CABB Key Biscayne Double Distance Race
September 20, 2009
Biscayne Bay, Miami, Florida
By John McKnight, Hobie 20

As Forest Gump’s mother told him, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.” The same can be said about a day of sailing, you never know what you are going to get. It can be the most fabulous day of sailing with fantastic winds, sparkling sunshine, and great competition, or it can be a windless, rainy drifter kind of day. The dread of the latter sometimes dissuades sailors from even coming to the beach. I think that may have happened for the annual Key Biscayne Double Distance Race. There were showers in the forecast, and the wind predictions were less than ideal, at 5 knots.

While we were setting our boats up on the beach, there was no wind. It was flat; there was not a ripple on Biscayne Bay. I had heard of at least 11 boats that were planning on showing up for the races. When I saw the small turn out on the beach, I knew what had happened; people had bailed. The boats that normally sail over from the Miami Yacht Club had no way of getting to the Rickenbacker Causeway for the race unless they could have found a tow. Some of those who trailer their boats probably blew it off after listening to the marine forecast that morning. I was concerned because last month’s race was canceled for lack of wind. As it turned out, like clockwork, the winds filled in at 11 AM. Biscayne Bay seldom disappoints, and today would be no exception. After 30 years of sailing on this bay, I have seldom been skunked. I can count on one hand the times we have not been able to sail, and most of those were because of too much wind, not too little! As it turned out, we had a very good day of sailboat racing. Hey, any day of sailing beats mowing the grass, washing the car, or watching your favorite football team lose.

This day was interesting. We had some surprises. We had some rain showers, lightning, water spouts, and strong currents in Biscayne Channel. The first surprise was when we got to the causeway, and our normal launch beach was closed. It was roped off, and there was heavy equipment blocking the beach. They are finally starting the long anticipated Rickenbacker Causeway refurbishment project. That is good news because they are going to create a dedicated small boat launch area for us. But in the short term, we had to squeeze our boats onto a narrower beach for launching this day.

Six boats showed up for the races. We had 2 Hobie 20s, and one each Nacra 5.8, Prindle 19, Hobie 16, and an F-16 Blade. It was good to see Rick Tobin out with his N-5.8. He has been restoring the boat after it had been lying neglected and abandoned for many years. This was to be his first CABB race. Unfortunately, as he was launching the boat, his mainsail got caught on a branch of an Australian pine tree and the sail ripped along a batten pocket. He was out for the day before the race even got started. The Prindle 19 and Blade had managed to ghost over from the US Sailing Center to the causeway where the races start. Gina Hopen and her son, Ari, showed up with their Hobie 16. Gary Marcinkoski, a Hobie 18 owner, brought out his RBI motor boat to follow the races instead of sail. Gary and his 8 year old son, Dylan, acted as chase and photo boat all day. They took still and video pictures of the sailing, which can be seen on the new CABB Facebook page at Catamaran Association of Biscayne Bay Florida. It was comforting to know we had a chase boat with the storms in the area.

This race day was set up for two races. The first race was from the Rickenbacker Causeway out to the beach on the ocean side of Key Biscayne. The second race was a reverse course from Key Biscayne back to the Rickenbacker. The first race commenced with a timed start between two fixed buoys just off the beach. I had some kind of brain fart and misread my watch and missed the start by a minute. I don’t know what I was thinking. But that gave Norm Hansen and me a challenge to catch up with the other boats. Norm has his own Hobie 20, but he was crewing with me this day. We had a good 7 knot breeze and we were all zipping down the bay toward Cape Florida at the southern tip of Key Biscayne. There was a rain shower approaching from the east over by Bear Cut. Norm and I tacked over toward the rain shower in hopes of harnessing some of the energy emanating from it. That worked. We got blasted by 15 knots of wind being pumped out of the clouds. Chris Stater and Hans Evers, on the F-16 Blade, did the same thing. We were all double trapezed and enjoying a great ride down the bay. Unfortunately the blast was short lived, and as we sailed away from the shower, we lost some of that pressure. Lenny Valdivia and Saramy, on their Hobie 20, were on the other side of the bay and never got the good wind.

