Paul Todd/Exterior Pictures
If anyone is looking for Antonio Sanpere on the third weekend in February, scan the skyline from the St. Petersburg coast and look out for his diminutive blue C&C 24. The 82-year-old Sanpere will be at the helm. Cayenneta III, chasing down his rivals like a dog on a hare in the new Helly Hansen World Sailing Regatta. He will likely be heading towards another prize to add to his collection.
Sanpere was a perennial boomerang and head racer in the unofficial Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta one-day ‘rally’ and it was he who last year pleaded with the regatta organizers to offer not one, but two days long races. For the more serious Tampa Bay cruisers. The organizers listened and Sanpere now has his wish with back-to-back days of racing around the bay now on the regatta schedule for February..
Sanpere, of course, was the first to sign up and has some major news to share with the fleet: He’s finally replaced his 30-year-old sails with new stock, and good luck. “The only boats that can beat me are the ones that fly with screws,” he says of his 24-foot vessel. “Nobody can beat me without a sailmaker. Nobody.”
For anyone in the Southeast looking for some longer races this winter, consider this challenge set.
As confident as Sanpere is today, his work will be cut out for him because the growing entry list has few serious contenders for the scratch sheet. The races will use the PHRF as a preferred handicap system, so as a bonus to long distance race competitors, the weekend’s final results will count toward the region’s Boat of the Year scoring. There will be sail and non-sail teams, as well as a cruising division.
Regatta organizers expect the new two-day show to be a strong draw for sailors on nearby Davis Island and other points around the bay because the long course format attracts both new and seasoned sailors looking for an alternative to the traditional wind/wind courses.
“Actually, this type of racing is a real and growing thing here on the Gulf,” says Brian Malone of North Sales, who is also the Davis Island YC fleet captain. “In our racer/cruiser fleet, young men sail boats and are on the go for minor sailing upgrades and use a sail while racing 100 percent of the time – this is the largest and fastest growing fleet in the region. We’re not talking about saltwater surfboard cruisers with winches and canoes.. These teams want to race and have better sails.”
Paul Todd/Exterior Pictures
One notable and early entry in the PHRF Spinnaker division of distance racing is Harvey Ford and Tom Mistele’s J112e Silver Surfer. Ford says he will be cruising both race days, with Chris Bergstrom as his teammate. The two know where the Tampa Bay well is, especially Ford, who has spent more days cruising the 400-square-mile estuary than he can remember. His advice to those keen on the daily distance racing experience is to pay attention to the ebb and flow of the tides. “Read tide charts closely,” he says. “If he [the tide] Against you, you don’t want to get into it, especially if the wind is light. “
For visiting teams, Tampa Bay’s main shipping channel, which runs from north to south, should certainly be a major tactical consideration, he adds, and there are noteworthy shoals along the eastern shore that reach quite far into the bay: “As the water changes color you’ll see it before that you know.”
As for local knowledge about wind direction and habits, Ford offers that in early winter the westerly sea breeze does not tend to be strong until late in the day, and if the sea breeze is a true convection it usually starts gurgling on the eastern side of the bay first before making its way West, which may seem inconsequential to anyone unfamiliar with the Gulf.
Personally, Ford has fingers crossed for getting through just in time for a cold front and the brisk winds that traditionally follow because the longer legs suit his style and his boat. It’s nice to have plenty of runway to enjoy the flight and prepare for the next maneuver, especially when sailing by hand.
The random legs of the new long-distance racing courses also appealed to Scott McGregor, a professional boat captain from St. Petersburg who finally hauled his Melges 32 panda litter From long-term storage to the occasion. He’s looking forward to running a couple of 15- to 20-mile sprints with a crew of seven of his friends.
“The two-day PHRF distance race format is what seduced me,” says McGregor, who was instrumental in developing the nearby Melges 32 fleet from the Davis Island YC a few years ago. “It’s a nice change of pace from doing the typical downwind. I really enjoy sailing from St. Pete because you’re in deep water so fast, it’s usually flat and the sun is usually shining, which is a good combination to stretch our legs a bit.”
The experienced St. Petersburg YC Racing Committee will officiate the starts and finishes of the distance race, which will be staged off the new St. Petersburg pier. An early start is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday (at 1000, if the wind cooperates, of course) and the goal, says Jody Abrams, Public Spike Racing, is to provide a full day’s racing and get competitors back on the dock for the nighttime regatta. Concerts. Abrams says there are a wide variety of course types available to the racing committee using navigational signs, and they’re only really restricted by the four other courses in regattas.
“Tampa Bay is really perfect for this sort of thing because we have the ability to get out of downtown St. Pete and sail under the amazing Skyway Bridge. We can mod courses anywhere from a 10-track to a 20-plus mile course and we have long legs that offer different challenges. Open water, but it’s not open ocean water, so we can take people who are less experienced and do these kinds of races.”
Abrams is excited about the format of the two-day Helly Hansen World Sailing Regatta and sees it as a better opportunity to get a variety of teams involved. “With this shape, you have a better chance of getting the right conditions for your boat on the day,” he says. “Plus, a lot of people work on Fridays and can’t always do the full regatta. We’re getting more and more people ordering legged sprints because they don’t have to worry about every little gust of wind [like you would on windward/leeward] Instead they can focus on trimming the sail and getting the most out of their boat.”
Registration for the regatta is now open, and with nearly 150 entries to date, Abrams says the club is still able to allocate member vouchers to visiting teams. However, there is only so much room in the aquarium, so if a Sanpere challenge sounds appealing, don’t delay in accepting it.