The Rolex Big Boat Series has been held at St. Francis Yacht Club since 1964. As the name says, it was originally a showcase for the really big boats (and egos) of San Francisco Bay to swagger and lock horns, and has been “must do” for me each September, since the early 1980s.
Strong ocean breezes that collide with the tides make it challenging for the racers, but provide a great opportunity for me to capture really splashy images! Even though the mix of entrants has changed over the decades, and it now draws more of the smaller boats and one-design classes, the Big Boat Series is still one of my favorite and most reliable regattas for capturing spectacular calendar shots.
This year I got to step it up a notch, working as the Official Rolex photographer! St Francis Yacht Club and Rolex really delivered the royal treatment, with my own parking spot right in front of the club, and primo workspace in the media center, with super-duper high speed internet. I had a dedicated photo boat – a speedy 28-foot Protector for me; Tom Day (the famous ski film producer and performer, who was shooting video), and Peter Lyons, social media photographer and assistant. And our mountain of gear! Pat Lopez was our primary driver, zipping us around the courses, which stretched from the Berkeley Circle, past Alcatraz, beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, and along the stunning San Francisco cityfront.
We also had the opportunity to fly for aerial shots … but it’s such a gamble in San Francisco. You never know if that famous fog bank is going to swallow up the race course; if the tide tables will cooperate; if the fleet will sail under the bridge and outside, into the ocean -- the most desirable shots.
But we planned it for Friday – and then races were postponed almost an hour, leaving us little wiggle room! We took the RIB to the starting area to shoot, then zoomed over to Oakland, got an Uber to Oakland airport, and hopped aboard a strapping Bell 407 helicopter for a few hours of aerial shots … all the while communicating with the Race Committee, to make sure we were in the right place at the right time. Awesome! It was a perfectly clear day, and we got gorgeous images.
Afterwards we took a taxi back to the dock where the photo boat was tied up, and blasted back to the yacht club. The Mt Gay Rum party was going on, with food trucks on the lawn scattered with hundreds of sailors. I barely made it to the Media Corps dinner at 8:30 … what a full day! But so exciting, and just what it takes to get the “Ultimate” shots.
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,
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