Saturday morning in Key Largo, a small tribe assembled with their beach catamarans on the shores at Upper Keys Sailing Club. It was a balmy, pleasant morning, day one of the Rick White Memorial Steeplechase Regatta, and while we were all rigging and laughing and joking with our competition, I was having a definite “mom’s spaghetti” Eminem-level case of nerves about what I was about to do.
The Steeplechase is a two-day beach cat distance racing adventure, sending F18s, Hobie Waves and assorted other cats on challenging, multifaceted courses of 30 to 40 miles down the ICW. I had agreed, without considering the implications, to skipper a Hobie Tiger named Trap Money, owned and crewed by my friend, Pat Edwards. Up til Saturday morning, my relevant experience for the categories “catamarans” and “trapeze work” consisted of a few jaunts on my friend’s Hobie 16 about 20 years ago, and an hour of practice the day before. I was worried I’d find that I’d bitten off more than I could chew, but I was lucky to have extremely competent crew to keep me on track.
Day One sent us on a 30 mile trip to Card Sound and back. We alternately went blasting through open bays at 20 knots, and half-sailing, half-paddling in thin, gentle breeze as we picked our way through narrow channels between mangrove islands, under bridges and past tiki bars. This was definitely not the average distance race, and I was very much on the edge of my seat as I tried to enjoy the rush of such speed despite my apprehensions about my abilities on the tiller and the trap.
Day Two was a beat that seemed to last for 100 miles, though the entire course was a 38-mile round trip. This day added a new challenge – racing across the sand flats, boards and rudders up, trying to keep the steering under control and avoid getting hung up in the speed-killing little mangrove sprouts that live just below the water’s surface. The entire thing was a rush. Upon reaching our turning mark, we were treated to many delightful miles with the kite up, blasting down the ICW to a soundtrack of old-school hip hop.
The most notable aspect of this race, however, is the willingness of all of the competitors to support one another. From the moment Pat and I arrived, we were welcomed into the fleet, and we received a wealth of tips on everything from rig setup to how to manage crossing the flats. Everyone was positive, upbeat and supporting of one another, and it was an atmosphere of mutual respect that one would be hard pressed to find in many fleets today.
Our competitors ranged from seasoned aficionados Dick Macdonald and Dave Ingram aboard Turtle Mojo, whose advice proved priceless to us, to Larry Ferber who filled his Hobie 21 with women sailors and junior sailors for the event. In the end, we were no match for Dick and Dave on the downwinds – Team Turtle took the win, with Pat and I on Trap Money in second, and Larry with team Cat N The Hat in 3rd. We were also joined by several local teams whose persistence and sense of humor were truly enjoyable.
Massive thanks to Sail Series Promotions USA and PRO Warren Green for organizing a wonderful event, and to UKSC for hosting all of us.
I would highly encourage everyone to get down to this race next year – it’s an affordable way to hit 20+ knots around a race course, and you’ll be in the company of sailors and race officials who truly exemplify what sailing should be about – fun, sportsmanship and speed.
– Aly Di Nas