Ode to the Gulfport to Pensacola Race

Published on June 11th, 2020

Since before the Civil War, yachts have been racing from New Orleans, LA to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and then for at least the last 60 years or more, on to Pensacola, FL. Despite COVID-19, these races remain on schedule in 2020 with the 50nm first stage to Gulfport, MS on June 19-20 and the 100nm final leg on June 26-27.

About 20 years ago, Tommy Heausler wrote a poem about an experience that had occurred 20 years earlier, and with an absence of so much racing due to the coronavirus pandemic, we share his vivid memory of this trip.

Ode to the Gulfport to Pensacola Race
100 yachts jockeying around the starting line, canon fires start!
Upwind sprint past Ship and Cat Island and into the azure Gulf,
A turn to the east with all the sail that will fly,
Spinnaker and staysail up.

Competitors still close abeam to starboard and port,
Bright spinnaker changing colors as the sun sets behind,
Sailing into night, a slight jibe towards the shore,
But not too close to the tidal temptations spoken out of the mouth of Mobile Bay.

The bright moon and stars light the spinnaker we glide behind,
A single 4:00 a.m. beer and sandwich, staying awake all night.
A dewy sunrise, only a few other boats appear in sight,
Wondering how well we did through the darkness.

Our tactics were in sync with the wind shifts and tide,
We were attentive through the night,
We are near shore and must be one of the first to get the new fresh offshore wind,
Which should carry us to the finish line.

What place are we in?
Would we get the canon reserved for class winners?
Or just a participation horn like most everybody else?

Sugar white sand beaches in sight,
The Pensacola Bay lighthouse,
Race Committee boat in sight, closer, closer,
We had sailed well, but how well?

Closer to the Committee boat, finish line in sight,
Close enough now to see the committee boat crew,
A race committee man aims binoculars at our sail number,
Inspects his clip board, puts a shell in the canon.

Excitement! “He put a shell in the…” Bang!
We got the gun! We won our class!
Something we’ve only done once or twice in a dozen Pensacola Races.
A thank you wave to the Race Committee boat.

Waves of high fives on board,
Surf on waves down the channel,
As beer, which has been on ice for 24 hours,
Is drained like emotions down my father, brother, best friend and me.

A huge crowd gathered on the green lawn of the Pensacola Yacht Club,
Sunny girls in sunny dresses never looked so good,
As they drawl beneath the 100 year old oak trees.
A shiny – large – silver trophy, permanently engraved – First!

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