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A Miami Turf Invasion

Bacardi Cup veterans come to terms with new Bacardi Miami Sailing Week.

March 15, 2010

It was the Bacardi Cup as usual last week at Miami’s Coral Reef YC as the ubiquitous Star boats-all 84 of them-were hoisted into and out of Biscayne Bay each morning and afternoon. The scene was the same next door at the U.S. Sailing Center. Both were hives of boat work, trailer shuffling, and brawny crews donning skintight hiking suits.

It was the Bacardi Cup as usual on the water, too, where Olympic medalists, world champions, and gray-bearded devotees wrestled their boats around the same shallow stretch of Biscayne Bay where nearly 50 years of Bacardi Cups have played out. The Bacardi Cup, as everyone in the Miami sailing scene knows, is more than a regatta, though. It’s more like one big family reunion, hosted by el patron Tito Bacardi, himself, who traditionally greets the winning team as they arrive at the club after the final race.

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Sailing World/Dave Reed| |From Top: Stars sailors muscle their boats in the 25-knot finale at the 2010 Bacardi Cup. Melges 20s tear off down the run during Miami Sailing Week, the final event of the Melges 20 class’s Florida circuit. Regatta Chairman Mark Pinkus (left) and Studio Milano’s Gabriele Pedone (right) dole out the hardware at Bacardi Miami Sailing Week’s final awards ceremony.| As much as it was the Bacardi Cup as usual in many respects, it was very different in another. It was Bacardi Miami Sailing Week, too, and there were strangers at the parties, which for the first time were held off grounds. It was as if someone invited the neighbors and moved the party to the back yard. And many of the old timers were none to happy about it.

Depending on whom I asked on the organizational side of the inaugural Miami Sailing Week (and there are many, all the way on up to the upper brass at Miami City Hall), I got a slightly different spin on how it all came to be, but the gist was the same: the Bacardi family, which has always treated this age-old regatta as an intimate family gathering of sorts, wanted something more-to grow it and get sailing off the “club” grounds where Miami’s sailing-ambivalent public could see it. Growing it required inviting other classes.

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At first they-Studio Milano, the marketing firm tasked with managing the event-put forth an ambitious slate of classes, but they were reigned in to keep it manageable. Ultimately, the Viper 640 class signed on with its North Americans for 19 boats, and the blossoming Melges 20 fleet added the regatta to its new winter circuit with 14. The Melges 24s were a natural invite and came with eight. The J/24 class got its invitation at the final hour, and as result, only six local boats showed up to play.

The most politically charged move of Miami Sailing Week, however, was yanking the whole post-race operation out of Coral Reef YC’s palm-lined premises, a highly unpopular change among the Star sailors. Many vocally griped. They’re used to pulling their boats, rinsing away the salt in the pool, hitting up the snack bar, and rehashing the day’s racing at the club’s open-air poolside bar.

This year, the regatta’s hospitality venue required four wheels and a drive down Bayshore Drive to a multi-tent pavilion erected on the front lawn of the Miami Convention Center. And, on Saturday, a trek even further south to Pelican Park, where a tent and fenced compound was put up exclusively for the final awards party. Suffice it to say, there was not full Star attendance at the parties, but that didn’t faze the other guests one iota. Viper sailors showed up en force, as did the Melges 20 guys and gals. Breakfast was served in the morning, and the VIP lounge was hopping every night with an attractive pair of Bacardi Girls getting plenty of attention.

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When it was all said and done, however, the Star sailors got their Bacardi Cup on the water. No one trespassed on their big slice of Biscayne Bay, and they got the full attention of their race committee. It was only during the final awards ceremony where the two regattas collided. And it was here where more than a few Star sailors were miffed about sharing the stage with their guests. By the time the individual daily race awards were doled out for all the fleets, and the big Cup awarded to Phil Trinter and Rick Merriman, the crowd had thinned dramatically. A good number of Star sailors were instead focused on the crepes station-food being a Star sailor’s most essential need.

The awkward awards ceremony aside, those behind Bacardi Miami Sailing Week are most definitely onto something good-whether the Star sailors like it or not-and it would be impossible for this event not to flourish into a must-do winter regatta, so long as the City of Miami continues to support it.

I’m told the Miami Convention Center is due to be razed, making way for a “regatta park” that would be the centerpiece of Sailing Week’s activities, drawing in the curious public and sailors alike. There’s no denying Biscayne Bay is a superb winter venue for sportboat and dinghy classes, and there’s no lack of clubs from which to draw race committees and assets. I’m also told the Vipers would be invited back, as would the Melges classes, J/24s, and possibly Lightnings. All that’s needed to make it all work is to somehow lure the Star sailors away from Coral Reef. And I suspect there’s only one way to that: a nightly all-you-can-eat buffet.

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