The record-setting 52nd edition of the Rolex Big Boat Series got underway today under leaden skies and cool temperatures. But with a westerly wind of 10 to 20 knots blowing, the fleet of 127 boats banged out at least two races on three racing circles.
In classic Big Boat Series fashion, the race committees sent the 11 classes on long courses around San Francisco Bay with the second race finishing off the St. Francis Yacht Club. The formula for success was hard to template because the tide shifted from flood to ebb between races, meaning that the side of the course that played in the first race didn’t hold true in the second.
Despite the uncertainty, seven crews posted two firsts to lead their class with the low score of two points. One of them is the largest entrant in the fleet, Tom Siebel’s 70-foot trimaran Orion, which made mincemeat of San Francisco Bay. Twice it sliced around the Bay in speedy fashion, reaching speeds of 18 knots upwind and 26 knots downwind.
“But we also stuffed it a couple of times,” said navigator Peter Isler. “We didn’t always have the articulation on the daggerfoils quite right. The greatest legs were when we were ripping along the backside of Alcatraz. We were on some tight laylines but then the breeze lightened and we were able to get up to lay the marks. Our boat likes going in a straight line more than maneuvering, but the race committee gave us enough twists and turns to make it challenging.”
With 26 entrants, the J/105 Class is the second-largest in the regatta and it was frequently in close quarters. The first windward mark rounding saw Ryan Simmons’ (Sausalito, Calif.) Blackhawk lead and then quickly throw in a jibe to port. With 20 other boats coming in from all angles, shouts of “Starboard!” were heard frequently. In the end, Blackhawk scored two firsts in the tightly contested class. Rick Goebel’s (San Diego, Calif.) Sanity is second with two seconds and Tom Kennelly’s (San Rafael, Calif.) Wonder is in third with eight points on finishes of five – three.
Other leaders with double bullets include David Halliwill’s (New York, N.Y.) Peregrine in the J/120 Class, Kame Richards’s (Alameda, Calif.) Golden Moon in the Express 37 Class, Michael Shlens’ Blade II in the California 40 Class (a.k.a. Farr 40), Victor Wild’s Fox (Pac 52) in ORR A, and Scott Kokka’s Audacity (Morris 52) in ORR C.
In the J/70 Class, the largest class in the fleet with 36 entrants, Joel Ronning’s (Excelsior, Minn.) Catapult and Julian Fernandez Neckelmann’s (Valle de Bravo, Mexico) Flojito y Cooperando gained slight separation on the pack with some stellar racing. Catapult leads with four points on a scoreline of one – one – two and is one point ahead of Flojito y Cooperando, which posted a two – two – one scoreline. Third place is held by Robert Hughes’ (Ada, Mich.) Heartbreaker, which has 10 points on a four – three – three scoreline.
“Those two are going to be tough to beat,” said Chris Snow (San Francisco, Calif.), racing on fifth-placed Cool Story, Bro. “Flojito is the reigning world champion. Catapult has John Kostecki as tactician and they’ve been practicing a lot. It’s all about the build-up to the Worlds next week.”
The J/70s sailed three races all on the Berkeley Circle, where the class will hold its World Championship beginning Sept. 24. Kostecki, a past world champion in many classes, said they had good starts and good boatspeed, which allowed them to get to the head of the pack. “When you’re in the front of the pack in a big fleet, life is easy,” said Kostecki.
Kostecki, who’s been sailing on San Francisco Bay all his life, said that the Berkeley Circle racecourse levels the playing field. “Compared to some of the other courses on San Francisco Bay, the Berkeley Circle doesn’t lend itself to local knowledge. We sailed three races in flood tide, slack tide and ebb tide, and there was no set game plan. Sometimes the right worked and sometimes the left worked. It was a tricky day.”
In the C&C 30 One-Design Class, Dan Cheresh’s (Saugatuck, Mich.) Extreme 2 picked up its winning ways where it left off on the East Coast. Extreme 2 placed second in the first race and won the second race hands down, posting a victory of more than one minute. Steve Stroub’s (Tiburon, Calif.) Tiburon, winner of the first race, is second with five points and Julian Mann’s (San Francisco, Calif.) Don’t Panic is third with seven points.
Extreme 2 won the inaugural C&C 30 One-Design North American Championship at New York Yacht Club Race Week Presented by Rolex in July. Cheresh and crew also won class honors at the New York Yacht Club’s 162nd Annual Regatta Presented by Rolex in June.
“We haven’t changed much from the East Coast; same setup and mostly the same crew,” said tactician Mark Mendelblatt.
Extreme 2 was in position to win the first race as well, but then ran into traffic on the downwind leg to the finish. “We sailed up to a slower boat from another class,” said Mendelblatt. “I decided to try and sail over them but they started to luff us. Tiburon sailed a lower course and by the time we got over the top of the slower boat, Tiburon was ahead of us.
“That was a mistake on my part, but it was still a great day of racing,” Mendelblatt continued. “It was very tricky, especially the current. I still feel lost. In my mind I know what to do, but it doesn’t always play out that way.”
Mendelblatt, Isler, Kostecki and all the other racers get another crack at the conditions tomorrow beginning at 11:00am PST.
For more information please visit the Rolex Big Boat Series website.
by Meredith Laitos