catbird seat

catbird seat

I had a hell of a seat yesterday for the VOR’s PortMiami In-Port Race, and as someone lucky enough to have been aboard Camper for the Alicante In-Port, I have to say that a spot on one of the three Umpire boats is even better than a spot on the raceboat.  The race itself was one of the most exciting I’ve seen in a long time, with a mix of just about everything.  Breeze on at the start faded to a light 8 knots by the finish, three different leaders and tons of position changes, penalties and just about every sail combo possible, and a photo finish that let the hometown boat get on the podium – by less than a boatlength.

To start with, a shout out to the locals here in Miami:  The VOR Village was still somewhat deserted, though at least there was some life before the rain hit in the afternoon.  Hotties in bikinis playing beach volleyball on a pile of sand brought in by organizers, free drinks, the Miami Heat cheerleaders – these last-second fixes all helped bring in (by an estimate I am completely pulling out of my ass) maybe 10 to 12,000 people throughout the day.  We’re talking a tiny fraction of any other stopover, but at least a few folks showed up.  And don’t forget that the VOR grabbed a regional cable network – Fox Sports Net – for the home audience that doesn’t know how to work computers.  Not an insignificant audience there.

More impressive was the spectator fleet, even with an ugly start to the morning.  I counted around 185 spectator boats, and these were not the alloy motor dinghies and little skiffs you see at so many other spots.  We’re talking dozens of big motoryachts and fishing boats as well as a decent pool of sailboats, including a few beach cats and even a Laser.  So if you read our exhortation the other day and showed up – thanks from us and from the VOR.  Make sure you come on Sunday as well, it’s definitely bikini weather…

We watched the presumably local team, with more Florida racing experience aboard PUMA (from back in the SORC and big one-design days) inexplicably go for the pin end start despite everyone knowing that a Southeasterly in South Florida means to get to the beach.  There was as much as three knots of currents to the East, while the shore got good shifts and current relief.  Ian Walker knew it, Groupama knew it, and Camper knew it even better. In fact, Camper would have led around the top mark had they not left their J2 jib on the dock…

Groupama sailed smart and conservatively, though Walker and ADOR was by far the crispest boat in the fleet.  The French pulled ahead on every leg until Walker jumped on the peel to the masthead zero a leg faster than anyone else, letting him tear across the short reach and then on the final upwind to pass Groupama for the win.

Despite a bad start and a horrible first leg, Puma clawed back bit by bit, inching up to 3rd place Camper with better shift calls on the final beat.  Puma was still behind when both Groupama and ADOR got on their air near the shortened finish, and Kenny went right while Camper got locked in just below the bulk of the spectator fleet.  Read came charging back in on starboard, and when Camper tacked just a boatlength from the finish, Read was rumbling.  He put the bow down, sailed through the stopped Kiwi boat’s lee, and took the final podium spot by half a boatlength.  Fascinating stuff indeed.

Sanderson and Team Sanya took fifth despite not having a masthead zero, but only because Iker and Xabi screwed up yet another in-port race – their 3rd unforced error leading to a DFL of the year.  This time, they forgot about the big N’ly flowing current at the reach-to-reach mark, and you could see Iker’s face go white as the mark rubbed along their starboard rail.  A 3rd place turned into a last place in seconds, and the leaderboard for the overall race has finally turned into a truly exciting thing.

Be sure to watch the Leg 7 start on the player above.  I’ll be calling the game aboard a Volvo executive VIP boat, and I’m looking for a hot young assistant…catch me in the race village on Sunday morning if you qualify…