Getting Schooled on Biscayne Bay

Published on April 13th, 2016

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
A dozen years ago, Scuttlebutt Sailing News asked a panel of experts what they considered to be the best racing venues in the U.S. From that group we gathered sixteen locations, with seven of the submissions assessed to be among the very best:

Long Beach, CA
San Francisco, CA
Miami, FL
Newport, RI
Buzzards Bay, MA
Honolulu, HI
Key West, FL

No location was perfect year-round, but the experts agreed that Miami’s Biscayne Bay was the place to be in late winter/early spring. Blessed with supportive clubs, what Mother Nature delivered for wind, weather, and water temperatures was pretty darn good.

But in June, as it was years ago when the Snipe U.S. National Championship was in Miami, it was another story. It was hot. It was stormy. It proved to be a full week of disruption, which led to many lessons learned… some the hard way.

Coming from California, I wasn’t so used to thunderstorms, but when they became a near daily occurrence that week, I quickly picked up on the signs. In normal situations, the wind comes from the Southeast. When there is a storm, the wind comes from the Southwest…the Everglades and the Florida Keys, and they clock right usually by mid-afternoon. And they were dark and threatening.

When the first storm hit, racing was soon abandoned, but with the wind at a broad reach angle back to the harbor, it was too perfect to pass up. We sheeted in and went for it. Blind with spray, riding the edge of disaster, we went as fast as a Snipe could go…until the rudder broke. That led to an afternoon of repairs.
Lesson: Avoid risks early in a regatta.

On another day, we were between races when the storm approached. While not enough time to get off the water, there was plenty of time to prepare the sails. We thought dropping both main and jib would be best, but somehow still capsized amid the thrust of the winds. Without the main up, which helps to float the mast float, the boat turtled… in the shallow depth of Biscayne Bay, 8’-12’. We bent the mast… it was never the same.
Lesson: When the water is warm, and the storm is short, capsize with the sails up and ride it out.

As the week progressed, the race schedule was always in flux. The days started early and ended late, usually with some repair. While we were doing well in the regatta, I really missed getting out for Cuban food. Heck, I hadn’t even gotten inside the Coral Reef Yacht Club Yardarm Bar where the Barracuda hangs over the door. I had been doing a lot of work and not enough living.
Golden rule: Regattas can’t only be about racing.

On the final day, there was one race, and the regatta was ours to lose. But unlike the previous days, there was no wind. We were on the bay, in blistering heat, completely becalmed. So we waited, rafted alongside another boat, in the shade of their mainsail. I didn’t realize this relief at first, but soon did, and I did everything to maintain our alignment to the sun. I never said anything, and when the breeze came in, we remained energized.
Lesson: Use your friends.

We won the race and the regatta, and finally that night, we had our share of good times too.

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