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The Return of the Rolex Big Boat Series

St. Francis Yacht Club is welcoming hundreds of skippers, crews, spectators and helpers back to San Francisco for the Rolex Big Boat Series. Racing in the 56th edition will start tomorrow (Thursday, September 16). The competitors are practicing, preparing, checking in and weighing in today.

At 71.5 feet long, Chip Merlin’s Merlin is the biggest boat in the Rolex Big Boat Series. They’ll race in ORR. We spotted them out practicing on Sunday. Coming in a close second in length is Mark Sanders’ Hurrica V. The Nicholson ketch will race in the six-boat Classics division.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

Adapting to the New Normal

Last year, COVID-19 necessitated the cancellation of the series, along with scads of other high-profile events. This year, rather than waiting out the pandemic, we sailors, like others in so many walks of life, are learning to live with it. StFYC remained ready to pivot as needed at the advice of the club’s COVID Safety Task Force. Comprising the club’s leadership, management team, legal team and health experts, this group has been meeting weekly for more than 18 months, advising on the best health practices for club operations. “Our task force is extremely knowledgeable and has remained committed to the highest level of care for all who enter our doors,” said Commodore Bill Dana. Dana will compete in the ORR division with his Santa Cruz 52 Pinball Wizard.

Streaker, owned by Greg Arkus, will race in the biggest division. The J/105 fleet has 22 boats entered.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

“We have over 80 boats competing,” remarked Rolex Big Boat Series chair Susan Ruhne, “which is more than in 2019. So we feel confident that sailors are comfortable with the safety precautions we’ve taken. St. Francis Yacht Club’s venue is equally sublime inside and outside, which will allow us to safely host all skippers, crews, club members and guests.

“All socials will be held outside with ample space for sailors to mingle, enjoy food and beverages, and be within sight of the docks, the clubhouse and the Bay. Inside, we’ll be closely following health orders from the City and County of San Francisco.” That includes proof of vaccination to enter the building and mask wearing at all times while inside, except when actively eating and drinking. The club has installed enhanced facilities outside for competitors as well as expanded seating along the waterfront for spectators.

Kuai with blue spinnaker
Daniel Thielman’s Melges 32 Kuai jibes at Point Stuart while practicing on Sunday.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

For Armchair Sailors

If you can’t attend in person, you can still experience the thrills vicariously by tuning in to a daily livestream of the finish line, starting at approximately 2:45 p.m. PDT and broadcast on the Rolex Big Boat Series Facebook page. San Francisco-based sailing journalist Kimball Livingston and Team USA member, sailing champion and broadcaster Genny Tulloch will serve as commentators. (Ross Tibbits profiled Genny Tulloch for the current issue of Latitude 38.)

Starball crew at the dock
Back at the dock after an afternoon of practice, it’s some of the ‘Starball’ crew. Bob Walden of the Cal 39 Sea Star chartered the Express 37 Stewball and will race with a blended crew. Eight Express 37s will be competing for their Pacific Coast Championship.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

“The daily downwind finishes can be spine-tingling to watch, with crews visibly giving their all and powering up the rigs to cross the finish line at top speed,” said Ruhne. “They pass so close to the clubhouse they can hear spectators cheering from shore.”

You can download a PDF guide to the series here.

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