The 2015 Rolex Big Boat Series on San Francisco Bay (CA) served as the premier event for first-year Swan 42 owner, Thomas Furlong, and crew onboard the Swan 42 ELUSIVE (ex-ARETHUSA). The culmination of some six months of crew practices, weekend club races and one middle distance race, the Big Boat Series was the first time that the full “A” crew had sailed together and the team’s progression remained on a nearly vertical trajectory throughout the regatta. On the first day of the four-day event (September 17-20), expectations were kept in check, but by the final day ELUSIVE was two points out of first place and in it to win it.
Sailing in a 5-boat ORR C division, ELUSIVE was in competition with a Sydney 36, Sydney 38, custom Wylie 42 and a Farr 40. With long courses and a faster rating than most of her competitors, ELUSIVE was the quickest boat on course at all times and was tactically sailing in a race against the clock. With positions being won or lost by a handful of seconds in every race, the handicaps worked surprisingly well despite the speed differences on course. Furlong’s mostly amateur crew of 12 included America’s Cup veteran Hartwell Jordan calling tactics and East Coast professional sailor Patrick O’Connor trimming headsails.
After a brief morning postponement to allow the breeze to fill, the Race Committee managed to get off both scheduled races on the first day. Sailing a course that took the fleet well out of the Golden Gate Bridge before setting the A2 spinnaker and rumbling back in with the flood, ELUSIVE corrected out to a very close 4th. Finishing within striking distance of 2nd, the tone was set for a weekend where every second mattered. As the breeze built to 18-22 in the second race and boat handling became more challenging, ELUSIVE sailed around the course cleanly to claim 2nd with the Sydney 36 again winning to take two bullets on the first day. Day 2 brought lighter winds that topped out in the mid-teens and more champagne conditions to the traditionally breeze-on venue with ELUSIVE scoring a 3-2 to match the Sydney 36 3-2. The equal length but slower Wylie 42 was the horse for the course in the moderate breezes and long foul-tide beats of Day 2 to claim both races and re-shuffle the scoreboard heading into Day 3.
As a ridge of high-pressure and ultra-high temperatures killed any chance of a strong thermal sea breeze building, Day 3 was hampered by light air. After a lengthy dockside postponement, a breeze filled and the race committee was able to conduct one of a scheduled two races. Sailed in the lightest conditions of the regatta, ELUSIVE took 2nd and the regatta leader slipped to a disappointing 4th, compressing the scoreboard significantly. After continual dockside postponements, Sunday’s single “Bay Tour” race was called off and the regatta came to a close leaving ELUSIVE to finish 3rd in ORR C.
A highly competitive first major regatta has clearly whetted Furlong’s appetite for more sailing on ELUSIVE. “My goal for this year was to assemble a crew and to gain experience racing the boat, in the hopes of sailing in the Big Boat Series. This required confidence in our ability to handle ELUSIVE in the heavier 25+ knot winds and steep chop normal to summer afternoons on San Francisco Bay and typical for this regatta. Clearly we saw lighter conditions than expected, but were well prepared for the moderate breezes we saw, and the boat felt great as the winds hovered in the high teens. We were collectively very happy with our performance and I am very grateful to have such a fantastic crew,” he stated.
Furlong went on to say, “For next year, we hope to add some offshore races and a likely run at the Pacific Cup from San Francisco to Hawaii. We’ll add the symmetrical spinnakers to the mix and will explore the concept of a few different optimizations including a different rudder and some specialty sails for offshore.” The enthusiastic Swan 42 skipper added, “One of these days I plan to head East with ELUSIVE for some Swan 42 Class regattas and a race to Bermuda.”
Article by: Diana McConnell and Ronnie Simpson
Photos: Leslie Richter / www.rockskipper.com and Rolex / Kurt Arrigo