Fall Harvest Regatta
Miami Yacht Club
Miami, FL
October 25 & 26, 2008
By John McKnight, Hobie 20

The backdrop for the Fall Harvest regatta was Miami Beach and the Art Deco skyline of South Beach. It was a picturesque scene of swaying palm trees, blazing white sands, and pastel colored historic hotels. I never knew there were so many different shades of aqua and peach. The ocean was also a beautiful shade of aqua mirroring the buildings on shore. The Fall Harvest Regatta is an annual event sponsored by the Miami Yacht Club (MYC). The regatta is a small boat regatta featuring an overwhelming predominance of Opti prams. But there was also a multihull class in which I was sailing. This class was small, with only two Hobie 20s, three Hobie 16s, and one Nacra F-18. Two of the Hobie 16s were equipped with spinnakers. Wow, can they fly downwind!

This was a two day, weekend regatta. Our PRO for Saturday was Jaan Roots. He organized ocean buoy racing for the cat sailors. The first race Saturday was a feeder race from the MYC out to the ocean. This was an interesting race because we got to sail among the islands dotting Biscayne Bay between Miami and Miami Beach. We also had to go under the MacArthur Causeway Bridge. My Hobie 20ís mast, at 31 feet, only clears the bridge by about 2 feet at high tide. When we looked up at the tip of the mast, while going under the bridge, it looked like only inches of clearance. The course then took us out Government Cut. This is the main shipping channel for all cruise and cargo ships coming to and departing from the Port of Miami. And the cruise ships come and go predominately on weekends. The strong tide in the channel was rushing out to sea, and with an east wind, the waves at the mouth of the Cut were really piling up. It was insane; we were bucking 5 to 6 foot swells beating out the channel. The bows of our boat would go straight up the face of the steep waves and then come crashing down the back side. Then we would do it all over again, leaping huge wave after huge wave. It was a wild, somewhat disconcerting ride. Fortunately that did not last very long. When we cleared the breakwater, things calmed down substantially.

Once we were out in the ocean, offshore of Fisher Island, we did three traditional buoy races. The courses were windward/leeward affairs with a gate at the bottom of the course. We did two or three laps on each of the races. The seas were somewhat confused where we were, due to the east wind arguing the out going tide. We did get in some good wave surfing on the downwind legs. Between the third and fourth races, the race committee handed out lunches on the water. The fifth race of the day was a return race back to the MYC. Fortunately the tide had slacked, and we had an easy go of it racing back to the yacht club. After the first day of racing, Dave Tardif and I were leading the regatta by a slim one point margin over Taylor Palmer and Lizzy Newberry (H-16 spi.). I knew that slim lead would be tough to hang onto on Sunday.

Sundayís PRO was Leandro Spina. He had us do another feeder race back out to the ocean from the MYC. The winds had shifted to the north at about 10 knots. Once again it was interesting going out Government Cut. Tall stately condos line the north shore of Government Cut, and these buildings were partially blocking the north wind. We would go from just drifting in a wind shadow to trapezing within just a few feet. Leandro and the race committee set up the course right in front of South Beach. It was a chamber of commerce setting for the races. We had beautiful water, beautiful wind, and a beautiful backdrop. What more could you ask for in a beach cat race? We got in three 30 to 45 minute buoy races in single and occasionally double trapeze conditions. The Hobie 16s with the spinnakers were on fire downwind. They were occasionally able to catch my Hobie 20 on the downwind legs. Teenagers, Taylor Palmer and Lizzy Newberry, were sailing the dominate spinnaker rigged H-16. Teenagers, Julian Roots and Naomi Zenderman, were always right on the heels of the Palmer/Newberry boat all day. The other boats in the race were another Hobie20 sailed by Lenny Valdivia and Saramy Fuentes and a stock Hobie 16 sailed by teens, Eva Paelinck and Katie Schneider. Leandro Spina sailed his Nacra F-18 on Saturday, but he did PRO duties on Sunday.

The return race from the ocean back to the yacht club was the most challenging race of the weekend. We were double trapezed going back into Government Cut until we once again hit the condoís wind shadows. Dave and I had established a substantial lead up until that point in the race. We suddenly came to a dead stop. As we sat there the other boats caught up to us, and they too were caught in the wind void. We all ended up aligned side by side a few feet apart, and we were all going backwards in unison. The strong ebb tide was pushing us back out to sea. We would creep forward in the puffs and then slide backwards when the wind died. It was a very strange feeling. Dave and I went from first boat to last boat several times as we danced and twirled in the fickle winds. And then my worst fear came to fruition. Up ahead, I could see one of the monstrous cruise ships push off from its dock. I thought, boy we could be in big trouble if we donít clear Government Cut before this behemoth gets to us. It was very tough making any headway. We would tack and tack and barely make any headway against the strong current. Dave and I had just cleared the cut when the huge gleaming white cruise ship crept abeam our fleet. I remember looking over my shoulder and seeing Lennyís Hobie 20 framed against the cruise ship as it slid by going out to sea. The H-20 looked like a speck against the side of the ship. Lenny said he was only about 100 feet from the whopper when they passed. What a sight! All our fleet boats hugged the north shore of the cut and the cruise ship rumbled by with no problem. The race committee boats were standing by if tows or assistance were needed.

Our next challenge was getting back under the MacArthur Causeway Bridge. The current was ripping against us and the wind was dead on the nose for the bridge crossing. I was thinking we could be in big trouble here as well. I donít like messing with bridges when the current and winds both are against you. We were the lead catamaran. We set up our approach on a starboard tack. We waited for a couple of motorboats to clear the bridge opening and then we went for it. We couldnít make it on one shot. The current was too strong. We tacked. We tacked again. We were going backwards. We didnít make it. We got spit out from under the bridge. Now I know how a salmon feels swimming up stream. Just then some guys on personal water craft came by and asked if we needed help. Heck yes we needed help! We tossed one of the nice PWC guys our righting line, and he pulled us under the bridge. Lenny caught a different wind shift, and he was able to barely squeak under the bridge, narrowly missing the pilings on the north side of the bridge. The Hobie 16ís masts were short enough for them to go under the side spans of the bridge where the current was not as strong. Everyone made it under the bridge on their own power except us. We had our throw out race. Eva and Katie had flipped their H-16 before going under the bridge, and the RC boat had stopped to help them. So the RC did not get back to the yacht club in time to take finish times. But Lenny and Saramy were the first boat to finish, so they were happy about that. Unfortunately the RC had to throw that race out because of lack of finish times.

It was a fun regatta. It was a good weekend. We got in 10 challenging races in two days. We certainly had some adventures. Taylor Palmer and Lizzy Newberry ended up winning the regatta. Congratulations! Dave and I came in second and Julian Roots and Naomi Zenderman came in third. We all got nice backpacks for trophies. The backpacks were embroidered with the race signal flags which indicate the numbers 1, 2 and 3. For our entry fee, besides the fabulous racing, we got nice long sleeve T-shirts, breakfast both days, lunches on the water both days, and a wonderful lasagna dinner Sunday after the races on the MYC patio. I would like to thank the MYC Race Chairwoman, Donita Leavitt, and her staff for putting on such a wonderful regatta. Iíll be back.