San Francisco, California: A day that began with a heavy fog layer and fickle breeze transformed in an instant and closed with the type of howling winds for which San Francisco Bay is known. All in all, it was a wild start for the Farr 40 class at the Rolex Big Boat Series, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
After abandoning the first start due to light, shifty winds, the St. Francis Yacht Club race committee completed two exciting races in 20-25 knot southwesterly winds.
"It was a difficult day. The PRO rightfully blew off the first race. It took a while for the wind to fill in, but once it did it was typical San Francisco Bay," said Geoff Staff, manager of the Farr 40 class.
Skippers and tacticians had to be on their toes in Race 1 on the Berkeley Circle as it lasted just three legs, each of which was 1.3 nautical miles in length. Chicago owner Helmut Jahn and his crew aboard Flash Gordon 6 passed Groovederci on the downwind leg then maintained their lead on the second beat to secure the victory.
"We started conservatively and relied on our boat speed going upwind. We got to the top mark just behind Groove then got past them on the run," Jahn said. "We sailed a good race."
Evan Jahn rejoined the crew after missing the previous four events of the 2014 International Circuit and made an immediate contribution. The younger Jahn, who steers his father's boat during the starts and upwind, performed as though he had never been away.
"Evan brings a certain energy to the crew and everyone was happy to see him back," Helmut Jahn said.
The thrill of victory quickly turned into the agony of defeat as Flash Gordon 6, which collided with Groovederci at the start of Race 2 and punctured its mainsail. The 2012 world champions were forced to retire and accept a 16th placement as result. Class management gave Jahn approval to use his backup main and Flash Gordon 6 will rejoin the fray on Friday.
"We are not going to hang our heads. We'll be back tomorrow," said Jahn, adding that Flash Gordon 6 also suffered some damage to its mast. "We are here to learn and get better for worlds."
Race 2 began on the Berkeley Circle and featured an upwind and downwind leg before principal race officer Anderson Reggio sent the fleet on a bit of a harbor tour that took the boats past the Golden Gate Bridge to the city front then past Alcatraz for a finish directly in front of host St. Francis Yacht Club.
Skipper Alberto Rossi and his team aboard the Italian entry Enfant Terrible led for most of the way with Groovederci, Plenty and Voodoo Chile giving chase. There was a dramatic turn of events at the last mark rounding as Enfant rounded in a lull while Plenty picked up a puff and snatched the lead away.
That bullet coupled with a second place in Race 1 gave Plenty the early lead in the four-day regatta. Enfant Terrible trails by three points and is two ahead of third place Nightshift.
"It was a real challenging day and we managed to get two good finishes out of two average starts," Plenty tactician Terry Hutchinson said. "Alex did really good work upwind to bring us back in each race."
Hutchinson also praised jib trimmer Skip Baxter for helping Plenty rally from a "shockingly bad start" in Race 2, which the renowned tactician described as "awesome" because of the unique course. "There is still a ton of racing left in this regatta. It's now how you start, but how you finish," he said.
It was a solid opening day for Nightshift, owned by class veteran Kevin McNeil of Annapolis. Andy Horton made some sound tactical calls as McNeil steered his plain white boat to finishes of third and fifth on Wednesday afternoon.
"We sailed pretty fast today. We could have done better, but all in all we're happy with the results," McNeil said. "We certainly didn't lose the regatta today. We're in the hunt, but there's a long way to go. We've got to keep plugging away and taking it one race at a time."
Groovederci, skippered by Santa Barbara resident John Demourkas, is fourth overall - just one point behind Nightshift. After taking fifth in Race 1, the boys aboard Groove were not flustered by the run-in with Flash Gordon 6 and finished fourth in Race 2.
Highly successful Tasmanian skipper Andrew Hunn has Voodoo Chile in fifth place on the strength of a 7-3 score line. Hunn, who tops the Corinthian standings after day one, is racing a new boat purchased from Prince Frederik of Denmark.