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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


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