J/24 Midwinters: Where the Black Flag met Bow Numbers in 1984

Published on February 3rd, 2014

One of the starting tools of last resort for any Race Committee is the Black Flag. When displayed at the start, any infringing yacht during the final minute is immediately disqualified. It’s a harsh penalty, and one that competitors and officials have learned to largely avoid. But it wasn’t always that way.

Back in 1983, Coral Reef Yacht Club’s (CRYC) Mario Bustamante was working the pin boat for the J/24 Midwinters when they had 30 recalls in the regatta. It had become nearly impossible to get a race off. Too many boats were crowding the line, pushing others over.

Following the regatta, Mario became CRYC Race Committee (RC) Chairman, and was determined to make some changes for the 1984 J/24 Midwinters. Mario and the RC felt they needed to change the rules and improve how they identified early starters (and punish them!).

Mario came up with a pirate flag, the black flag with the “Jolly Roger” as the Black Flag, which changed the rules to not only disqualify an early starter in an individual recall but, if there was a general recall, you would not be allowed in any restarts for that race either. Violators were also ordered off the course. The Race Committee posted the bow numbers at the first weather mark and sent a crash boat to get them off.

But the key to the system (and the most innovative idea) was the bow numbers since that made it possible to identify a lot more boats. While some people had used a Black Flag in a more humane way in the past, Mario can assure you that bow numbers were first used in the 1984 J/24 Midwinters.

“We joked that if we had 2 general recalls in a 50 boat start,” shared Mario, “there would only be 5 boats left for the third start and so no more general recalls.

Mario had a lot of help with this plan. He consulted with the top sailors and best race management gurus in Miami such as Ding Schoonmaker, Augie Diaz, Stig Wennerstrom, Tom Bremen, Frank Zagarino, Bill Smoak and Skip Ryder before proceeding. “Their input was very helpful,” recalled Mario, and the regatta ended with a big victory for the Race Committee with a well run regatta.

Besides the J/24 being the most competitive keelboat racing in the world at the time, and Miami’s great weather, another draw for the J/24 Midwinters was the cutting edge race management at CRYC.

“While Mario Bustamante may or may not have been the first to use the Black Flag, he was the first to use one with skull and crossbones on it,” remembered Olympic Silver Medalist Morgan Reeser. “Mario always warned the competitors at the Skippers Meeting not to think that the start line belonged to them. ‘No’, Mario said as he held up the Jolly Roger, ‘the start line belongs to me’. With the hyper competitive fleet, there was always a mass of sailors in front of the results board to find out who got Black Flagged. Unfortunately, I was one of them, losing first place in the 1986 Midwinters with a Black Flag in the final race.”

The storied history of the J/24 Midwinters lives on this year, with Coral Reef Yacht Club as the host, Bacardi as the title sponsor, and good weather nearly assured for the February 19-23 event. Twenty-seven boats are already registered, and Regatta Chair Mark Pincus reports that you can still pay the early entry registration fee if received by February 6.

Multi-class champion Skip Dieball will be there. “Let me preface this by saying that although I have sailed in the J/24 class for the past 20 years, I am not as seasoned as many who spend more time with the fleet,” admitted Skip. “That said, however, I really enjoy the vibe that exists socially in the J/24. You can always count on a great party, which is why many keep coming back. The racing is extremely close and having a polished team is paramount to getting good scores. So, if you work hard and play hard, the J/24 is the class for you! Biscayne Bay is my favorite location to sail in North America. I’ve been saying this for 15 years. There’s a reason all these successful classes continue to choose Miami as their winter destination. The weather is spectacular, sailing challenging and there’s plenty to do in the grove! Of course, Bacardi is my favorite Rum. They, after all, have such a history with Miami sailing!”

Click here for event website. Contact Connie Bischoff at wingsmiami@aol.com or 305 812-1073 for more information.

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