CABB Key Biscayne Double Distance Race
Miami, Florida
September 13, 2008
By John McKnight, Hobie 20

Brilliant sun, pristine beaches, tropical breezes, and fifteen beach cats came together to create one perfect day of sailing. We waited all year, and we finally got all the right elements to mesh. The colorful cats lined the Rickenbacker Causeway Beach in anticipation of the annual Key Biscayne Double Distance Race.

We had a great turn out with quite an array of boats. There were two of the hot Marstrom 20s skippered respectively by Mike Philips and Brett Moss. There were five Hobie 16s, two of which were rigged with spinnakers. There were two Inter 20s skippered by Tybee 500 veterans, Steve Lohmayer and Terry Greene. There were four Hobie 20s making up the largest one design class for the day. The fleet was rounded out with one each Prindle 19 and an F-16 Blade. There was no lack of exotic hardware or skilled sailors to make the boats fly.

The two H-16s with spinnakers were out of the Miami Yacht Club. Each of the boats had a teenager onboard who is in training for the US Sailing Youth Multihull Championships coming up in January. Taylor Palmer was skippering one of the boats with rock star, Jamie Livingston, doing the mentoring and foredeck work. Youth, Julian Roots, was crewing on the other spinnaker H-16 with none other than Kenny Pierce doing the driving and coaching the spinnaker work. Talk about some talented coaches.

The day consisted of two races. The first race was sailed from the Rickenbacker Causeway halfway around Key Biscayne to a beach on the ocean side of the island. We started the race with a flag sequence from the committee boat. I use the term committee loosely, because Jaan Roots, alone, was the race committee. He did it all. He ran the start, acted as chase boat, took finish times, and calculated the results. Thank you, Jaan for a job well done.

The winds were out of the east at 10 to 15 knots at the start. Brett Moss with Doug Russell, on Brett's M-20, port started the entire fleet. After the start it was a close reach going south down Biscayne Bay. Kenny Pierce and Julian Roots got a great start with their spinnaker H-16, and they were in the mix of the lead boats. The course was challenging because there are at least four shoal areas that had to be traversed. Rafael Quesada reported dragging a daggerboard on his Hobie 20 and sending his trapezed crew, Antonio Berjarano, flying around the forestay. The shoals are very tricky because the sands shift daily, and the tides make the water depths uncertain. The race rounded Cape Florida, and we sailed past the historic lighthouse. From there we headed north along the eastern shore of Key Biscayne passing Bill Baggs State Park. Jaan was there at the finish with the committee boat to take times. It was a fast race with elapsed times ranged from 34 to 59 minutes.

After crossing the finish line, we pulled the boats up on the balmy Key Biscayne beach. There is nothing like 15 flashy beach cats pulled up on a beach to attract attention. Numerous people stopped by to gawk at the boats and ask what we were doing there. We all brought our lunches and drinks with us. We enjoyed chatting about the race as we snacked on our lunches.

After the lunch break, we started the second race. Jaan was having trouble getting the anchor on the committee boat to hold in the sandy bottom. So he could not set a start line. We decided to do a timed Le Mans start off the beach. The boats all lined up in knee deep water, and the race started at the finish of the count down. Because the first race was so fast, we decided to add Bug Light as an additional turning mark to make the race longer. Bug Light marks the eastern terminus of Biscayne Channel. This change probably added 3 miles to the race. All the boats took off on a port tack from the beach heading straight for Bug Light. The winds were still out of the east a 10 to 15. We were all fetching the Bug Light tower. But we were all in for a big surprise. As we closed within a half a mile of Bug Light, the waves started to increase in size. As we got even closer to the Light, the waves became huge. The winds also seemed to pick up. The boats were all getting tossed about like toy boats in an eight year old's bath tub water. The crews were flying all over the place. It was difficult, and near impossible, to keep your footing while trapezing. My feet got knocked out from under me, and I slammed my thigh into the chine on my Hobie 20. A week later I still had the bruise to prove it. After that incident, I stayed on the boat for some stability while skippering. My crew, the athletic, Hans Evers, stayed out on the wire to counter balance our gyrating craft. I felt like we were in a gigantic washing machine, the way we were getting tossed about. I think the east wind was bucking a strong ebb tide coming out of Biscayne Channel, creating the big choppy waves.
Once we made our starboard rounding at Bug Light, we were going downwind on a following sea. Now we were having some fun. It was surf city. We were heating the boat up and bearing off on the face of the big waves. We were combining the power of the wind and the power of the waves, and we were flying. We were heading straight for the Cape Florida Lighthouse, surfing the waves. But the big wave subsided as quickly as they came up.

There was one casualty of the big wind and waves. The Hobie 16 sailed by Gina Hopen and Anna Marie Thomas flipped in the very challenging conditions. They flipped right near Bug Light. They were having trouble grabbing their Hawaiian righting line, and the boat quickly went turtle (upside down) before they could get it up. They were toward the rear of the fleet, and none of the other cat sailors in the race saw them in trouble. Both ladies are slim and trim, and they didn't have enough beef on the boat to pull it upright from the upside down position. Fortunately, there were several fishing boats around Bug Light. Not one, but two motor boats, came to rescue the damsels in distress. After some pulling and lifting, the motor boaters got the gals up right and on their way.

After Hans and I passed Cape Florida, I heard a distress call on the race frequency. Many of us carry waterproof marine radios set to the same frequency, which serves as a safety net. Well, the net was working. I heard a faint call from Chris Stater that he was in trouble. He was saying his F-16 Blade was on its side, and he couldn't right it by himself. He needed help. We could not raise the committee boat, so Hans and I spun our Hobie 20 around and headed back east into the choppy ocean to search for Chris. Chris broadcast his location as near Stiltsville and after a couple of miles of sailing, we spotted the overturned boat right where he had described. We made a pass by the Blade and Hans leaped into the blue green water to help Chris right his boat. Chris told me later that he had been doing a spinnaker takedown, and the chute had gone in the water. The spinnaker got wrapped around the bows and he couldn't get it untangled because the boat was still sailing forward putting pressure on the spinnaker. Chris decided to flip the boat to get it to stop, so he could retrieve the errant sail and not damage it. It was after he got the spinnaker back on board that he realized he couldn't right the boat by himself. That's when he called for assistance.

The rest of the boats had an uneventful race back to the Rickenbacker Causeway. The mostly downwind race favored the spinnaker boats. After rounding Cape Florida, it was a broad reach in a freshening breeze. It was a memorable ride. There was extra pressure, as usual, as we traversed Bear Cut, giving everyone a thrill ride right up to the beach.

The two youth from the Miami Yacht Club did very well with their coaches lending a hand. The Pierce/Roots spinnaker Hobie 16 won both races on corrected time. The Palmer/Livingston spinnaker Hobie 16 took third place in both races giving them second place overall for the day. The Sonnenklar/Lohmayer Inter 20 took a 5th and 2nd, giving them third place over all for the day with 7 points. The Moss/Russell M-20 had two 4th places giving them a tie for 4th place for the day. With redress for our rescue in the second race, Hans and I tied for 4th place for the day but we lost the tie breaker giving us 5th place for the day. If you would like all the finish positions, I can send you an attachment with all the results that Jaan Roots worked up for both races.

It was a beautiful day of sailing. We had perfect wind and fantastic weather. There were lots of boats and plenty of competition. Everyone I spoke with after the race said they had a great time. Even Gina and Anna Maria said they had a wonderful time despite their turtled boat adventure.

See you October 18, for more fun and adventure at the Fowey Light Distance Race.