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September 13, 2019

Rolex Big Boat Series Heats Up

Aboard Merlin
Chip Merlin’s magical Bill Lee 68 Merlin takes a spin out the Gate during a practice sail in preparation for Rolex Big Boat Series.
© 2019 Erik Simonson

On Thursday morning, the docks and clubhouse at St. Francis are all a-flutter with excitement in anticipation of the first day of Rolex Big Boat Series. The morning kicked off with an ‘Expert Knowledge’ briefing by Peter Isler. A light morning breeze from the east presaged a postponement, but the race committee sent the boats out on time so that they would be ready as soon as a proper San Francisco summer westerly appeared.

Kame Richards’ Express 37 Golden Moon gets in some spinnaker practice during yesterday’s postponement. Hey! That wind direction is backward!
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

At 1:15-ish, on-the-water personnel radioed in a report of “wind at 2 knots.” From shore, we could see a narrow finger of wind slipping in from the Golden Gate. It slowly expanded toward the San Francisco shoreline. Closing in on the 2 o’clock hour, RC boat crews were reporting “crispy winds of 10-11 knots.” Now that’s more like it. Racing soon got underway. Each division sailed only one race instead of the scheduled two. Regatta chair Susan Ruhne says they don’t plan to try to make up the lost race. The wind did fill in to as much as 20 knots.

J/105 windward mark rounding
The J/105 class is the largest in the regatta with 23 entries. Here they round the windward mark for the last time before the short broad reach to the finish. Tim Russell’s Ne*Ne, hull #3, won yesterday’s race by several boatlengths.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

The RC has 43 courses from which to choose, in three racing areas. They’ve set up start lines in the usual Treasure Island and Alcatraz areas. New this year — with the new Classic division — is a Race Deck start for the five 50-something-foot beauties. All of those courses use Blackaller Buoy near the South Tower of the Golden Gate Bridge as a first mark. The classics started their one scheduled race of the day at 2:30 p.m.

Mayan and Brigadoon
Mayan gets ahead of Brigadoon in the Classic division start. Mayan’s owner, Beau Vrolyk, explained that the bright orange shirts are because he’s Dutch, and orange is the color of the Dutch royal family. Bill Lee is among the crew; he told us that they flew all their sails yesterday except for the huge gollywobbler. They hope to fly that one today.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

Thursday evening’s activities separated the owners from their crews. The latter enjoyed a casual social with beer and hors d’oeuvres sponsored by Mustang Survival and Newfront Insurance. The owners were invited to a tie-and-jacket dinner sponsored by Rolex. Everyone will hobnob together at tonight’s Mount Gay Rum Party in the corral east of the club. A full Harvest Moon should enhance the festivities.

Lucky Duck decoy shirt
Lucky Duck’s decoy shirts reference their rivalry with sister Santa Cruz 52 Elixir (whose battle flag can be seen in the righthand background). At last year’s RBBS, the Elixir crew wore red-and-black checked duck-hunter shirts.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

Now, on Friday morning, the heat wave continues to bake in. At the appointed starting hour, crews are hanging around enjoying a shoreside postponement — lucky for them on this Friday the 13th.

Watch video each afternoon on the regatta’s Facebook page at The goal is to go live at 3 p.m. That will be delayed if the last laps of the race to the finish are late. To see who won yesterday’s race and much more info, go to

Clipper Race Catches Its Breath

The 11-boat Clipper Race surfed into Portimão on the south coast of Portugal on September 9. Punta del Este took line honors after racing 1,200 miles, arriving at 00:45:22 UTC.

Punta del Este
Punta del Este, the Uruguay-flagged entry in the Clipper Race, won Leg 1.
© 2019 Clipper Race

The race started on September 1 from London. The 70-ft monohulls handled conditions from a tough beat upwind to surfing downwind during an ocean-sprint thrill ride on an exhilarating sea swell of over 13 feet. Breeze ranged from gale force winds, squalls and gusts up to 40 knots to the flat calm of the final day.

Big seas
A mountain of water looms over race entry Halong Bay Vietnam in Leg 1 of the 2019/20 Clipper Round the World Race.
© 2019 Halong Bay Vietnam

At the awards ceremony, event founder Sir Robin Knox-Johnston commented, “We gave you this short race to realise what you have taken on.”

Celebrating crew
The joyous first-to-finish crew arrived in the middle of the night.
© 2019 Clipper Race

On Sunday, the fleet will catch a ride on the Atlantic trade winds to Punta del Este, Uruguay. As in the last edition, the stops along the circumnavigation will include ports in Seattle and New York City. Learn more at

Harmon Shragge of San Francisco will join Leg 2 from Punta del Este to Cape Town, South Africa. Regular readers may recall his adventures in the previous edition of the pay-to-play event. We’re looking forward to hearing reports from him again. Any other West Coast sailors participating? If so, email Latitude’s racing editor.

