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Classics class announced for the 2019 Rolex Big Boat Series

by St. Francis Yacht Club 24 May 13:33 BST 11-15 September 2019
The Alden-designed 59-foot schooner MAYAN will race in the Classics class - Rolex Big Boat Series © Chris Ray

The July 31 deadline to enter Rolex Big Boat Series is fast approaching, and a whole new class of boat is now invited to attend. The crown jewel of St. Francis Yacht Club's racing calendar since its inaugural 1964 event, this year fans and participants will witness boats racing on San Francisco Bay that are older than the regatta.

"StFYC is thrilled to welcome the Classics Class to this year's Rolex Big Boat Series," says Susan Ruhne, Chair of the 55thedition of the regatta, to be held September 11-15, 2019. The class is open to any boat built before 1955 and measuring longer than 48 feet on deck. "The Classics will compete in one race per day that will start and end off of StFYC's Race Deck," continues Ruhne. "This will give spectators ashore a real proximity to the boats and a sight that hasn't been seen at this regatta in years."

In addition to being historic, the racing is setting itself up to be as competitive as all the other classes competing in this high-level regatta, with well-known Bay Area wooden boats already registered, including Terry Klaus' 95-year-old Herreshoff schooner BRIGADOON and Daniel Spradling's 52-foot yawl BOUNTY.

"Up to the first warning signal, the Classics Class will be a bit more relaxed than other classes," says Beau Vrolyk, the owner and skipper of the Alden-designed 59-foot schooner MAYAN, built in 1947 and previously owned by David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young fame. "But once the first gun sounds, I think we'll see the competitive juices flowing."

As for what, exactly, that entails, Vrolyk admits that this style of sailing differs widely from the Rolex Big Boat Series' IOR, IMS, IRC and ORR handicap classes in which he has previously competed. "Pushing these heavy Classics around the racecourse requires a return to arcane sailing techniques," he says. "They lack the advantages of modern winches, lines and sailcloth, so their crews compensate with size, determination, and strength."

Like other experienced Rolex Big Boat Series sailors, Vrolyk has long-since submitted his regatta registration and begun his preparations with a new non-ablative racing bottom job and a new fisherman staysail, the latter of which he specifically ordered for the regatta's expected racecourse. Additionally, he plans to compete in four Bay Area classic-yacht races as warm-ups, and he'll ask his sailmaker to evaluate MAYAN's gollywobbler, spinnakers and advance staysail to ensure that her inventory is ready to race. "We're really looking forward to lining up, varnished-rail-to-varnished-rail, with old friends aboard these beautiful classic yachts," says Vrolyk.

In addition to Classics Class competition, this year's Rolex Big Boat Series will see the return of the J/70 class, where the top Corinthian and Open boats will win entry berths to the 2020 J/70 Worlds. Plenty of fast guns in the regatta's numerous and always well-represented One Design and ORR handicap classes are also staging returns.

While Rolex Big Boat Series competitors have a long history of bringing their A-game to San Francisco Bay, MERLIN, the famous Bill Lee-designed 70-foot sled that was launched in 1977, will return to this year's starting line, after competing in Transpac, and intent on earning her way onto the winner's podium for the first time since 1980.

"San Francisco brings back such great memories and is one of the best cities to visit and sail. My hope is that there will be a lot of competitors and that a few more sleds will register for this classic race with a lot of classic yachts," said MERLIN's new owner and skipper, Chip Merlin, who is based in Tampa, Florida and flies both the Davis Island Yacht Club and the St. Petersburg Yacht Club burgees.

"MERLIN seems to have a big reputation everywhere and not on just the West Coast!" he adds. "I have never had so many 'friends' in the sailing world as I have since I purchased MERLIN. While I always thought of it as being special, there are a lot of people who feel the same way."

Ruhne concurred: "It will be a pleasure for many regatta participants and StFYC members to see MERLIN sailing here again."

While MERLIN's much-anticipated return to San Francisco Bay heralds back to a different chapter in the Rolex Big Boat Series' proud history, there's no question that the regatta has become a lot greener and more environmentally sensitive since MERLIN last competed. "We're not using bow stickers anymore," says Ruhne, explaining thatdespite competitors' best effortsthese placards typically peel off after a few days. "Rolex listened to competitors' requests and they made this positive change out of an environmental point of view. That's to be applauded."

Also, says Ruhne, StFYC is providing multiple new water-bottle refilling stations inside and outside the clubhouse and has fully implemented reusable or compostable hot and cold beverage service. "We're asking all sailors to do their part and reuse their water bottles," she says. "It can make a huge difference in our sustainability level over the course of the regatta. Our goal is to eliminate as much single-use plastic as possible from the regatta."

Interested skippers are reminded to register before the July 31 deadline.

For more information, please visit the Rolex Big Boat Series website.

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