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Rolex Big Boat Series at St. Francis Yacht Club - Day 1

by St. Francis Yacht Club 17 Sep 2021 05:01 BST September 15-19, 2021
2021 Rolex Big Boat Series © Sharon Green / Rolex

The fog was hanging low but energy was running high at the start of the first day of racing at the 2021 Rolex Big Boat Series. Fortunately, by day's end the westerlies characteristic of San Francisco Bay were blowing strong and steady through the Golden Gate, powering the 79 competitors to the finish line and leaving sailors raving about "perfect conditions" on the water.

The three ORR fleets and the Express 37s raced on the Treasure Island Course, while the North Course was dedicated to J/105s, J/88s and J/70s. All classes finished their second races off the Race Deck, directly in front of the St. Francis Yacht Club, host to this four-day regatta.

"Let's get ready to rumble!" said Paul Dorsey to his 11-strong crew of Adjudicator as they prepared for the first start of the day's two races. Purchased in early 2020, shortly before the pandemic, the Fast 40 has been sitting high and dry, waiting for the return of racing on San Francisco Bay. They've put in 33 practice days in the run-up to this, their first big race, and it showed in their first race of the day, finishing in 2nd place in ORR B, just seconds behind Daniel Thielman's Melges 32, Kuai, on corrected time. Dorsey is a veteran Rolex Big Boat Series competitor, previously racing his Soto 30, Gentoo, which won the PHRF Sportboat class in 2016. "This is more of an all-around boat," he said of the upgrade, and, next to Chip Merlin's Merlin, is one of the fastest boats here, based on their ORR ratings.

And finishing the day in 3rd place in the ORR B division was Sandra Askew and her eight crew members on Flying Jenny. She raced her first Rolex Big Boat Series in 2019 and her IC37 arrives fresh off the summer regatta season in Newport, Rhode Island. "I like it here because there's wind," she said, and came with her boat optimized for ORR competition, with a new keel and longer boom. "I have a tight group and it's really fun to sail with these boys. We're happy to be back."

John Brigden's J/70 Cool Story, Bro. was the first boat to finish on this first day of racing, crossing the line several minutes ahead of the pack and looking as fit as he was in 2019 when he won the division. So, too was Gary Panariello's J/88 Courageous looking well-trimmed and steady on their downwind runs, scoring two bullets today, setting them up well for a week that will finish with one of them the 2021 North American Champion. When asked how he makes it look so easy, he said, "It's a friends and family program and we're all happy racing together," adding that, "The secret to Big Boat is to win all the Race Deck finishes!"

"Here comes the party," was heard on the Race Deck, alongside clapping and cheering from spectators as the regatta's largest fleet, the J/105s, sailed for the gun. It fired for Tim Russell's Ne Ne, who overcame a series of challenges to land that far up in the standings. "There was a 30-degree wind shift right after the start [of the first race] and we were at the pin and ended up nearly last." Then, one of his primary winches failed. They dug deep and scored a 2nd and a 1st.

Explaining how they ran both jib sheets with the one functional winch, he joked, "We're glad we weren't short tacking on the Cityfront." He saluted the Race Committee's selection of courses for the conditions on the northern side of the Bay and said the long courses and open lanes of Rolex Big Boat Series provide so many options that it's no surprise the standings can easily flip. The day's first win in this class went to Philip Laby's Godot, winner of the regatta in 2016. "The fleet is really deep with talent. Any one of 10 boats could take a bullet," said Maverick's skipper, Ian Charles.

The five classic vessels, all older than 1955 vintage, were running a full press of canvas for their start at 1300, but not all were by race's end, with Water Witch crossing the finish line under reefed main. "It started out light by our standards, 14-15 knots, but coming back from behind Alcatraz, it was 20-25 and full ebb so lots of bumps. Plenty of wind," said Beau Vrolyk, owner of the Alden schooner Mayan, back for their second Rolex Big Boat Series. "We really enjoyed the race course," he said, which offered nice reaching angles across the Bay for the variety of boats in this class. "It allowed sloops and split rigs to excel on both legs and finish close."

Asked to sum up the day of racing, Vrolyk hit every note on a sailor's wishlist: "Epic day, plenty of breeze, typical San Francisco. Coming back on the final beat, water all over the place, everyone having a great time."

Results available here...

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