The wind was out of the southeast and on the nose going out to Cape Florida. We tacked and tacked. It was near high tide, so we were able to skim over most of the shoals as we approached the cape. The Blade was leading the pack but Norm and I were hot on their tail. After rounding Cape Florida, it was a downwind run to the finish. Gina, on her Hobie 16, saw the heavy showers offshore and decided to turn back when she reached the cape. The other four boats skirted the swimming beach at Bill Baggs State Park Beach and landed on Key Biscayne. The Blade was first to finish by a few seconds, but our Hobie 20 corrected out in first place for this race. The Blade corrected into second place. Lenny’s Hobie 20 was third, followed by the Prindle 19 sailed by Fermin de la Camara and Oscar Garcia Coni. We all pulled up on the white sand beach and chatted about the race and enjoyed lunch. About the time we were ready to start the return race, we saw a huge storm out over the ocean, heading our way. Out of the bottom of this storm was a serpent like water spout. It was eerie! It was twisting and snaking like a hula dancer’s hips. The water spout was several miles away, but clearly visible. It must have extended several thousand feet up in the air to the base of the clouds. On the surface of the ocean, it was kicking up a huge spray pattern. There were frightening lightning bolts popping out of this storm, and the ensuing rumblings of thunder vibrated our very souls. Somehow you feel very much alive when you are exposed to Mother Nature’s wrath with little or no protection from the elements. We all decided to sit tight on the beach and see what this monster was going to do. We had no desire to get caught on the water in a storm with a water spout and lightning. No thank you! We all huddled under a thatched umbrella shaped shelter while it rained on us, and we watch the main storm move past us to the north. A few of the sailors bobbed in the ocean with just their heads breaking the surface while waiting out the storm. Lenny and Saramy were sipping on cold ones while they waited. The water is still bath water warm in late September.

When the storm passed, we started the return race. We did a Le Mans start off the beach. It was a downwind run back to the cape. Things got real interesting in Biscayne Channel, at the tip of Cape Florida. The winds were light, and the current was now ripping against us. Now I know what a salmon feels like swimming upstream. We were sailing through the water, but getting nowhere. The current was restricting our forward progress. The sails were full, and we were putting out a wake, but when we looked over at the shore, we could tell we were barely moving forward. This is a very strange feeling! To compound the problem, we had to contend with numerous sandbars. Our daggerboards had to be up to keep from dragging the bottom, and the rudders kept getting kicked up. We had to tack several times to find deep water and get away from the lea of the shore to get more wind in our sails. The two H-20s and the Blade eventually squeaked through the cut, but the Prindle 19 was trapped. Fermin and Oscar seemed to be stuck in one spot forever. The first three boats had sailed a mile away from the cut before the P-19 escaped the evil clutches of the powerful ebb tide. The winds were now out of the northeast, and we were sailing a close reach straight back to the finish. When Gina abandoned the race earlier, she returned to the bay. Unfortunately, she ran smack into the big storm we had seen while we were having lunch on Key Biscayne. She saw, not one, but numerous water spouts coming from that storm. The multiple water spouts even made the local news that evening. There was lightning, thunder, and heavy rain. Gina wisely took shelter on Hobie Beach and let the storm pass by. Gina is a tri-athlete, and she ended up running barefoot a half mile back to the launch beach to retrieve her car and trailer to reunite them with her boat. Go Gina!

Chris and Hans, on the Blade, took line honors and squeaked out a first place finish on corrected time for this second race. Norm and I took second place followed by Lenny and Saramy on their Hobie 20. Fermin and Oscar finally escaped the current at Cape Florida and came in fourth. It was an interesting day of racing. We had a little bit of everything thrown at us. We had wind, rain, lightning, thunder, and tricky currents to challenge us. Like Momma Gump said, “You never know what you are going to get.”