The DONKEY Kicks 105s, DESDEMONA Takes 120s
(San Francisco, California)- San Francisco, a city well-versed in the excitement of fast-action sailing, lived up to its billing as being one of the world’s most challenging places to sail this past week. “It’s big-breeze, short-course racing in the greatest place you can possibly imagine sailing,” said Norman Davant, the local-knowledge strategist and J/Dealer. “It’s unique here because we are surrounded by land, and whether it’s a flood or an ebb current, you’re going to have boats sailing close to shore.”
Spectator friendliness has long flowed through this regatta’s veins, as a “North Course” race area offers a start off Berkeley Pier and runs close to Point Blunt on Angel Island and a “City Front” race area brings the action close to shore, just as its name implies, after a start off Treasure Island. Sailors set out each morning to one or the other course, depending on which class they are in, and then alternate to the other course for the afternoon’s racing, which features the bonus spectacle of all boats finishing within 50 feet of the Race Deck at host St. Francis Yacht Club.
Traffic was heavy on the first day of sailing Thursday on the Bay, with the usual suspects–cargo ships, kite surfers and AC 45s joined by 66 boats taking on their first day of competition at the Rolex Big Boat Series. The 48th edition of the annual four-day tradition kicked off in conditions that blended sunshine and 60-degree temperatures with chilly winds of 16-20 knots. Everyone should be very happy with what they got, said Event Chair Kevin Reeds about the two hour-and-a-half long races held for each of the events eight classes (four IRC, three one-design and one for the catamarans). There was plenty for them to work with.
Posting victories in both races Thursday were Peter Kruegers (Reno, Nevada) J/125 DOUBLE TROUBLE in IRC C class and John Wimers (Half Moon Bay, Calif.) DESDEMONA in the J/120 class. Wimer, who has competed in the event for 20 years and last won it in 2003, considered the conditions not too windy, since the J/120s like wind in the teens and described a narrow lead of only a boat length or two at the finish line in his first race. For the second race, two boats behind us our longstanding rivals CHANCE and Mr. MAGOO began fighting with each other and we widened the gap with a win by 10-12 boat lengths. It helps to start with two bullets, but it wont be over until the last day. The fleet is very tight, with really good sailors; you have to really stay on your game.
For Jason Woodley and Scott Whitneys (Greenbrae, Calif.) J/105 RISK, the 2-1 they posted in their one-design class was not easy to come by. It took some real maneuvering, especially in his second race on the City Front race course, where Alcatraz Islands cone came into play. The island cuts the current like a rock in a river, said Woodley, so you get in behind the rock to hide from the current. Then at the west face there is actually an ebb tide pushing you out, so you hook it and basically ride it as far as you can. We were in fifth or sixth at Alcatraz, so it was challenging, especially in the flood tide. Woodley says he faces tough competition from a lot of great boats, but if he had to put money on a couple, they would be BLACKHAWK and ARBITRAGE. What makes this regatta special is that everyone brings their A-game, says Woodley, who counts a second as his best finish here in the five years he has competed. This is the season playoffs; this is the regatta everyone puts their new sails up for, the one you want to win out of every other regatta on the calendar.
On the second day of racing on Friday, Peter Kreugers J/125 DOUBLE TROUBLE continued dominating in IRC C, a class that is comprised of the events fast forties, which were introduced to the Rolex Big Boat Series in 2011 and are being dual-?scored under a new HPR rule this year. “This is my first time really looking at the HPR and evaluating it when I’m sailing along and looking at boats to see how fast they go, said Double Troubles tactician Jeff Madrigali (Whidbey Island, Wash.), a 1996 Olympic medalist who grew up sailing here. It seems like a better shake, really, for a lot of these boats that don’t have a chance to do well with IRC ratings.” One of those boats is Bernard Girods (Santa Barbara, Calif.) Farr 400 Rock & Roll, which is second to Double Trouble in HPR but sits in fourth under IRC (Bernie used to own a J/105 by the same name for years in Santa Barbara).
In J/120s John Wimers (Half Moon Bay, Calif.) DESDEMONA also maintained its edge. And in the J/105s, Phillip Labys (Oakland, Calif.) GODOT moved into the top three and to the top of the leaderboard.
Sailing on day three Saturday saw a chill in the air most of the day, but it did nothing to lessen the heat on the race course. The die is now cast for Sunday’s final race- the famous Bay Tour race, which traditionally covers 20 or more nautical miles, and solidifies who takes home class honors. While some teams have dominated their classes since day one, especially the J/125 DOUBLE TROUBLE in IRC C, the decks have been shuffling in both the J/105 and J/120 classes.
The J/105 Class, the largest at the regatta, has been hosting a different leader every day of the event. DONKEY JACK, co-owned by Rolf Kaiser/Shannon Ryan/Steve Kleha (San Francisco, Calif.), took the top spot today with finishes of 7-1, moving yesterdays front-runner GODOT, skippered by Phillip Laby (Oakland, Calif.), down to third place. DONKEY JACK and second-place finisher BLACKHAWK, skippered by Scooter Simmons (Belvedere, Calif.), share the same point score, with GODOT only one point behind, so Sunday’s race was going to be a gun fight. Different people are winning every race, and there are still three or four boats that can actually win the regatta, said Kaiser, who skippered the boat. Today we were really focused on boat speed and tried to make some changes to how we were attacking the races. Well go out tomorrow and do our best and see what happens.
