Lohmayer and Sonnenklar take Steeplechase Title
For the 25th Annual Key Largo Steeplechase held in the fabulous Florida
Keys, on the second weekend of December every year, the sailors could
not have asked for better sailing conditions. The temperatures were in
the low 80s, and the winds were a steady 20-25 mph all day on Saturday
and a beautiful 15 mph on Sunday.
And almost all of the legs were reaches or downwind. This is paradise
for a catamaran sailor.
The teams until last year had to work hard to be on the starting line
on time – they had a draw bridge that opened on the half hour.
The start has always been scheduled for 9AM. But, then they had to navigate
a mangrove creek to get to the open water of Barnes Sound, where the
starting line is set.
But, despite a new 65' bridge being built so all they had to do was get
to the start line (no bascule bridge to contend with), but for the second
year in a row a postponement flag had to
The races finally got underway at 9:20 with a beam reach to the first
obstacle – the Card Sound Bridge, another 65-footer, and then a
slight angle closer to the wind and head for Angelfish Creek. The creek
is the way to get to the ocean side of the string of islands.
Many years ago Angelfish Creek was a bit of a challenge. Usually you
were fighting the current and sailing upwind. The secret was to stay
close to the mangroves on each side, thus staying out of the current.
Often you could even catch an eddy to help go upstream.
But, since Hurricane Andrew, which devistated south Florida, most of
the big trees were leveled and have never regained their height. The
fleet still has to navigate the tidal current, but there is usually more
wind in the sails to deal with it.
Once through the creek it is a drag race downwind to Annes Beach some
60 miles away. This year it was mostly a spinnaker sleigh ride, riding
and surfing big waves in Hawks Channel.
A good many of the fleet managed to stuff the bows into the next wave
and had a few pitchpoles in the process.
Right at the start, Kenny Pierce lost Evan Greene overboard right at
the pin. It would have been an awesome start. Pierce picked up Greene
after a couple of attempts, pulled him aboard and sailed with a vengeance,
passing boats left and right. He managed to land at the first beach just
minutes behind the leader, Steve Lohmayer and Jay Sonnenklar, both teams
sailing Nacra 20s.
Kenny Pierce retrieves overboard crew immediately at the start
Another catastrophe at the start were Dave and Leah White. They had not
sailed their Nacra6.0 for a couple of years, so Dave went to work replacing
all the bungee cord and other items that might have decayed in the Keys
sun. He forgot the line for the trapeze. One hundred yards into the race
and it snapped, Dave going nearly overboard, but in the attempt to stay
on the boat broke the tiller extension. Their race was over.
Dave and Leah White were out of the race simply becuase of a broken 2
foot piece of line
Arnis Zbirbulis and Charles DeMille on a Hobie 20 shredded their tired-looking
main and sailed back to the beach. They put on another sail and tried
again, but it too was a bit old and also shredded. He said he would be
back next year.., with a new sail.
Off the start Eric and Bill Roberts were smoking and had a nice lead
on the reaches, but called in to race officials that they had hit a coral
head on the ocean side, broke a daggerboard and were returning to the
Eric and Bill Roberts had their Supercat 22 honking on the first reach
to Card Sound Bridge.
The third boat to the first finish line was Chris Titcomb and Tripp Burd
on an F18, finishing just over 5 minutes behind the lead boat, and taking
first place on corrected time. Todd Riccardi and Brendon Scanlon were
the next F18 (about 15 minutes behind Titcomb, and then it was Dave and
Bob Ingram a few minutes later.
Lohmayer and Sonneklar were up toward the front of the fleet on the first
leg and flying
Karl and Beth were hanging tight with the fleet on their F18
Newcomer to the race, Skip Kaub teamed up with veteran, Jack Woehrle,
on the ARC22
Craig VanEaton and Eric Arbogast on the Supercat 22 had the spray flying
Larry Ferber and Jerry Wolfe finished in fine fashion
Mike Hill and Holly Hoffman on the N20 ended up in 7th place overall
The Second Day
The Second Day of the race is where the event got its name – the
Key Largo Steeplechase. In Merry Olde England they would have races.
