Competitive Sailing in Florida

By: Terry Tomalin

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Key West Race Week, Miami Olympic Class Regatta and other races draw sailors from around the world.

When it comes to competitive sailing, Florida has become an international destination. The state consistently produces Olympic medal winners and, each year, racers from dozens of different countries come to train and compete in one of a variety of world-class regattas.

Pensacola and Panama City in Northwest Florida, St. Petersburg and Sarasota mid-state, Jacksonville and the Fort Lauderdale/Miami in Southeast Florida and, of course, Key West, all have dynamic competitive sailing scenes.

The racing season generally runs fall through spring, with the winter months the most active. Following is a rundown of some upcoming events:

Key West Race Week

This weeklong series of events ranks only behind the Olympics and the America’s Cup in terms of international attendance and prestige. Race Week typically draws Olympic and America’s Cup hopefuls, as well as veteran competitors of these highly respected events.

But Key West Race Week is more than a place where the world’s top skippers can test crews and tactics. Weekend warriors can also sign up to race and, quite possibly, start down the road to a world championship.

The action kicks off Jan. 18, 2010, with everything from 20-foot sportboats to 80-foot yachts under sail off the coast of the Southernmost City in the U.S.

Key West Race Week features the top “one design” racing in country. Sailboats with identical specifications, including the popular Farr 40s, Melges 32s and J/80s, will compete in large fleets in a round-robin format.

Miami Olympic Class Regatta

As soon as Key West Race Week concludes, many of the sailors pack up and head straight to Miami for the annual Olympic Class Regatta, Jan. 24-30. The action here is limited to the boats that will race in the 2012 Olympics in London.

Many past and future medal winners will compete in this weeklong series of racing, which attracts media and racing fans from all over the world.

The racing for the Olympic hopefuls will include the following classes: Laser Radial (women), Laser (men), Finn (men), Men’s RS:X, Women’s RS:X, 49er (men), Men’s 470, Women’s 470, Star (men) and Elliott 6m (women).

In most of the classes, the competitors will race in fleets, with a five-day opening series and a double-point medal race for the top 10 finishers. The regatta will also feature some America’s Cup style or match racing, a format that will make its debut at the 2012 Olympic Games.


Blue Water Racing

Decades before local sailors switched to “around the buoy” racing, Florida was known internationally for its open-ocean racing. The legendary St. Petersburg to Havana race hasn’t been held in 50 years, but yachties still race from the Tampa Bay area to Isla Mujeres on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula every spring.

The Southern Ocean Racing Conference (SORC), headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, stages races to Key West, Charleston, S.C., and Montego Bay, Jamaica, each year.

In April 2009, a 65-foot boat named Rosebud broke a 35-year-old record in the 408-mile Charleston race. Next year’s race is scheduled for March 31, 2010. The Pineapple Cup, the 811-mile race to Montego Bay, will set sail again on Feb. 5, 2011. Up next is Fort Lauderdale to Key West on Jan. 13, 2010. For more information, go to www.sorcsailing.org.


If you go

At Key West Race Week, the Historic Seaport at the Key West Bight, 100 Grinnell St., will be the scene of most of the action. The Ocean Key Resort and Spa is Key West Race Week’s official hotel. For more information, go to www.premiere-racing.com.

The Miami Olympic Class Regatta’s headquarters will be the U.S. Sailing Center Miami, Coconut Grove. The actual sailing will take place at several locations including the Coral Reef Yacht Club, Key Biscayne Yacht Club, Coconut Grove Sailing Club, Miami Rowing Club and Shake-a-Leg Miami. For more information, go to www.ussailing.org.

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