Consolidation at the Top on Day 3 at the 2022 Rolex Big Boat Series, hosted by St. Francis Yacht Club
San Francisco Bay presented a morning ebb tide that ran smack-dab into an escalating westerly breeze, stirring up square-faced chop for the first race of Day 3 at Rolex Big Boat Series in San Francisco, California. Breeze continued to build as the afternoon progressed, but a flooding tide damped the whitecaps during the day’s second race, with all 76 competing boats finishing within cheering distance of the Race Deck of St. Francis Yacht Club.
Racing has been competitive across all eight classes, especially as today’s wind freshened, but with only one race to go the results are revealing consolidation at the top.
In ORC B, Scott Easom’s J/100 Eight Ball is sitting on a scorecard of 1-2-1-1-1-3, putting them seven points ahead of David Halliwill’s J/120 Peregrine and 10 up on Barry Lewis’ J/120 Chance.
“We’re the smallest boat in ORC B, so finding clear air is hard to do,” says Easom, who won his class at the 2021 Rolex Big Boat Series. “We get run down immediately, and we don’t get to go precisely where we want to go, but we’ve got good speed and we find lanes.”
Easom, who is a professional sailor by trade, is well-versed at finding clear lanes. He says that the change from the ORR rating rule to the ORC rating rule, which StFYC adopted ahead of the 2022 Rolex Big Boat Series, “was a complete wildcard.”
“I’ve talked to people I know who travel the world for sailing and they think highly of ORC. I’ve been studying the results from ORC racing in Europe and I like the results and the boats that are winning. A lot of production boats seem to be doing well, which is good for the sport.”
Ahead of the regatta, Easom had his boat, rig and new sails properly measured to comply with ORCi certificate standards. Additionally, Easom invested in a new bottom job and put in a lot of time. “I think these are the things you need to do at a very competitive event,” he says. “I’d like to thank my crew for their hard work, the StFYC for running another fantastic Rolex Big Boat Series, and Rolex for sponsoring it.”
Another class that’s looking tough at the top is the J/88s. After six races, Mark Howe’s Split Water is sitting on a report card that reads 1-1-1-3-1-1. “It’s all about great crew,” says Howe. “I’ve done this regatta a bunch. My previous efforts were friends and family programs. But I decided to spend some time and money and establish a meritocracy. Software runs the boat and people are the software.”
Howe acquired his J/88 just two months before this year’s Rolex Big Boat Series, but he says a rough-and-tumble 2022 Aldo Alessio Race & Phyllis Kleinman Swiftsure Regatta, also hosted by St. Francis Yacht Club, showed Howe what he didn’t know.
“We didn’t do well, and it exposed some weaknesses,” explains Howe. “So, we got a new bowman and we practiced—we did four hellish practice days over the last two weekends. It was brutal. We kept saying that there’s no way that Rolex Big Boat Series will be as hard as our practice days. This really paid off for us. If you don’t put in the practice time, Rolex Big Boat Series becomes the practice,” which, he adds, “you don’t want.”
The stately Classics may only run a single race per day, but this hasn’t stopped StFYC’s Vice Commodore Beau Vrolyk, owner and skipper of Mayan, the 1947 John Alden-designed schooner, from running a picket fence.
Mayan is well-known on the Bay, both for her venerable lines and for her former owner (David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young fame), and Vrolyk has been pouring time and resources into the wooden yacht to return her to her original splendor.
“We changed the entire rigging and brought her back to her 1928 design, by John Alden,” says Vrolyk. “In the early 1960s, it was fashionable to change schooners into staysail schooners, and we put it back into its former transitional schooner rig.”
The inspiration for this change, he explains, came courtesy of famed yacht designer Bill Lee, who has sailed on Mayan since Vrolyk acquired the boat in 2014.
“It was common knowledge that staysail schooners are faster, but it’s not the case for all schooners,” he said. “Lee noticed troubles with our balance and weather helm, and that we were suffering in some conditions.”
Vrolyk commissioned all new rigging and a new gaff foresail, which, he says, is making an enormous difference.
While Mayan is sitting on great results, Vrolyk is quick to point to his crew as Mayan’s secret sauce. “I’m just the guy who wiggles the rudder,” he says, adding that while his whole crew is incredible, special credit goes to Matthew Coale, who built the boat’s new rig. “Our program wouldn’t happen without Matthew.”
In the rest of the fleet, Scott Sellers, Geoff McDonald, and Harrison Turner’s J/70 1FA is doing a stomp job in its class: 1-1-1-1-1-1. Impressively, Andy Schwenk’s Express 37 Spindrift V guest skippered by Bart Hackworth, is sitting on a 1-1-1-1-2-1 dance card, Don Jesberg has been showing the Cal 40s how to sail by posting 1-1-1-1-1-1 results, and Paul Dorsey and his Adjudicator crew have been throwing around quiet authority in ORC A with a score of 1-1-2-1-4-1.
“We couldn’t ask for better conditions for our first three days of racing,” says Susan Ruhne, Chair of the Rolex Big Boat Series. “People come here for the big breeze and seas, and the Bay has delivered.”