC provides a great venue. It’s one of the most well set-up facilities for running an event of this style. The volunteers are amazing, and they provide us with a level of confidence that we can do what we need to. I don’t mean to say the company line, but the quality of the sailors, from the Pac52 class to the largest class—the J/105s—is great and is a testament to time spent sailing on the Bay. You become a hardened person sailing here.”
En route to becoming hardened, however, sailors inevitably take their drubbing on the Bay. John Clauser’s One Design 48 Bodacious (USA 48005), sailing in class ORR-A, snapped its rig near the hounds in the day’s second race. That leaves a handful of hardened rivals to duke it out. Today’s racing brought two firsts for Skip Ely’s Santa Cruz 52 Elyxir (USA 28474), two seconds for Dave MacEwen’s Santa Cruz 52, Lucky Duck (USA 28729), and two thirds for Michael Moradzadeh’s Santa Crux 50, Oaxaca (USA 8927), indicating how the ORR-A fleet may shake out. Class ORR-B is currently being controlled by Dorian McKelvy’s J/111 Madmen (USA 17), who is seven points ahead of Daniel Thielman’s Melges 32 Kuai (USA 7676) and 13 points up on Zachery Anderson’s J/125 Velvet Hammer (USA 51517).
Despite their moniker, Frank Slootman’s Pac52 Invisible Hand (USA 5202) and his crew are leaving plenty of visible fingerprints on their scorecard, which currently reads 4-1-1-1, putting them first in class followed by Manouch Moshayedi’s Rio (USA 3545) and Tom Holthus’ BadPak (USA 5210). Likewise, Kame Richards’ Golden Moon (USA 18488) continues to dominate the Express 37 class with a posted score of 1-1-1-2, followed by Mark Dowdy’s Stewball (USA 18278) and Jack Peurach’s Elan (USA 87700).
Among the stacked J/105 class, after four races, Jeff Littfin’s Mojo (USA 119) is currently sitting in first, followed by Tim Russell’s Ne*Ne (USA 3) and Chris and Phil Perkins’ Good Timin’ (USA 35).
While ORR-C may be last on the scratch sheet, alphabetically, this does nothing to lower the competition levels among these talented sailors.
“We’re having a very good time, and we’re better prepared this year,” says Gerard Sheridan, skipper of Elan 40 Tupelo Honey (USA 28908), who returned to Rolex Big Boat Series last year after a short hiatus. “We’ve got some new sails, new rigging and we’ve got a couple of new people, but we gelled really quickly into a team. I’ve been happy with the crew work.”
When asked if it’s sailing well in an StFYC event or winning a shiny new Rolex for their skipper that serves as the bigger crew incentive, Sheridan laughs. “The latter!” he says. “But win or lose, people really look forward to racing in the Rolex Big Boat Series. It’s the club’s premiere event and everyone wants to race in it, so winning a Rolex would just be the icing on the cake. But participating in the Rolex Big Boat Series—it’s something that we all look forward to each year.” David Halliwill’s J/120 Peregrine (USA 25487) is currently first in the ORR-C class, followed by Stephen Madeira’s J/120 Mister Magoo (USA 28289) and Thomas Furlong’s Club Swan 42 Elusive (USA 4216).
Racing is set to continue tomorrow, Saturday September 15, with two more races, followed by Sunday’s single long-course Bay Tour and the 2018 Rolex Big Boat Series awards ceremony on the StFYC’s East Lawn at 1600 hours.
by St. Francis Yacht Club