Also seeing a change of fate was the J/120 Classs defending champion CHANCE, skippered by Barry Lewis (Atherton, Calif.), which ousted John Wimers DESDEMONA from the first-place position it has held all week. In our fleet, it is like this during every Rolex Big Boat Series, said CHANCE’s tactician Doug Nugent (San Francisco, Calif.). It always comes down to the last race, and its always a battle. Chances mainsail trimmer Scott Kozinchik (Fairfax, Calif.) explained that his teams mission tomorrow is fairly straightforward: We have to beat DESDEMONA. Were one point up on them, and they are going to come at us hard. If they were to win and we come in second, we would tie, and they would win on the count-back (tiebreaker).
On the fourth and final day of the 48th annual Rolex Big Boat Series, had quite a showdown for the two competitive J/105 and J/120 classes. Starting with IRC C, Peter Kreugers J/125 DOUBLE TROUBLE, which last year won this class with Kreugers boat partner Andy Costello skippering, added a victory today to four more it had garnered over the previous six races and finished a full five points ahead of its closest competition, RESOLUTE, another J/125 skippered by Tim Fuller (Murietta, Calif.). The class, reserved for light-displacement boats in the 40-foot range, is commonly referred to as fast forties, and was dual-scored using the IRC as well as the new HPR (High Performance Rule). DOUBLE TROUBLE was the dual winner in both systems, with RESOLUTE taking third in HPR. It was a great race today, said DOUBLE TROUBLE’s tactician Jeff Madrigali (Whidbey Island, Wash.), a 1996 Olympic medalist who grew up sailing here. We had a light-air start, but the wind built really fast and the fleets were all intermingled and boats were flying. It was fun. The week has been great, with really good weather, great race management and a wonderful group of people to sail against.
The J/105s had a tough battle. When DONKEY JACK’s skipper Rolf Kaiser (San Francisco, Calif.) said yesterday that there were still three or four boats that could actually win in the largest class here at the regatta, he undoubtedly was including among them todays race winner GODOT, skippered by Phillip Laby (Oakland, Calif.). GODOT was only one point behind DONKEY JACK going into today, and now it shares the same point score, though DONKEY JACK wins on a tie breaker after finishing fourth in todays race. The J/105 fleet is one of the most competitive one-design fleets on San Francisco Bay, said Donkey Jacks main trimmer Steve Kleha (San Francisco, Calif.). Our tactic going into today was to win the race. Right off the line we scooted off past BLACKHAWK to clinch that part of the battle. After that, our spinnaker trimmer told us to go underneath Alcatraz, which earned us two places ahead of MOJO and JUJU. Defending champion Blackhawk, skippered by Scooter Simmons (Belvedere, Calif.), finished third overall.
The J/120s perhaps had the most dramatic conclusion of the Rolex Big Boat Series. John Wimers DESDEMONA redeemed itself today, after it lost its lead yesterday to defending champion CHANCE, skippered by Barry Lewis (Atherton, Calif.). With only one point between the boats going into today, DESDEMONA had to finish ahead of CHANCE, which it did by posting a second to Chances fourth and edging the team out by one point overall. We knew that CHANCE was who we had to beat, but we also couldnt afford to just let the rest of the fleet go, so we just needed to get a decent start and sail smart, said Wimer, who has competed in the event for 22 years. Our expectations are always to do well and to have a challenge; this fleet has all really good sailors and it always comes down to the last race in the regatta. That is what it came down to today.
Similar perspective were shared by some of the other sailors in the regatta. On Bruce Stone’s ARBITRAGE, it was clear the competition and tactics along the waterfront were critical to success. Said Bruce, “We were leading the regatta after the third race. In the fourth race, the City Front course (starting to west of Treasure Island), we had a great start at the pin end of the line and lead our group on starboard tack but somewhat pinned out from tacking to port and learned to our chagrin the port tack was highly favored tide-wise, heading to the cone of Alcatraz, as the tide charts were way off– we played for more wind pressure to the southern side of the course but the flood was more than forecast, making it essential to dive for the cone, and all those boats who got off the line onto port were a half mile ahead by the time we could tack to port. I actually considered going all the way to the city front once I saw the immediate battle was lost, but decided to stick with it and we actually clawed our way back to 8th by the windward mark at Presidio Shoal– however, when we hoisted our kite it blew out to leeward Bob had not taped the shackle! After recovering the sail we dropped the jib, used its halyard to hoist the kite, had to drop it early to get the jib up etc not too efficient, and we ended up 17th in that race and out of the regatta. We went from 1st to 9th in the regatta. It was the same situation in the last race, the Bay Tour. Our fleet started on the North Course. The guys who flopped to port immediately at the start and aimed for Angel Island got relief from the flood, while those of us on starboard tack were a half mile behind within 5 minutes. The lead in the regatta changed in every race, and it came down to the last race. It was well sailed by everyone in the top 8-10 boats so that is great news for the fleet because it shows that skill levels have climbed and well have a great fleet in the coming season!”
On the winning boat, DONKEY JACK, Shannon Ryan (right) was overwhelmed with joy, this being her first Rolex Submariner watch win!! “That was the longest three hours of my life!,” rejoiced Shannon, one of three co-owners from J/105 Donkey Jack. They came into the day tied for first place with GODOT and didn’t win the day, but beat GODOT and won the regatta on the countback!! What a cliff-hanger for her and the team. Sailing photo credits- Rolex/Daniel Forster. Ellen Hoke/ http://www.ellenhoke.com Sharon Green/ Ultimate Sailing For more Rolex Big Boat Series sailing information