The Reasons and Right Ways to De-Name Your Boat

People change boat names for all sorts of reasons. Which is all fine and good as long as you do it the right way. For those of you newish to sailing, changing a vessel’s name the proper way involves a fair amount of attention to form and tradition. Call us naive; call us superstitious — but please don’t just paint over the old name and stick a new one on and think everything is OK. The powers that be disdain such impropriety.

In the preparation for the September issue’s Changes, we became aware of two boat names that had been changed. Beth and Damien Campbell’s Catana 431 cat Brizo used to be Sweet and Salty. And Michael and Cybele Thirkill’s Golden Wave 42, originally named Quest, has become Birdsong. Being naturally inquisitive — OK, nosy and occasionally abrasive — we asked what prompted these name changes.

Beth and Damien told a familiar tale: “We wanted a shorter name that’s easier to use on the radio,” she said. After a long search and lots of deliberation, they found Brizo — an ancient Greek goddess/protector of mariners — and “We knew it was the right fit immediately.”

Michael Thirkill had a slightly longer explanation for Birdsong

“Great question! I’d learned to sail as a kid. My dad had a small sailboat and we sailed it to Catalina in the summers and around Long Beach harbor. I’d always wanted to cruise but life, college, marriage, kids and a career conspired to prevent that from happening.

Michael and Cybele of the renamed Birdsong at the start of the 2014 Baja Ha-Ha.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC /

“I had been researching cruising sailboats for a few years when I became a widowed, single dad in 2003. I decided it was time for a long voyage with my two boys, so with that in mind, I bought Quest, a Golden Wave 42, after finding her on the City Yachts dock at the San Francisco Marina. At the time, the name was perfect; I was on a ‘quest’ to live a new life as a voyaging single dad. Not surprisingly, my boys didn’t think much of my idea to sail away on a quest on Quest, so we compromised. I sailed her to Brookings with a couple buddies and kept her there for a few seasons. There’s not much to do on the Oregon Coast, so a friend and my oldest son sailed her back to San Francisco Bay, where we used her as a second home, exploring various marinas on long weekends, and ‘voyaging’ as far as Half Moon Bay. Our time on Quest was, shall we say, utterly adequate. I spent one spring break replacing the head, and that didn’t feel like much of a quest. But it was adequate.

“One warm summer evening, my youngest son’s piano teacher, Cybele Abbett, called. She said he had told her about our time sailing. She’d always wanted to learn to sail and she wondered if I knew anyone who could teach her. Tomorrow is the 11th anniversary of our second day of sailing; we married last October.

“In the interim, we sailed south on the Baja Ha-Ha in 2014 and during our time in Mexico, the name Quest became irrelevant. Neither of us was on a quest. We were happy together and in love and living a life we had created together, cruising a beautiful sailboat in Mexico. The old name represented a different time, a different place, a different mindset. It was the past, and we were looking to the future. We began casting about for a new name.

“One morning at anchor I was in the cockpit listening to the Grateful Dead and Eyes of the World, with Branford Marsalis on soprano sax, came up. It was so beautiful that Cybele popped up in the companionway and said, “Hey, how about Eyes of the World?” I loved the idea. We love travel and we can’t wait for new destinations and vistas. Eyes of the World. But after rolling it around a bit, we decided it was a bit of a mouthful to say on the radio. A few days later, we heard a boat hail, “Eyes of the World, Eyes of the World, this is Distant Drum.” Given there was already an Eyes of the World, and it was a mouthful on the radio, we kept casting. During the same concert, Bird Song came up, a lovely eulogy to Janis Joplin. Cybele and I are both musicians, so the Hunter/Garcia tribute to Janis was particularly sweet. We are birders, too, and much of our time is spent watching birds, listening for birds and identifying birds. At some juncture, that all came together. Birdsong it was.”

In these two cases, we’ve been assured that the proper incantations were made, along with suitable offerings to the correct deities of the deep. We wish these boats and all who sail upon them the fairest winds and safest passages.

For those of you contemplating this major life change but not really knowing how to do it properly, fear not — Latitude has your six. Under on our homepage at, go down to Resources, then Additional Historical Editorial. About halfway down that list, you will find The De-Naming Ceremony, written by John Vigor and published periodically over the years by us. We consider it the preeminent guide to this most mysterious and profound of seagoing traditions.

If you have a renaming story, please let us know by writing here, or commenting below.

And, as long as we’re on the subject, here’s what the internet has to say about renaming a boat:

A Question for the Nation
All signs were pointing to a windy day. It was Friday, August, 23, and the fog in Marin gushed over the foothills of Mount Tam, the trees shook furiously, and the air was chilly and bit at the skin.