The first to a Church Steeple. You might be able to see the Steeple,
head directly for it, but that would require jumping fences, going through
creeks, or many other barriers. Some more prudent would venture around
the obstructions. The brave usually won, if they didn’t die in
So, too, is the backside of the Florida Keys. There, of course, is the
Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, with all the marks. That is the safe
way to get back to the finish line in Key Largo, but it may not be the
If you are reaching you might just skim across the flats, kicking up
a rooster tail of a mud/muck/sand combination, running over a few mangrove
sprouts in the doing. But, that is usually faster than tacking through
mangrove creeks, fighting current and lack of wind.
There are several of those bottlenecks. And by the way, paddling in this
event is perfectly legal at any time.
The boats start the second day on an off-the-beach LaManz start, self-staged
in the order they finished. Pierce and Evans had a great start and were
through the Channel Five Bridge (the way back to the bay side of the
island chain. Lohmayer/Sonnenklar were not far behind.
Lohmayer and Sonnenklar made it across the flats and into deep water
in what appeared to be first place,
but overstood the opening under Channel Five Bridge, allow Pierce and
Greene to be first under. (See picture below)
Below, others going through the bridge
Below is a series of pictures of two-time Olympic Silver Medalist
trying to right his inventive trimaran. In the process one of the amas
came off, and he all sorts of problems. Dave and Bob Ingram hung around
to help, and finally Bob had to jump in and assist. Bob held on to
the boat, while Randy held on to Bob's PFD and hiked out. Slowly..,
and I mean slowly, the mast started coming out of the water and was
finally up and sailable again.
At the finish line it was Pierce and Evans, followed across the line
by Brett Moss and Doug Russell on a Marstrom 20, and moments later in
came Lohmayer and Sonnenklar.
When the dust settled and the scores were tallied, the winner for the
fastest time around the course was Lohmayer and Sonnenklar, edging out
Pierce and Evens by FIVE SECONDS. After 110 miles of sailing, and only
5 seconds differentiating the finish times is flat amazing.
For corrected time positions, it was Chris Titcomb and Tripp Burd hanging
tough in the F18 fleet, but fell into third place overall.
Awards Beer and Champagne Bust
At the awards each finisher is awarded a bottle of Pink Champagne. The
first time the race was attempted, the finishers all bought themselves
champagne and toasted themselves. The tradition lives on.
Another tradition was formed that day. At Annes Beach the previous day
on of the ground crew girls wandered into the woods (they did not have
a bathroom back in those days) and happened upon an old, beatup, discarded
lawnchair. Jokingly she presented it to the winners of the first Key
Largo Steeplechase, Rick White and Jaime Ramone. White immediately responded
by saying, “Great, we now have a perpetual – Ye Old Lawnchaire.”
Jay Sonnenklar and Steve Lohmayer pose with Ye Olde Lawnchair, the Rick
White Perpetual Trophy,
their gold key chains with their finishes engraved
on them and their champagne
Kenny Pierce and Evan Greene lost overall by only 5 second, and that,
after 110-miles of sailing
Tripp Burd and Chris Titcomb had the lead with their F18 after the first
but slipped to 3rd overall on the last day of the race.
Next year the 26th Annual Key Largo Steeplechase will be the same time,
same station, same venue. It has always been scheduled for the 2nd weekend
in December. For more information, see http://www.catsailor.com/Steeplechase.html
|| Catamaran Sailor Magazine
| 2009 25th Annual Key Largo Steeplechase
Combined Both Legs
|| Steve Lohmayer
|| Jay Sonnenklar
|| Royal Orange
|| Kenny Pierce
|| Evan Greene
|| Chris Titcomb
|| Tripp Burd
|| USA 1
|| Bret Moss
|| Doug Russell
|| David Ingram
|| Bob Ingram
|| Todd Riccardi
|| Brendon Scanlon
|| Mike Hill
|| Holly Hoffman
|| Todd Hart
|| Jeff LoSapio
|| Karl Langefeld
|| Beth Bonifant
|| Royal White
|| Chris Runge
|| Terry Greene
|| Curt Johnson
|| Mark Lipkus
|| Chris Stater
|| Hans Evers
|| Larry Ferber
|| Jerry Wolfe
|| Randy Smyth
|| Craig Van Eaton
|| Eric Arbogast
||J Steven Rotolante
||Craig Van Eaton
||Craig Van Eaton