SEPTEMBER BLOG: Bedlam on the Bay
September is a time of transformation. New season, new schools, new clothes … it’s a time for big changes – and a time for Big Boats.
That’s the Rolex Big Boat Series regatta in particular, which St. Francis Yacht Club has hosted for more than 50 years in San Francisco Bay. Since the early 1980s, when I first started the Ultimate Sailing Calendar, it’s been one of my favorite events and venues. I can’t tell you how many calendar shots RBBS has generated over the years! From the days of colorful spinnakers and bloopers, to modern day boats with asymmetrical kites - it’s always been a thrill to shoot. And challenging too!
When RBBS originally debuted in the 1960s, it was designed as a showcase for big boats, with stately beauties such as Kialoa II, Athene, Baruna, Orient and Kamalii plying San Francisco Bay, and later, duels between powerful yachts like Blackfin and Windward Passage.
Over the years the boats have ‘shrunk’ a little bit in size: but not number – nearly 100 or so – nor the excitement. When the sea breeze fills in and collides with the ebbing tides, it is bedlam on the Bay! Several years ago, we shot wildly as 14 Farr 30s, battling it out for their world championship title, rounded down like dominos. That blustery weekend ended with tattered sails and bent poles, but fortunately everyone survived the carnage. When I asked one sailor if he was put off by the demolition derby conditions, he quickly answered, “#%&@, no! This is what we come to San Francisco for!”
This month’s image of the C&C 30 Extreme, punching through the chop in 25 knots of breeze, illustrates that. The crew is geared up and ready for whatever Mother Nature throws at them.
And don’t think the photographers are exempt from the madness! Bashing around the Bay from course to course, in a photo boat, can be just as brutal. Tearing from the start to the top mark to capture the rounding, from the city front course to Berkeley Circle; more often than not we’re airborne – clutching a handhold and trying not to lose any teeth! Then we return to the hotel, battered and drenched from head to toe; eager to download and process the exciting images from the day.
But I’m not always lucky enough to escape unscathed. While in pursuit of a race boat one year, we got caught up in the excitement of ‘getting the shot’ – and nearly capsized the Boston Whaler we were in! We were so focused on our subject, our bow got caught in the wake of another boat fast-reaching by. We took a massive nosedive and nearly flipped! I had a few cameras and lenses, along with some film I’d already shot, in my cooler; which slid off the back of the boat! Luckily I had it locked and it floated; so we scrambled to retrieve it. Sadly the cameras around my neck didn’t fare so well: they were drenched (as was everyone on board!)
One bit of good luck: my friend and colleague Phil Uhl was working in San Diego and overnighted me some replacement equipment. Of course, we were back at it the next day … maybe with a little better look-out and distance from racing boats.
Despite the crazy, rugged conditions at RBBS, the hospitality is warm and refined. Charming greeters welcome you to St. Francis Yacht Club at a red carpeted entryway every morning; icy beers are delivered to the docks each afternoon. The race organization is excellent, and the setting breathtaking, on a course that stretches along the spectacular San Francisco city front, meanders around Alcatraz, and pokes beneath the fog-capped Golden Gate Bridge: with an eye-popping finish right in front of the StFYC Grill Room bar.
Enjoy this month’s feature photos – and look for more from the Rolex Big Boat Series in years to come!
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