Near record numbers
Racing this year is scheduled for September 11-14 and includes divisions for IRC-rated entries and six one-design classes, 1D35, Beneteau 36.7, Express 37, J/105, J/120 and Melges 32. At the conclusion of the four-day regatta, specially engraved Rolex timepieces will be awarded to the St. Francis Yacht Club's six Perpetual Trophy winners.
Principal Race Officer John Craig and the St. Francis Yacht Club Race Committee have mapped out 42 different courses on the San Francisco Bay - from 8-32 nautical miles - which will be run on two different areas, the City Front Course and Treasure Island Course. Competitors race within view of the stunning San Francisco city front, Crissy Field, Alcatraz, Angel Island and the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge.
The regatta's premier class, for IRC-rated sailboats, is where the large, eye-popping entries such as Bill Turpin's Reichel/Pugh designed 78ft Akela reside. "We completed a major refit this spring to make the boat more competitive under IRC," said Turpin (Santa Cruz, Calif.). "We added a lot of sail area and have a deeper draft. This will be a big test for us to see how well we can do under IRC in a windy venue. We'll be racing against some very hot TP52s. It will be interesting to see if we can finish far enough ahead of them to win on corrected time." Akela has shown significant strength this year by winning the MEXORC, Newport to Ensenada and Coastal Cup races.
Don Sellers' Dehler 38 Josie has also had a change in its IRC certificate. "This spring Josie was re-weighed and re-measured making us more competitive," said Sellers (Center Harbor, N.H.). "My expectation is to have a great time in a great regatta, and this will be our fifth Rolex Big Boat Series. The competition in IRC is always fierce as this is a handicap system as opposed to a one-design system. Although IRC is one of the best systems, with a handicap system there are always some subjective issues that can affect a race outcome. We hope to be on the podium again this year."
After winning four straight class titles, from 2003-2006, John Siegel's Wylie 42 Scorpio came up short last year, finishing third in class to Dave Kirby's (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) J/122 TKO and Mike Garl's (San Francisco) Beneteau 40.7 White Dove, first and second respectively. "We're hoping to break our (one year) losing streak and return to our winning ways," said Siegel (San Francisco), who holds the distinction of winning the most Perpetual Trophies - four - in the regatta's history. "To do that we'll have to beat TKO and several other successful programs. They ( TKO) put together a great program last year under Norman Davant. Given that they had less than a week in the boat and we've had a decade of experience, we didn't expect them to do much. We were wrong! I'm hoping that part of it was due to light airs last year. We need breeze to be successful. We will continue to sail as well as we can since they won't be our only competition."
White Dove recently took the West Coast IRC championship, after winning St Francis Yacht Club's Aldo Alessio Regatta. "We are looking forward to keeping our momentum going as we prepare to compete in Rolex Big Boat Series," said Garl. "Our crew work has been outstanding under the leadership of my tactician, Jon Stewart, and the overall performance this season is way above our expectations. Competition is good in every division. Our plan is to sail hard each leg of every race and hope we get some breaks along the way."
Returning to race is John Kilroy (Los Angeles/San Francisco) and his TP52 Samba Pa Ti, which won its class in 2007 and the St. Francis Perpetual Trophy, awarded annually since the regatta's inception to yachts that are measured and handicapped in accordance with the current measurement rule and rate 40 feet or more. The trophy was donated by Commodore A. L. Sandy McCormick. Among the competition that Samba Pa Ti will face is Mayhem, a TP52 owned by Ashley Wolfe (Calgary, Alberta, CAN) and Vincitore, a Reichel/Pugh IRC 52 skippered by Jim Mitchell (Zurich, Switzerland), who has an outstanding crew that includes notable sailors Gavin Brady, Jamie Gale and Carl Williams, who represented New Zealand at the 2008 Olympics.
For many competitors, racing at Rolex Big Boat Series is one of the ultimate tests of crew and boat. "The competition is the best the world can offer us, and we will be performing at our peak," said Timothy Ballard (San Rafael, Calif.), owner of the Beneteau 40.7 Inspired Environments. "We have done several Rolex Big Boat Series and have only won a third place. This year we are hoping for better. We are in the phase of changing her from cruiser to racer as we just did a family trip up to Benicia. We restrict our IRC certificate to only using the #3 headsail. We remove any unnecessary weight like tools, beer, wine, glasses, cups, anything that will not be used is off the boat. The boat is in great shape, our crew is committed and we will be well practiced come Thursday morning start."
For Gerard Sheridan, on the Elan 40 Tupelo Honey, it's always a new challenge in the IRC division. "While Rolex Big Boat Series 2006 saw us win and 2007 saw us duke it out with Acabar and loose to them on a last day tie-breaker, this year could see some interesting new additions to our class," said Sheridan (San Francisco). "I think we'll have very competitive racing. It's too early to call division splits yet, but we may not be the scratch boat in our class this year unlike the last two years. Our solid crew work is at the core of our success over the years and I love racing with these guys. We have pretty much the same outstanding crew as for the last two years and we're looking forward to an outstanding four days of racing under the expert hands of St. Francis Yacht Club."
