If any regatta is worthy of doubling as a major championship for one of its classes, it is the St. Francis Yacht Club’s Rolex Big Boat Series, which started today, hosting 89 boats on San Francisco Bay. Held annually for over five decades and revered for its keen offerings both competitively on the water and socially ashore, the four-day event is serving as the North American Championship for the J/105 class, which with 27 boats comprises the largest fleet here.
Rolex, which has sponsored the event since 2002, became the title sponsor in 2005 and includes the St. Francis Yacht Club in its portfolio of exclusive partnerships with leading yacht clubs around the world.
Today, the unthinkable happened, when the club’s race committee – known for expertly conducting more than its fair share of regattas thanks to San Francisco’s ideal winds (consistently strong), challenging conditions (currents aplenty) and superior setting (stadium sailing at its best) – had to postpone the morning race for all classes by two hours, due to lack of breeze. It left the J/105 sailors champing at the bit, but in the end nothing was missed when both of the day’s scheduled races were completed in 15-plus knots of westerly breeze.
As all classes here must do, the J/105s rotate from the “Treasure Island” circle to the “Alcatraz” circle (named for the famous island that sits precariously in the middle of the Bay) during the day. Today the J/105s started with Treasure Island, sailing a 10.9 mile race that Ryan Simmon’s Blackhawk won in a photo finish with Shannon Ryan and Rolf Kaiser’s Donkey Jack, which had led over much of the distance.
“Our original plan was to play the ‘cone’ (an area east of Alcatraz Island that shelters from the current), but we changed our mind mid-leg and decided to go to the city front,” said Simmons. “We came out well, but it was a very long beat: all the way from Treasure Island to the Golden Gate Bridge in a flood tide.”
Blackhawk finished fourth in its second race, an 11 miler, held on the Alcatraz circle; Simmons was happy about that, since it involved a mediocre start and a “super high powered boats-wiping-out-everywhere reaching leg” where the wind indicator showed 18-20 knots. The performance put him at the top of the scoreboard, one point ahead of the Rolex Big Boat Series defending champion Bruce Stone on Arbitrage.
“Everyone gears up for this regatta,” said Simmons, who sailed the J/105 North Americans once before when it was part of the Rolex Big Boat Series in 2009 and skippered to second in last year’s Rolex Big Boat Series after having crewed for his father, two-time winner Scooter Simmons, 15 times in the event. “Our goal going into this season has been to win this regatta, the North Americans, and get that Rolex.” (Rolex timepieces accompany St. Francis Yacht Club perpetual trophies as prizes in six of the 11 classes here.)
Racing continues tomorrow for the J/105 class as well as ORR (A, B and C), HPR, PHRF Sportboat, Multihull, J/111, J/120, Melges 24, and Express 37.
The St. Francis Yacht Club was founded in 1927 and has been host to many of the most prestigious national and international championships in sailing. With over 40 regattas on its calendar annually, the club is widely regarded as having one of the top racing and race management programs in the country. In 1964, the St. Francis Yacht Club’s Big Boat Series was established to take place annually on San Francisco Bay. In 2005, Rolex Watch U.S.A. became the regatta’s title sponsor (after three years as presenting sponsor), and since, the Rolex Big Boat Series has established itself as one of the most important sailing events in the U.S.