Like northbound Canadian Geese, white boats on trailers have migrated from Key West, stopping to graze on the waters of Tampa Bay, along with roughly 130 teams, some of which call the Tampa Bay their home, and others whom are hiding from the ridiculous winter living that awaits north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Regardless, the sailors are trickling into good ‘ol St. Pete, and with Helly Hansen onboard to bring the NOOD Regatta Series into its 28th season, it’s going to be a good one.
A few days out (Tuesday, Feb. 11), the wind forecast looks supremely promising, with 10 to 15 knots and higher gusts all three days and that big yellow orb in the sky throughout. Let’s just, for now, ignore the impending temperature drop (40s and 50s? Really?), but prepare to wear everything you brought. And swing by the Helly Hansen merchandise table before they’re cleaned out on Saturday.
Enough about the weather—it is what it is. Let’s take a look at a few of the classes and what we have in store.
The A-Class catamarans are back en force, with 15 entries, trickling in from far and wide. “This is the year of learning because so much new stuff is coming out,” says class president Bailey White. “There at least two versions of foiling boards that we’ll see guys using. People are having fun with it.”
Bailey will come bearing foils as well. While they’re good for well…foiling, of course…he admits they’re not good for going upwind. Plus, tacking foil boards is a lot to ask of one guy who has enough on already. With good breeze we shall have some properly entertaining maneuvers.
Where new school meets old school we’ve got the Ensign class, first built in 1962, and still thriving in pockets around the country, including the picturesque Massachusetts seaside town of Marion, from where Steve Clark hails. Clark will be racing yet another New England snowstorm to get to St. Pete with his Ensign streaming behind his company F-350 diesel. Riding shotgun on his straight-through mission will be two of his crewmembers. His wife will fly and meet him there (smart move, Steve).
“This is the first year we’ve done [the St. Petersburg NOOD],” says Clark who traded in his J/30 for the Ensign back in 2012. “We take a vacation every year, and we started thinking about doing midwinters as our vacation, instead. This is a traveling class, and we’ve gotten to know a lot of people in the class. Every event we go to we get to meet more people so we’re looking forward to it.”
There was an ulterior motive as well: Clark painted the hull last November and committing to the NOOD gave him a reason to put the boat back together, lest it be pushed late into the spring. “It’s been completely restored,” he says, right down to the wooden floorboards. “When we laid out the hardware, initially, we laid it out simple, and after a few seasons we started fine-tuning how we set things up to make it as effortless as possible. I think we’re there, but we’ll find out when we get to St. Pete.”
From the Keelboat of the Then to the Keelboat of the Now, we’ve got handfuls of J/24s and J/70s, respectively. Coming off Key West and their midwinter championship, the fleet includes the usual suspects, minus the Italians and Mexicans who claimed 1-2 in Key West. Will this be the weekend The Corinthians shine? We shall see.
The J/24 class will have its midwinter championship up the bay at Davis Island YC next week, so the Helly Hansen NOOD serves as the traditional warm-up, in more ways than one, especially for the visiting teams. “It’s always fun to have them [top teams from the Northeast] come down,” says Liam McCarthy, skippering the family J/24 for the regatta again. McCarthy and his fellow youthsters went up to the Worlds in Newport last September and got the second-place youth trophy. “We learn a lot when they come, how they approach the regatta. John Mollicone was a big help last year, but Todd Fedyszyn [SPYC’s coach] has taught us everything we need to know about the boat to be competitive.”
On deck for the NOOD, McCarthy has younger sister Blaire, trimmer Nevin Abila, bow Emily Wright, Martin Hood, and Eogon Whitehead from Sarasota. “It looks like the breeze will be be good fur us,” says McCarthy. “We’ll see what we get. Hey… I gotta run. We’re heading out to practice now.”
Practice they will, as will others as they start showing up before racing starts on Friday morning. Between the Lightning class, the Melges 24s, the Sonars, S2 7.9s, and the VX-One posses we’re looking at a solid turnout of one-designs with good, compact classes. There’s a robust 18-boat PHRF battle in the making as well, and least not the North Sails rally fleet—low-key racers going head to head on Saturday for the fun of it. Empty the slips fellas. There’s wind and sun in the forecast: get it while you can (#noboatleftbehind)!