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Looming registration deadlines and improved ORR racing at the 2019 Rolex Big Boat Series

by St. Francis Yacht Club 26 Jul 18:30 BST 11-15 September 2019
Rolex Big Boat Series at St. Francis Yacht Club © Sharon Green / ULTIMATE SAILING

While mid-September may still seem like a long way off, registration windows are already narrowing for teams interested in competing in the annual Rolex Big Boat Series, which will be hosted by St. Francis Yacht Club and contested on the waters of San Francisco Bay from September 11-15, 2019.

Prospective teams are advised all classes interested in receiving One Design status must meet their minimum mandatory registration numbers by July 31, and that penalty-room pricing applies for anyone submitting their papers after July 31; additionally, registrations will not be accepted after August 31. Once registered, however, teams can look forward to world-class racecourse management, nail-biting One Design starts, improved ORR handicap racing, and a greener, more environmentally sustainable experience than in previous years.

"As we prepare for the Rolex Big Boat Series, we're excited to announce some important changes to the administration of the ORR rule and scoring," says Susan Ruhne, Regatta Chair for the 55th edition of the Rolex Big Boat Series. Ruhne explains that StFYC spent months undergoing an extensive evaluation and improvement process that included working with the ORR rating office, hosting an ORR information session at StFYC with interested owners, and incorporating this feedback. "This year, we'll have three course configurations plus two wind ranges giving us six correction-factor options to apply to each boat's elapsed time in each race. We also recommend that all owners make sure to revalidate their ORR certificate now for 2019."

Historically, the StFYC has run multiple ORR classes at the Rolex Big Boat Series, which has been the club's signature regatta series since its 1964 inaugural event, and this year will be no exception. "We'll make class breaks after the July 31 deadline to best divide the ORR boats into similar type groups," says Ruhne. Given the regatta's storied reputation for breeze-on sailing, world-class racecourse management, and equally world-class competition, many former winners return year-on-year to defend their hard-won titles.

"Last year's regatta was awesome, the competition was fierce and the conditions offered typical San Francisco Bay excitement," says Skip Ely, owner and skipper of the Santa Cruz 52 Elyxir (USA 28474) and the ORR A winner at the 2018 Rolex Big Boat Series. "We've been sailing with our core group in SoCal this spring and summer as a warm-up. We've also worked with our Quantum Sail designers on sail design and rig tune, but we haven't made any big changes to the crew or yacht since last year."

Boat development is obviously restricted in One Design classes but that doesn't stop small-but-critical class evolutions and optimizations, and—much like nailing regatta-entry deadlines—the fastest skippers understand the importance of maintaining their carefully honed edges. "I've been doing a number of J/88 One Design events on the East Coast as crew, including Charleston Race Week and Block Island Race Week, to make sure that we're keeping up with the latest advancements," says Gary Panariello, who is the owner and skipper of Courageous (USA 77) and the winner of J/88 class' inaugural One Design appearance at the 2018 Rolex Big Boat Series. "Last year we learned how important it was to be in the correct part of the race course at all times," explains Panariello. "Even with the big breeze that Rolex Big Boat Series consistently delivers, the course is very current-dominated and tricky! It helped we had two people dedicated to looking outside the boat; it also helps to win every race-deck finish."

As mentioned, all classes must meet their minimum registration numbers by August 1 to race as a One Design class. For the popular J/70 class, a minimum of 15 boats must be properly registered by the August 1 deadline in order to attain One Design status, while all other designs must present at least six registered entrants by this same date.

One class that has no trouble meeting their minimum One Design-class numbers is the venerable J/105 class, which last year fielded a 28-boat-deep scratch sheet.

As for what it's like to drive an identical boat on a starting line with so many gunners, Tim Russell, owner and skipper of Ne*Ne (USA 3) and the J/105 class' second-place finisher at last year's regatta, offers some perspective. "It's really loud!" says Russell. "Most boats are using new sails for the Rolex Big Boat Series, and 27 new Dacron mainsails luffing on the line before the start is loud and adds to the adrenalin. Typically, the regatta's longer courses provide an escape from a bad start, but there's always a premium on getting off the line cleanly and being able to hold your lane and tack under your terms."

Finally, given the bad news about plastics and microplastics entering the world's oceans, the StFYC is pleased to announce that the Rolex Big Boat Series will feature multiple water-bottle-refilling stations that are aimed at reducing post-racing refuse and encouraging recycling. While the Rolex Big Boat Series—and every other StFYC-run regatta—has met or exceeded Sailors for the Sea's Gold Level Clean Regatta standards since 2012, Ruhne and others believe that additional refilling stations will help further curb the event's reliance on plastics. "Non-reusable water bottles aren't fast and the optics are ugly," says Ruhne, adding that sailors and teams are encouraged to refill their onboard bottles and jugs before docking-out each morning. "We're doing everything we can to help sailors do what's right for the oceans that we all love racing on."

Please visit for more information about the 2019 Rolex Big Boat Series, including the Notice of Race, the current entry list, and a link to the online entry form.

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