One Charismatic Crew

The crew of Tim Landt's Nightwind 35 Charisma took on the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series Distance Race in St. Pete to recreate themselves.
Tim Landt and his teammates on the Nightwind 35 Charisma set off on the first leg of the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series Distance Race in St. Petersburg. Walter Cooper

Tim Landt had a plan and knew exactly how to execute it. There were two minutes to the Cruising class start of the 17-mile Distance Race on last Saturday’s St. Petersburg edition of the 2024 Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series, and Landt wanted the favored pin end of the line. Badly. With his Nightwind 35, Charisma, well positioned for a port-tack start, Landt needed to burn some time, and called for a quick furl of the jib. His longtime sailing pal, Doug Jones, doused the sail quickly, then unfurled and trimmed it just in time for Landt to nail the start. Sweet perfection.

If it seemed like the two sailors had done this all before, well, that’s because they have. Landt and Jones have been racing sailboats since before they graduated from high school in St. Pete, which they attended with another pair of local sailing luminaries named Ed Baird and Allison Jolly, of America’s Cup and Olympic fame, respectively. 

Landt laughs when he recalls those high school days. “Ed and Allison accomplished a lot of things and went on to have professional careers,” he said. “Doug and I had to go to work!”

And work they did. Landt enjoyed a long career running a string of companies, which afforded him the means to savor his real passion: sailing. He started off with Optis at the St. Pete YC; moved into Lasers (he still races them in Master events); eventually bought his first two big boats, a Columbia 24 followed by a Cal 40; sampled the cruising lifestyle with an Irwin 54 and an Irwin 68; then returned to club racing events on a Morgan 24.

“Charlie Morgan was a friend and he said to me, ‘Why don’t you get a Morgan 24 and fix it up?’ So I did. It was a great little boat,” Landt said.

He might still be racing that Morgan but, after years of searching for one, he finally found a boat he’d long been enamored by: a Bruce Kirby-designed Nightwind 35. “They never come up for sail,” said Landt. “They’re like a big Sonar. I knew Bruce and I’ve been a fan of his ever since I started sailing Lasers. This one came up, I made an offer, and the rest is history. I put my Morgan up on Craigslist and it sold in two days.”

When it came time to name the boat, Landt had one ready to go: Charisma. Of course, Landt had a good story about it: “I was a kid in the sailing school in the yacht club when the SORC came in. There was a very successful guy named Jesse Phillips who owned a string of Palmer Johnson boats: Dora, Yankee Girl and Charisma. I got to help him out a bit, he was very humble. It was amazing to me that a guy in his position could be so humble. I knew if I ever got a nice race boat, I’d call it Charisma.

Unlike Phillips, Landt hasn’t gone the Grand Prix route. “I got all my old buddies back together and we’re going to go out and have fun with it,” he said. “We’re going to keep it fun, not too serious. Everyone wants to win, but if you have fun it’s better.”

On Saturday, those buddies included Jones and another St. Pete sailor from way back named Ronnie Stansel, along with Rory Maher and Jerry Plummer. Another regular onboard homeboy, Rick Erickson, is usually along but had other matters to attend to. He was planning on being back on Charisma the next day.

In breeze that started off in about 8-10 knots of an unusual nor’easter, Charisma enjoyed a fine day of racing. After that opening leg, the pressure filled into the mid-teens on the ensuing spinnaker run, and Landt called for a headsail change. Back upwind for the third leg, it was clearly the right call. Charisma is a centerboard boat, and with the board dropped down to its max draft of 7 feet, it charges to weather like a freight train. The racing was close throughout, with Charisma regularly swapping positions with Dan Gross’s Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 43, Salt D, the eventual Cruising division winner once the scores were tallied. On just its third race, Charisma registered a respectable fourth. 

Back at the dock, with the sails doused and the boat tidied up, Landt had one more anecdote to relate, one that underscored that the point of the exercise had never been victory. “An old commodore, who was also my coach, once told me that the key to sailing is recreation,” he said. “That’s what you have to turn it into. Now take that word apart, it’s ‘re-creation.’ You always have to re-create yourself through your recreation. And that’s what sailing does for me.”

The recreation on Charisma was done for the day, and had fulfilled its purpose. The crew was refreshed and, well, re-created. Which will hold them over, until next time.