Everything is shaping up in St. Petersburg, Fla., to kick off a great season opener for the Helly Hansen National Offshore One Design Regatta Series — the largest national sailboat racing circuit in the United States. The St. Petersburg NOOD regatta, organized by Sailing World and hosted by St. Petersburg Yacht Club, has developed into the one of the largest regattas in Florida, and its 32nd edition will see 185 boats and more than 1,000 professional and amateur sailors converging onto Tampa Bay and the bustling downtown area for racing and fun Feb. 14-16.
The Valentine’s Day weekend weather forecast is promising to deliver perfect Florida conditions for the sailors representing 27 states and three countries: seasonal temperatures, sunshine and a mix of breezy and moderate winds will challenge the 17 different classes of sailboats racing in either one-design (identical) or PHRF (handicapped). A distance race across Tampa Bay will be held for select classes on Saturday only.
One class with a strong cross-continental representation is the A-Class Catamaran. The 18-foot carbon single-person boat is the largest fleet this year at 42 entries, almost evenly split between the modern “foiling” and “classic” sub-divisions.
St. Petersburg local Emmanuel Cerf, known as the A-Cat ambassador, said St. Petersburg has become a hotbed of A-Cat activity. “The NOOD Regatta is first in line of three major events for us this year on Tampa Bay,” he said. “St. Petersburg will also host more than 150 A-Cats this October for the A-Class North American and World Championships.”
Travis Odenbach, of Pittsfield, NY, returns to St. Petersburg this year to defend his J/70 class win, but also another chance to represent St. Petersburg at the series’ season championship invitational, the Helly Hansen Caribbean NOOD Championship Regatta, hosted by Sunsail in the British Virgin Islands in October.
Odenbach, a professional sailor, has competed in the previous six NOODs and considers the February event a great chance to mix sailing business with pleasure. His goal is twofold: gain valuable training for the J/70 World Championship later this summer in California, as well as enjoy a warm-weather family vacation. “Coming here is a win-win for great sailing and family time. You can’t beat the combo,” he said.
The St. Petersburg NOOD is also a favorite event for Tampa resident Chip Merlin, thanks to the typically gorgeous weather, protected water and ability for Tampa Bay to accommodate so many boats and race courses. “The multiple courses give you that ‘regatta within a regatta’ feeling when sailing, but we get to hang out with all the other fleets at the party after. It’s a great chance to see so many sailing friends in one place,” Merlin said.
Merlin, a frequent ocean race competitor with his Bill Lee-designed Santa Cruz 68 Merlin, will stay local for the NOOD, competing in PHRF with his Leif Bailey-designed B-32 Chip’s All In. This will be his first NOOD racing this boat in PHRF and he’s looking forward to the great competition from teams like Alpha Dog, Warrior and Wasabi, as they also use the NOOD points toward a regional Boat of the Year series.