And newcomers such as Daniel Thielman (Tiburon, Calif.) are attracted to the aura of racing on the Bay. "Team Kuai is a newly formed crew racing on a new yacht (Sabre 386), so we are still working hard to sail together and maximize the boat's speed," said Thielman. "We know there are a lot of veteran sailors who will be competing in our class, but we hope to achieve some top of the pack finishes in our first IRC race. We plan to keep a close eye on Acabar and Tupelo Honey who finish at the top of their class each year."
Although Jeff Pulford (Coral del Tierra, Calif.) won the Sydney 38 class with his Bustin' Loose in the 2007 Rolex Big Boat Series, this year the fleet will race under IRC. "We feel that we can finish in the top three of any class we may find ourselves in," said Pulford. We have the boat in excellent condition and the sails are regatta ready. Copernicus must be our main competitor as they came in second last year and won the year before. Animal and Howl would likely say they are the main competition as they have sailed very well this year.
Defending Melges 32 class winner Pegasus 32, owned by Philippe Kahn (Santa Cruz, Calif.), returns to face a very challenging fleet. Kahn, with Richard Clarke (Canada), set a new record for the 2008 Pacific Cup race of 7 days, 15 hours, 17 minutes and 50 seconds. The prior record was set by Volvo Ocean Race winner Stan Honey in 1992. Kahn, a well-known technology visionary and creator of MotionX applications for the Apple iPhone 3G, sailed an almost-perfect Rolex Big Boat Series in 2007, posting five first-place finishes in seven races.
Returning after a 10-year absence to the Rolex Big Boat Series is Michael Illbruck (Munich, Germany), who will race his Melges 32 Pinta, winner of the 2008 Acura Miami Grand Prix and the recently completed Cala De'Medici regatta in Europe. "We will be coming to San Francisco hoping to win the Rolex Big Boat Series, but understand that there will be a lot of very competitive boats in our fleet which will make for great racing on the bay," said Don Cowie, Pinta crew leader and Olympic Silver Medalist ('92 Star). "Some of the many good things about the Melges 32 class are the people that sail them; it is a very competitive class, but also a social class which makes for a lot of fun. For Stephen Pugh (Sausalito, Calif.), capitalizing on local knowledge is his team's plan aboard Taboo. "This is our backyard, so to speak, therefore we would be considered a local favorite," said Pugh. "The competition in the Melges 32 fleet is as good as it gets.
Many of the owners and crew are a 'Who's Who' of world class competitors. I would expect Pinta, Pegasus and RED to be tough to beat." RED, second in class in 2007, is owned by Joe Woods (Torquay, GBR).
Although the two-time national champion Melges 32 will be in San Francisco, the helmsman will not. USA 32 has been chartered by John Porter (Zenda, Wis.) and temporarily renamed Full Throttle. Of the nine crew, three are Porters. "The Porters sailing with me are my son Corbett and nephew Bri," explained John Porter who will drive Full Throttle, alongside tactician Harry Melges. "I have sailed a Melges 24 with my brother Brian for the last 15 years, most recently the world champs with him this year at the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda. There will be some very good sailors in San Fran so we are just hoping to be competitive and sail well."
The J/105 class is always the largest with 35-40 boats each year. Defending class champion Chris Perkins (San Francisco) on Good Timin' will face stiff competition from Scott Sellers (San Francisco) and his Donkey Jack, the recent winner of the J/105 North American Championship, held on San Francisco Bay.
In the J/120 class, Mr. Magoo is the boat to beat. Owned by Steve Madeira (Menlo Park, Calif.), Mr. Magoo has won its class for the past four years. We expect a 9-10 boat fleet with a lot of talent on every one of them, and we hope to be in the mix all the way to the end," said Madeira. "There are rumors of a few unknowns in this year, so we are excited about that. We're just looking forward to a fun weekend!"
The newest one design class to compete at Rolex Big Boat Series is the Beneteau 36.7, although some of the entries have competed in IRC in the past. "We are excited about the competition," said Ed Durbin (Point Richmond, Calif.), owner of Mistral. "We expect to do well. Mistral is leading the fleet in the YRA one design series this summer." "We seem to have a very good fleet, as all the Beneteau boats are very competitive and fast," said Pat Patterson (Angwin, Calif.), owner of Summer & Smoke. "All of these boats are identical and prepped very well for racing on the Bay. We're hoping to place in the top three."
For the 1D35 class, seven boats are expected including class organiser Mario Yovkov (San Francisco) on Great Sensation. "This year we have a guest entry, Team Ebb Tide. They are a Japanese racing team, with years of experience competing in Kenwood Cup, and the 2007 Rolex Big Boat Series in the J/120 class."
The St. Francis Yacht Club will officially welcome competitors on Wednesday, September 10 at the Rolex Commodore's Reception where the fleets competing for each of the six St. Francis Perpetual Trophies - Richard Rheem, St. Francis, City of San Francisco, Atlantic, Keefe-Kilborn Memorial and the Commodore's Cup - will be announced.
At the end of each race day, the St. Francis Yacht Club along with title sponsor Rolex will host a variety of social events including the Rolex Crew Reception on Wednesday and the Rolex Party on Thursday. On Saturday evening Sonnen Porsche will sponsor the Crew Dinner. The regatta ends with Sunday's final Rolex Trophy Ceremony where specially engraved Rolex timepieces will be awarded to the St. Francis Yacht Club's six Perpetual Trophy winners.