In the Flying Tiger 7.5 fleet, all eight teams are brand-new to the model, having sailed it for the first time earlier this week. The boats are on loan from the National One-Design Sailing Academy in Canada, and a team of coaches has been working with the crews since Monday to prepare them for the regatta.
This makes for an even playing field and a particularly competitive fleet. While there is a support boat on the course to assist the fleet between races, skipper Gary Weisberg’s is the only boat without a professional coach onboard. Weisberg — whose crew has a combined 70 years of experience racing Melges 24s, J/70s and J/111s — said it all comes down to basic skills and solid crew work.
“It’s all about sailing basics: it’s just getting familiar with the boat and what makes this particular boat go fast,” Weisberg said. “I think all the crews are learning it as they go.”
Weisberg heads into the final day of racing with a 2-point lead.
Conversely, in one of the event's PHRF (handicap with time allowances) fleets, Raymond Mannix's team is anything but new to racing on his J/29 Semper Fi. Mannix recently completed the first major refit of the boat he's owned for more than 20 years, and his stalwart team hasn't lost a race yet this weekend.
“We’ve really got the boat figured out, and we’ve always been a kickass team,” Mannix said. “I’ve got a great group of renegade dudes sailing with me. Over the years, I’ve always been able to rally good people because we have a good time and we do well — it’s a win-win.”
Another PHRF leader is local Apollo Beach native and St. Pete NOOD veteran George Cussins, who is holding a narrow lead in his division. Several of the fleet’s five races have ended with less than 20 seconds difference between first and second place.
“To have that many lead exchanges with people in first, that means it’s a competitive fleet, which is a good thing,” Cussins said. “It was really fun. My whole crew had a great time. We knew it was really close and that makes it exciting.”
Cussins and his crew aboard Fire & Ice received the North Sails Local Boat of the Day Award on Saturday evening as a testament to the crew's hard work, which Cussins said has been "fantastic."