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Preparation is about to pay dividends at the Rolex Big Boat Series, hosted by St. Francis Yacht Club

by St. Francis Yacht Club 13 Sep 03:28 BST 12-16 September 2018
Rolex Big Boat Series © Rolex / Daniel Forster

In sailing, as in life, most important contests are won and lost in the days and weeks preceding the starting guns, and the St. Francis Yacht Club's 54th annual Rolex Big Boat Series (September 12-16, 2018) is no exception. All 76 teams that have assembled ahead of the West Coast's toughest regatta understand that winning on San Francisco Bay requires absolute top form given the impressive levels of competition, sailing talent, and tightly choreographed teamwork that will be on display once racing commences. For many of the competing teams, this internationally recognized and respected Grand Prix event is the pinnacle of their sailing season and serves as a high-octane finale that's typically punctuated by ample breeze, challenging tides and currents, world-class racecourse management, and engaging, family-friendly evening entertainment.

While every Rolex Big Boat Series features highly polished teams, fresh-from-the-loft sails, and some of the West Coast's hottest sailing hardware, this year's event is shaping up to offer especially intense one-design and handicap (ORR) racing, with many past winners returning to defend their titles or win back what was once their own.

If some of the 2017 Rolex Big Boat Series' most compelling storylines involved the brand-new Pac52 class, one of this year's hottest stories comes from the J/105 class, whose 2018 scratch sheet includes 28 of these can-do keelboats, making this the regatta's largest one-design class. Impressively, the class's scratch sheet also includes former perpetual trophy winners, such as Chris and Phil Perkins' Good Timin' (USA 35), Ryan Simmons' Blackhawk (USA 40), Phillip Laby's Godot (USA 44), and Bruce Stone and Nicole Breault's Arbitrage (USA 116) teams. While Perkins won top J/105 honors at last year's regatta, both Arbitrage and Blackhawk enjoyed top-three finishes at this year's Aldo Alessio and Phyllis Kleinman Swiftsure Regatta (August 17-19, 2018), which serves as a warm-up event for the Rolex Big Boat Series. This year's J/105 win is a particularly tough ask.

Three of the ultra-competitive Pac52s—Tom Holthus' BadPak (USA 60052), Manouch Moshayedi's Rio (USA 3545), and Frank Slootman's Invisible Hand (USA 5202)—from last year's debut fleet are returning to their familiar battlegrounds and are being joined by Austin and Gwen Fragomen's Interlodge (USA 5210). Interestingly, Karl Kwok and his Team Beau Geste (IVB 1997) planted a perfect picket fence on their 2017 scorecard but are not returning to defend their title, thus putting this Grand Prix class up for grabs among a group of skippers not happy with second best.

While J/88 sailors have previously enjoyed handicap racing at the Rolex Big Boat Series, this year marks their first time competing as a one-design class. On the other end of the regatta's historical spectrum is the time-honored Express 37 class, which represents one of the regatta's true beating hearts. Sandy Andersen Wertanen and her Eclipse (USA 18495) team are returning to defend their 2017 win, however they can expect plenty of racecourse pressure from Jack Peurach's Elan (USA 87700) and Mark Chaffey and Heidi Hall's Loca Motion (USA 18410) teams, which finished in second and third, respectively, at last year's Rolex Big Boat Series.

In addition to one-design racing, the StFYC's 2018 Rolex Big Boat Series will offer the West Coast's highest-level ORR handicap racing, with 28 boats spread across three highly competitive classes. Here, ORR-A will be populated with boats ranging in size from 48' to 53' LOA, while ORR-B and ORR-C will feature a mix of 30- and 40-footers; all three classes are well-populated with previous class winners or bridesmaids.

The enduring partnership between Rolex and the Big Boat Series will again be reflected in the five gleaming Rolex Submariner Date timepieces that will be awarded to the winners of the five perpetual trophies during Sunday's Trophy Ceremony, which will take place on the StFYC's east last at approximately 1600 hours. This year, the ORR-A class will be competing for the St. Francis Perpetual Trophy, ORR-B will be racing for the City of San Francisco Perpetual Trophy, and ORR-C will battling for the Keefe-Kilborne Trophy, while the J/88 class will be sailing for the Richard Rheem Perpetual Trophy, and the J/105 class will be contesting the Commodore's Cup, the latter of which is especially appropriate given that StFYC's first woman Commodore, Theresa Brandner, will be skippering her Walloping Swede (USA 157) and flying StFYC colors in this 28-strong class.

While all sailors would love to earn top honors and—class-depending—help their skipper take home a beautiful new Rolex, they first need to prove their racecourse acumen in the seven races set to unfurl over the course of the regatta. Here, StFYC's Race Director Jenn Lancaster has 78 possible courses to select from, depending on forecasted and observed conditions, for the six different racecourses that will be run simultaneously.

"We can't guarantee the weather, but we can guarantee world-class racecourse management," says Lancaster, who will be working with the well-respected father-and-son team of Peter and Anderson Reggio, returning as the regatta's Principal Race Officers. "We have a lot of experienced racers coming back this year, and I'm expecting all teams to be prepared and ready for four big days of intense sailing."

The Race Committee is set to fire their first guns for the 54th annual Rolex Big Boat Series tomorrow, Thursday, September 13, at 1100 hours, and—if the weather gods cooperate, will conduct two races per day for the first three days, followed by a longer Bay Tour on Sunday, September 16.

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