A friend recently shared a photo on his Facebook wall. The photo was taken at the Mardi Gras Regatta in New Orleans, a one-design event that’s blossoming as the Gulf sailing scene hustles to reclaim its former glory as the ultimate Southern regatta destination. What struck me about the photo was that it didn’t have anything to do with the racing: it was a heaping pile of crimson crawfish splayed out on a newspaper-covered banquet table. Other friends at the same regatta shared photos of them frolicking on Bourbon Street and other iconic tourist traps. And yet even after it was all over, there was not a single report of what actually happened on the racecourse. I guess that’s because when it comes to “away” regattas, the memories that stick, or are worth sharing with friends back home, are usually about the destination more than the races.
That’s what I love about our sport: Wherever we go to play, our playground is enviable. We are a privileged lot.
When I explain to people what I do for work and for play, I always get the same response, “Wow, that must be cool going to all those nice places.” It is. I’ve never been to a regatta venue I didn’t like. By virtue of being on a little slice of waterfront, the view is always good, the sounds soothing, and the lifestyle desirable. The host yacht clubs, fancy or not, are little Shangri-Las where visiting sailors get to feel like members. We get to mingle on the manicured lawn, have drinks on the deck, ride the launch, share the showers, and when we’re young, maybe stir a little mischief. When the nightly regatta party is over, we hit the town with a good buzz and mingle with the locals.
The big-city yacht clubs are nice, but my favorites are offbeat venues. There’s something special about regattas run out of public sailing facilities, state parks, and campgrounds. Maybe it’s because there’s no pretense, no expectations of white linen buffets and massive clubhouses filled with trophy cases. At a lakeshore campground, the racecourse is your view, and there’s just you, your neighbors in RVs, cars, and tents, a simple campfire to stoke, and the hope your tent’s seams keep the inevitable summer downpour at bay.
Regardless of where our sailing travel takes us or how plush our accommodations, the point is it’s essential to experience sailing in new venues: commit to an out-of-town class championship or to a regatta that’s new and different. I’m looking forward to a few new destinations this year.
As this issue goes off to the printer I’ll be packing my bags for Mexico, specifically a new regatta called the Copa de Mexico, in Puerto Vallarta. The same friend who shared the crawfish boil convinced me this event is one not to miss. Apparently, the Mexican government puts on a bountiful regatta, Puerto Vallarta is warm in March, and the tequila is really cheap.
Then, because I always plan for one unique summer regatta somewhere I’ve never sailed, I have my sights on the High Sierra Regatta on Lake Huntington, Calif. Visions of pitching a tent under the pines for a week has me excited. I’m looking forward to the sailing, but also to seeing Yosemite National Park for the first time. When I do get there, I’ll be sure to post a few photos on our Facebook wall, and you should do the same from your regattas at www.facebook.com/sailingworld.