Miami Yacht Club, Conch Cup Regatta
September 22, 2012
Miami, Florida
By John McKnight

If I had to choose just one word to describe this year's 38th annual Conch Cup Regatta I would use, weird. We had weird wind. We had weird rains. We had a weird shortened course. The Conch Cup is a distance race originated for beach cats, but monohulls are included. The course starts in Biscayne Bay just south of the Rickenbacker Causeway and goes south to a marker off Dinner Key Marina. It then proceeds across the bay to Cape Florida at the southern tip of Key Biscayne. It rounds a marker #2 at the east end of Biscayne Channel, and then heads north in the ocean along the shore of Key Biscayne. For the monohulls their finish is at Government Cut, a distance of about 15 nautical miles. For the beach cats the race continues under the MacArthur Causeway Bridge and winds its way amongst some islands and finishes back at the yacht club, for a total distance of about 19 miles.

When I got up the morning of the race I could hear the rain beating down on the metal roof on my house. It was dark, overcast, and eerie looking outside. I could hear thunder off in the distance. I thought about forgetting the whole thing and going back to bed. But, I had paid my entry fee, and my crew would be waiting for me, so I headed to the beach to see what the day would bring. Driving to the beach the heavy rains continued and I began to question my sanity. As I approached the causeway I saw some hearty or possibly foolhardy runners and bikers out for their morning regimen in the soaking rain. I thought to myself, these guys are crazy to be out in weather like this. Then I remember I was there towing my Hobie 20 to the beach with the intention of doing something just as crazy, going sailing. When I got to the CABB launch beach on the Rickenbacker Causeway, it was still pouring down. The beach, of course, was empty. Mine was the first boat to arrive. Richard Goldman, my crew for the day, showed up. We discussed the situation and decided to go ahead and rig the boat and see what would develop.

We got word, via cell phone, that the race had been postponed from the planned 10:00 AM start to 11:00 AM. I understood this postponement because it was still raining, and there was lightning and thunder all around downtown Miami. Rafael Quesada and his crew, Dave Tardif, showed up with their Hobie 20. Lawrence Cooper and his co-boat owner, Claudia Schmid, had also showed up with their Nacra 6.0. We leisurely rigged our boats in the drizzling rain, knowing we had an extra hour to do so. It actually started to look like it might clear off, and by golly it finally did. By 10 o'clock the rain had stopped, and the winds were light and variable. We quickly finished rigging our boat, and Richard and I pushed off the beach about 10:30. I was concerned about making it to the start line in time for the start, because what little wind there was, was coming out of the west, the direction we needed to go. The three beach cats that launched from the causeway all made it to the start line in time for the start. There were also 15 large monohull boats waiting at the start line ready to go. Absent were the 6 other beach cats that were supposed to be coming from the Miami Yacht Club to do the race. It is about a four nautical mile sail from the yacht club to the start area south of the Rickenbacker Causeway. With the light to nonexistent winds those cats were not going to make the start on time, no way. They had very little wind in the lee of the downtown Miami skyscrapers. So, all the fast cats that could have given us some competition did not make the start line by the gun.

