Marin boats win large at 2023 Rolex Big Boat Series

Marin boats took first place in four of seven classes in this year’s 79-strong Rolex Big Boat Series (RBBS) fleet hosted by the St Francis Yacht Club (StFYC).

While conditions were not as fierce as in past editions of the west coast’s premier racing event, the competition upheld its tough reputation and even the most seasoned RBBS competitors had to work hard to earn points as they navigated the Bay’s famous currents and wind shifts.

Variable sailing conditions across four days of sailing seven races (four for the Classics class) saw a challenging ebb coupled with strong gusts in the low 20s on Thursday, to diminishing breezes each subsequent race day.

Taking first in the following divisions: ORC B – Marc McMorris (San Rafael) owner/skipper of the Cape 31 M2; ORC D – John Arens (San Rafael) owner/skipper of J/109 Reverie; J/105 – Kristin and Ryan Simmons (Sausalito) owners/skipper of BlackHawk; and in the Classics class Yucca, owned/skippered by Michael Zolezzi (Mill Valley).

Podium positions also went to J/133 Bacchanal owned/skippered by Ron Epstein (Tiburon) who took second in division ORC A, with third going to City Lights, the Santa Cruz 52 owned/skippered by Aaron Wangenheim (Tiburon). In ORC B, Dan Thielman took third in class on his Melges 32 Kuai. In ORC D, the Cal 40 Viva owned/skippered by Don Jesberg (Tiburon) took second, and Elliott James (Tiburon) took third on his Mancebo 31 Bloom County.

Taking five bullets and two seconds, RBBS is an event McMorris looks forward to every year. Racing on the Cape 31, a high-performance 31-foot racing boat optimized for both up and downwind sailing and a relative newcomer to the fleet, McMorris and his crew on M2 had a great time duking it out on the Bay with another Cape 31, Full Send, who came up from Santa Barbara to race.

“This is our second RBBS in the Cape 31 and my crew is outstanding, we had a great regatta,” McMorris commented. “Literally every moment I am on that boat I am learning from different people whether it is Hartwell Jordan, Alec Anderson or Hogan Beattie – they’re all excellent sailors; needless to say, it’s a competitive group but that’s okay as it drives us forward.”

John Arens and his crew also ran away with four wins and two second places. Arens has owned Reverie for four years and sails with a consistent local-based crew who worked hard for victory.

“I’m still riding a high but at the same time while I was putting the boat away after racing, I was wishing we could get back to the party!” Arens laughed. “Winning was extremely gratifying, we’ve been building a program over the last three years, and it’s been a lot of hard work with lots of little races building to the bigger ones, but it absolutely paid off.”

In 2022, the StFYC and RBBS instituted the ORC handicap system which rates dissimilar boats racing against each other based on measurements of the boat, sails, mast, hull, keel, and rudder, a system which boats are getting used to.

“In ORC you never know who you are going to race against, last year we raced against J120s and Santa Cruz 52s in honking conditions and took fourth which we felt good about, but we weren’t sure how we would progress from there,” Arens commented. “This year, with the exception of Viva, we didn’t know the other boats in our division. The guys on Viva are seasoned, and their pedigree is well understood! Going into the last race they were just two points behind us. We could see them in the pre-start just letting us know that they were present. Getting some separation from them and a clean start was key. We got that done, we got some boat speed and sailed our race to win.”

It was a bittersweet victory on board Yucca as this was the first year that Zolezzi helmed the boat following the passing of previous owner and beloved Bay Area sailor Hank Easom earlier this year. Yucca sails with a crew who has been with the boat for many years, as main trimmer Peter Schoen (Corte Madera) noted.

“The camaraderie between all the classic boats is great, and our crew in particular reflects that. We have been together since we all sailed with Hank, and they did an awesome job this week. We are a fun group, we all care about each other and we’re like family, and of course we like to race. We’ve carried that on with Michael who did a great job of helming the boat. I told him before racing started that our mantra for the regatta should be, ‘What would Hank do?’ and we did it.”

Racing in the 31-strong and largest one-design fleet, the Simmons’ pulled off their third RBBS win and, as Kristin noted, the competition was really tight – while they did not take one bullet throughout the regatta, their incredible consistency throughout made Blackhawk a clear winner by a solid seven points.

“With the light air it was an interesting regatta in that boats not normally in the top were there, so it was great for different boats to be taking first place,” she said. “We focused on executing moves at marks with no offset to get our spinnaker up as quickly as possible, communication, and speed and height, trying to win our side of the course.”

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