The annual pilgrimage to Florida for the once-glorious Southern Ocean Racing Conference series has slowed to a trickle, but local sailorsstill were in there contending over the last couple of weeks.
Theevent -- once a highlight of the go-for-broke IOR schedule, attracting maxis and all-star international crews, the best and the brightestof American sailing, and lots of others -- has fallen off over the past few years.
The regatta was legendary in its heyday and an aspiration for many sailors. In those days, the regatta spanned the entire month of February, consisted mostly of distance-type races, and drew huge fleets that migrated around the coast of Florida following the starting sequences.
Today, it consists of a West Coast series of buoy races outof St. Petersburg, and an East Coast series of middle-distance and buoy races out of Miami and Fort Lauderdale, linked by the 403-mile St. Pete-to-Lauderdale Race.
Only 16 boats, nearly all from the immediate St. Petersburg area, took part in this year's buoy races of theWest Coast portion of the regatta beginning Feb. 28. Only five of those went on to sail the distance race to Lauderdale which began on Sunday, April 3.
The East Coast portion of the regatta included the two-race Mark Baxter Memorial Series on Friday, March 8; the 23.4-mile Lipton Cup race on Saturday; a very windy and somewhat disastrous Ocean Race on Sunday; and finally the 112-mile Gulfstream Race on Monday, March 11.
The only Annapolis-based team competing in all of the East Coast events was Bill Steitz' Dancer crew, sailing in the IMS class, while the rest of the local competitors took part purely for fun, not series points.
"It's two local regattas now as far as I'm concerned, one on the west coast, and one on the east," said Annapolis sailmaker Jim Scott, who was part of Bob Crompton's team on his Swan 391 Full Cry in PHRF in the East Coast portions of the event. "But it's a great three-day series on the East Coast, and a great way to keep your boat down there after (Audi-Yachting Race Week at) Key West and sail another series."
The Full Cry team sailed only three of a possible five races, when high winds and freakishly heavy seas onSunday sent it back to the dock before reaching the starting area. It had not intended to sail Monday's Gulfstream Race.
"Not sailing on Sunday was the sort of decision that was easy to make," Scott laughed, "and in hindsight it looked even better, especially after two boats in our class lost their rigs."
Scott said that waves kicked upin Sunday's 30- to 35-knot winds combined with opposing tides rushing through the Miami Cut to create huge swells.
"We were coming back in the cut with a reefed main and the engine, and we caught a wave. Suddenly we were doing 16 1/2 knots. I've never seen a keelboat go that fast before. It was unbelievable," Scott said.
Scott explainedthat the first three days of the East Coast series saw winds continue to build.
"The first race the first day it was blowing eight to 12 true, and in the second race that day it was blowing 12 to 14 true," he said. "The next day it was 20 to 24 true, and then on Sunday itwas 30 to 34 true, with higher gusts." Winds were somewhat lighter for Monday's Gulfstream Race, with IMS scoring based on 12 knots.
The East Coast fleet reached a high of 32 starters in Saturday's Lipton Cup, and fell to a low of five starters in the Gulfstream Race.Onlyfive of the nine starters in Sunday's Ocean Race finished that difficult, gear-busting event.
Another Annapolis PHRF team that backed down from Sunday's high wind and waves and had not planned to sail the Gulfstream was Don Zinn's Goldfish crew, including Pollywannacrackaskipper Larry Kumins.
"The sea conditions on Sunday were truly awesome," Kumins said, explaining that Goldfish broke her boom on the way to the start before turning back. "There were lots of good sea stories coming out of that race. Jazz lost her mast on the way to the start, and a J/39 called Make My J pretty much capsized and lost four people overboard, who were all recovered. She went over and stayed down for a really long time, and when she came back up all the masthead instruments were stripped off."
Winning the Baxter Memorial seriesin Class 3 PHRF was Pendleton Alexander and his team on Once Upon A Time, including North sailmakers Jim Allsopp and Jonathan Bartlett. But after sailing extremely well on Friday, in Saturday's race a miscalculation of the effects of the Gulfstream put them into fifth. This team, too, had not planned on the final distance race and backed away from high winds and heavy seas on Sunday.
"We were first up the long beat, well in front of the other boats," Allsopp said. "But we didn't take the Gulfstream into account enough, and some other boats that came around (the mark) about seven minutes behind us made a hard right and went out about a mile farther into the Gulfstream and got ahead of us. It was great sailing, though, and the race committees didan excellent job. There should have been three times the boats therethat there were."
Nancy Noyes is a member of the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association and has been racing on the bay for about fiveyears. Her Sailing column appears every Wednesday and Sunday in The Anne Arundel County Sun.