The race committee started the race right at 11 AM. Well, at least the "gun" went off, but we could barely get our boats to move. With about 2 knots of wind, we sort of drifted across the line and headed south to the first mark. Richard and I started third boat from the committee boat at the favored west end of the line. We immediately started to pull away from all the boats at the start. Suddenly we were in the lead. The first mark was Donavon's mark, about 1.8 miles from the start. It was a close reach, and we were doing okay until the wind shut off. The GPS said we were doing zero mph. There was maybe one knot of wind at times. We tacked back and forth, chasing the elusive fluky and sometimes nonexistent wind. It was an exercise in frustration, there was not even enough wind to pop the mainsail battens through on the tacks. I had to yank on the boom to get the battens to snap toward the leeward side. We heard a few monohulls call on the race frequency, saying they were withdrawing from the race and calling it a day. We discussed that option for ourselves as well, but heck we were in the lead of the 25 boat fleet. How do you quit when you are ahead? So we soldiered on. We drifted, and we talked. We talked, and we drifted. Then I noticed a monohull boat a quarter mile behind us that was keeping pace with us. Initially I thought that was very strange. Either I was not concentrating enough or these guys were sailing very well. Then I realized they were actually catching us. I though this can't be, how embarrassing. I thought if they keep this up they could actually pass us, heaven forbid. I reasoned that their advantage was momentum; they had it, we didn't. Once they got their boat going and the wind shut off, they could keep coasting with momentum. When the wind stopped my Hobie 20 came to a sudden stop; we had very little momentum because of our relative light weight. I learned later that I was being run down by a Lindenberg 28 named Tiburon, skippered by Eduardo Luaces. There were no other beach cats around so this competition suddenly was making things interesting.

About this time we heard on the race frequency that the race was being shortened because of lack of wind. We thought hallelujah; we had been saved from an 8 hour day drifting around Key Biscayne. The RC designated marker "B" near the west end of Biscayne Channel to be the finish line marker. Richard did a quick search on the GPS and entered the "B" marker in our route. We were heading right for it at about a mile distance. We were still being hounded by Tiburon. They weren't going away. The winds had picked up to 2 or 3 knots and we were moving nicely toward the finish. We had to throw in a double tack to lay the finish line. On a starboard tack, we crossed just a boat length in front of Tiburon. When we flopped back over onto port we were behind Tiburon. I thought we could catch them, but we couldn't. We crossed the finish line a boat length behind Tiburon. The crew on Tiburon was ecstatic that they had beaten a multihull; heck, they had beaten all the multihulls. They sailed well. The rest of the boats slithered across the finish line in the light air. We sailed back to the CABB Beach on the Rickenbacker Causeway, and of course, the wind freshened, and we were actually able to trapeze a little. It was a nice ride back to the beach.

After the race there was a party, bar-b-que, and trophy presentation back at the MYC. Everyone had a tale to tell about not being able to make it to the start line on time, or how frustrating the conditions were. We were all thankful that the RC shortened the course. I think we might have been out there until after dark if they hadn't shortened the course. Trophies were given out. Eduardo Luaces on Tiburon won their PHRF class by 6 minutes. David Snyder on Los Gatos, a Hunter 37, won the ARC 1 class by a huge 30 minute margin. Jim Duncan on a Santana 23 won the ARC 2 class by over an hour. In the low Portsmouth beach cat class, L. S. Cooper and Claudia Schmid won on their Nacra 6.0. Second were Peter and Emma King on their Falcon F-16. Third were Bret Moss and his family on their Marstrom 20. In the high Portsmouth beach cat class Richard and I won on my Hobie 20, Tango. Second went to Rafael Quesada and Dave Tardif on Rafael's Hobie 20, Bobbi. All the race placers received nice engraved beer steins as take-home trophies. All participants received very nice regatta T-shirts. Richard and I won the coveted Conch Cup Trophy for first to finish beach cat on corrected time. This perpetual trophy is a huge conch shell mounted on a wooden base. I have been competing off and on for the last 31 years in this Conch Cup Regatta. This is the first time I have won it. That put a smile on my face.

It was a very challenging race for all the competitors. It is much easier to sail when there is lots of wind. It the light air, it is challenging to concentrate and take advantage of every little breath of air. There were frustrations during the day with the morning rain and light winds, but overall it was a good day of sailing with friends. A big thank you goes out to the folks at the MYC for hosting this regatta. A special thanks to Steve and Linda Evans, Mike Powers, Andrea Livingston, Rick Tobin, John Sherry, John Hannau, and all the others who helped put on this regatta.

Pictures are on the CABB Facebook page, see the link below.

John McKnight
Commodore, Catamaran Association of Biscayne Bay (CABB)
(305) 251-7600
CABB on Facebook at
CABB Forum: