a death in florida

a death in florida

We first forecast the death of Miami Race Week back in 2006 when organizer Premiere Racing ceremoniously uninvited a hundred one-design boats from their well-run event at a great venue during the perfect end-of-winter weekend, turning the inclusive “Miami Race Week” into the invitation-only, pretentious-as-hell “Acura Miami Grand Prix..”

The excuse that Premiere president Peter Craig gave for booting the Melges 24, J/24, J/105, J/80, and other small to medium sized one-designs was that storms had reduced the available berthage for the small boats that sailed in Key Biscayne, and that Premiere could no longer accommodate them.  It was of course bullshit, an excuse to try to make the event more exclusive and upmarket, the better to draw in luxury sponsors and the better to make a big margin on each customer.  And of course it was doomed to failure, as we pointed out back then and later in March 2009.

Somehow, Premiere didn’t notice the massive trend in American sailboat racing toward smaller, easier to transport boats, and somehow, they failed to notice that the Farr 40 and Farr 30 Class, mainstays of the Miami event, were disappearing.  And by the time they did notice it, it was too late:  The small volume, big margin GP boats disappeared while the big volume, small margin boats – the bread and butter of every major event – moved on.  The beneficiaries?  Charleston Race Week, set to pass 200 boats this year.  Charlotte Harbor Regatta, with more than 80 in its inaugural year of 2010.  And most of all the EFG Bacardi Miami Sailing Week set to explode this year with all the classes Premiere kicked out…and then some.  Ironically, the Bacardi is held in exactly the same place as Premiere once berthed the little boats during Miami Race Week – it seems there is space there after all.

The death of Miami Race Week is no tragedy from where we sit. Already the two Coconut Grove events – the Bacardi and another sportboat regatta – have a far bigger fleet than the Premiere had over the past decade.  The Melges 32s are sailing their own, standalone event, and the 9 or 10 IRC boats that sailed the past couple of years will undoubtedly find another race either in the Caribbean, the Florida West Coast, or up the coast in Charleston.  Those who complain that this is somehow horrible for the sport of sailing can relax,  because net participation will actually be greater without Miami Grand Prix than it was with it.  And those who lament the days of the SORC can relax, since there was nothing SORC about the Miami Grand Prix.  SORC lives on in races like the Pineapple Cup.

The real tragedy in all this will undoubtedly be Key West Race Week, which we believe to be right behind Miami on the path to implosion.  It’s got all the same problems as Miami did; no title sponsor, dwindling fleets, lots of overhead, and an out-of-touch Bostonian running the show.  Furthermore, the price gouging of the past decade has put Key West out of touch for those bread-and-butter racers that once helped KW draw in 320 boats, and as we saw in Miami, a couple of small IRC divisions and a fleet of Melges 32s does not provide critical mass to allow a for-profit entity like Premiere Racing to run a business.  Unfortunately, unlike Miami, there will not be anyone to fill the gap once Premiere abandons Key West, and sailing in North America will lose one of its biggest gems to mismanagement, hubris, and bad business decisions.  These events have been fading away for 7 years now, and no one is doing a thing to stop the bleeding.

You can read Peter Craig’s excuse-filled letter to the fleets he blew off here, and the comments start here in the Key West thread.