The Conch Cup Regatta
September 17, 2011
Miami Yacht Club, Miami, Florida
By John McKnight, Hobie 20

Okay, I think I finally have this figured out. A regatta is one-third sailing and two-thirds talking about the sailing. If you sail for two hours, that is good for four hours of reliving the day’s events. It seems everyone likes to revisit their time on the water and share their experiences with their fellow sailors. At least that was the way it was after this year’s Conch Cup. We had lots to talk about.
The Conch Cup is a 20 mile distance race put on by the Miami Yacht Club each year. The race is open to any kind of sailing craft, and this year it attracted seven monohulls and 15 multihulls of which 10 were beach cats. The beach cats ranged in size from an Blade F-16 to a Stiletto 23. There was a three boat Hobie 18 class, a four boat Hobie 20 class, and a three boat “Fast Cats” spinnaker class.
The race started in Biscayne Bay, just south of the Rickenbacker Causeway near marker 71. The start time was set for 10:00 AM. Now the fun began. It seems that many of the beach cats were not able to make it to the start area by the start time. The winds were on the light side, about 5 knots out of the northeast. Of the 8 beach cats which had launched from the MYC, only one of them made the start on time, and that was Kenny Pierce on his Stiletto 23. It seems he had arranged a tow to to the start line, smart thinking. Rafael Quesada and I had launched our boats from the CABB Beach on the Rickenbacker Causeway out of fear that we would have difficulty making the start. Sailing from the MYC can be difficult if the winds are light because there are three bridges you have to go under on the way to the bay. So that whole fiasco skewed the beach cat race. Chris Stater could be heard on the radio asking for a postponement, but the race went off on time. All the other boats in the race were ready and raring to go at 10:00 AM. The tardy cats started anywhere from a few minutes to 20 minutes late.

It was a downwind start aiming toward the first mark. The committee boat, on the right end of the line, was heavily favored, as it was closer to the first mark than the pin end. Because of that, I was initially planning on starting near the committee boat. Norm, my crew, suggested we start toward the pin end because there would be clean air and no traffic. That was the right call from Norm. We got the clean air and quickly shot to the front of the line of boats. I asked Norm to check the GPS, and it indicated we were just about on the downwind layline to the first mark which was a #2 bay marker. We were higher than the rest of the fleet, and it looked like everyone else was following the lead boat. That lead boat was Kenny Pierce’s Stiletto 23. It looked to us like Kenny was inadvertently luring much of the fleet to the wrong #2 mark. We double checked our GPS and put all our trust in that instrument’s readings because we were too far from the mark at that point to sight it visually. We had to have faith and believe the GPS was right. Kenny, on his Stiletto 23, saw us well above him, and he realized his mistake and finally reached up to the proper heading and just barely beat us around #2.

The second leg was a port beat toward the east. We crossed the bay and headed for Cape Florida, the southern tip of Key Biscayne. The Stiletto 23, with its powerful square top main, was slowly putting distance on us. Rafael Quesada, on his Hobie 20, was moving up through the slower trimaran fleet, and it looked for a while like he was gaining on us. But he eventually footed off toward Biscayne Channel, and we tried to stay as high a possible on the wind in order to make the wider channel which hugs Key Biscayne. That paid off for us because we never had to tack on this leg. Rafael said he and Dave Tardif ran agound in the shallows on the side of Biscayne Channel. That cost them big time. Once we passed Cape Florida we could see Terry Greene’s Inter 20 catching us from behind. Their Inter 20 is faster than our Hobie 20, and we knew it was just a matter of time before they caught us.

We rounded the second mark which was another marker #2 at the east end of Biscayne Channel and started a starboard beat up the coast offshore of Key Biscayne. This was a very interesting leg for everyone. We started to encounter jellyfish. There were thousands and thousands of them. They were huge. Some of them were a foot and a half or more across. They were vivid purple in color and had a cloverleaf pattern on them. We could not avoid them, and sometimes when we hit them our rudders would kick up. In 30 years of sailing these waters I have never seen anything like it. We also saw one sea turtle on this leg. As we apporached the turtle, it evidently saw us, heard us, or felt the vibration from the boat. It got spooked. The turtle immediately did a submarine dive for safety. It is always a thrill to see these beautiful creatures in their natural environment.

At this point we were coming up abeam Norris Cut. It was now decision time. There were two ways to get back to the MYC and the finish line. The race instructions did not specify which way to go to allow the sailors a choice. One can go through Norris Cut and along the south side of Dodge Island, or you could head for Government Cut which is the main channel for the port of Miami. The Stiletto 23 had to go through Norris Cut because its mast is too tall to make it under the bridge going the Government Cut route. Norm and I elected to use Government Cut. As we approached the Cut, the Greene Inter 20 had caught up with us, and we were running neck and neck as we passed the southern rock jetty for Government Cut.

Government Cut always presents some strange sailing challenges. This is the entrance to the Port of Miami and you sometime encounter huge narly looking cargo ships and sometimes bohemoth gleaming white cruise ships. There are skyscraper condo buildings on the north side of the cut which create agravating wind shadows. With the wind out of the northeast we were in for some serious wind shadows. The winds would go from near zero to 12 knots in an instant. You would go from trapezed to teabagged and back to trapezed in less than a minute. These conditions made for tricky sailing for all the sailors. We traded positions with the Inter 20 a couple of times in Government Cut. We rounded the corner at the Miami Beach Marina and headed for the MacArthur Causeway Bridge. This bridge crossing can be very tricky if the current is running against you. This day it was not too bad. We glided under the bridge with two feet vertical clearance to spare and headed toward Monument Island. The winds were still fluky, and we languished intermittently in the swirling wind eddies. It takes patience, perserverance, and close attention to the telltales in these conditions to harness what wind power is offered.

The final leg of the race wends its was past Star Island, Hibiscus Island, and the Venetian Causeway to the north. The course was toward the west now, and we were on a downwind run to the MYC and the finish line. The Inter 20, with its spinnaker flying, was making time on us. However, I knew they owed us lots of time, and we had them on corrected time. The big question was would the Stiletto 23 beat us to the finish line from the opposite direction and if so, by how much time. As it turned out the Stiletto 23 was indeed sitting on the beach by the time we arrived. The remainer of the cat fleet trickled in shortly after the leaders.
Kenny Pierce and his crew were awarded the Conch Cup perpetual trophy for the first place boat overall on corrected time. The trophy is a huge conch shell mounted on a large wood base. If you missed the pictures from the regatta, you can see them on the Catamaran Association of Biscayne Bay – Florida Facebook page.
After the race the MYC folks had prepared a delicious lunch of chicken, pasta, salad and more goodies than I can remember. After the feast trophies were presented.

Hobie 18
1. David Norvell
2. Connie Harper
3. Cindi Adams

Hobie 20
1. John McKnight
2. Hans Evers
3. Rafael Quesada
4. Don Harper

Fast Cats
1. Kenny Pierce
2. Terry Greene
3. Chris Stater