Two new dinghy racing fleets will debut at this weekend’s 33rd edition of the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta St. Petersburg: the new Melges 15 class and the established Thistle class, which has been active since the 1940s. Also new is the addition of a daylong distance race around Tampa Bay.
The St. Petersburg NOOD traditionally kicked off North America’s only national regatta series in February, but is now taking place over the “Sunshine City’s” Spring Break, April 2 to 4. With 121 teams currently registered and an ideal weather forecast for the sailors, regatta organizers and their co-hosts at the St. Petersburg YC are expecting an exciting three days of races.
The date change benefitted the 76-year-old Thistle fleet, as the class’s traditional winter championship conflicted with the NOOD’s usual February timeframe. For 33-year-old St. Petersburg resident Kevin Bradley, the NOOD is an opportunity to race his Thistle Shred Stick, a beautifully restored wooden version of the boat, originally built in 1955. Bradley bought the boat when he was 18 years old and restored it with his father.
“It’s relatively affordable and a lot of fun to sail,” says Bradley, who recommends the Thistle for younger sailors interested in racing an inexpensive class of boat. “It’s great to drive, has a lot of sail area, and attracts big numbers at national events.”
The Thistle Class has made a concerted effort to attract younger sailors, and the strategy is working. According to Bradley, the class organization pays entry fees for skippers under the age of 26, thanks to a steady stream of donations. Of the seven Thistles entered this weekend, Bradley notes all but two skippers are younger.
With its new two-person Melges 15, which debuted in 2020, Wisconsin-based Melges Performance Sailboats is also targeting a wide range of youth and mixed teams. According to Mark Gorman, who will be racing with his 17-year-old daughter, Dylan, the Melges 15 ticks all the right boxes. Gorman had only sailed heavier keelboats before purchasing his Melges 15 and says the dinghy helps him to cross train, improving his skill set.
For Dylan Gorman, whose sailing experience is limited to crewing on the family’s J/70 keelboat, the Melges 15 gives her an opportunity to take a more active role on the boat, learning sail trim and tactics. “It perhaps prepares her for club sailing in college,” Gorman says. “It’s an awesome boat for us. To go 15 knots downwind, skipping on top of the water is a wild feeling. But even moreso, when you have a 17-year-old daughter, you take whatever moments you can get. This boat is helping us spend some time together creating memories.”
Another new feature of the 2021 NOOD Regatta series is the North Sails Doublehanded Distance Race. Driven in part by a recent demand for race-day formats that require fewer crewmembers, and the expectation of a coed distance-race medal being added to the 2024 Olympic Games, NOOD Regatta organizers, in partnership with North Sails, added the one-day race to all events on the five-event circuit. This daytime challenge, on April 3 only, will send competitors racing a variety of boats on a 10- to 20-mile course around Tampa Bay.
“North Sails is proud to partner with the NOOD Regattas to include a Doublehanded Distance Race in their 2021 events,” says Brian Janney, of North Sails. “Doublehanded sailing challenges each team member to handle a range of jobs, opening the door to new opportunities and growing the sport. This is a great opportunity that anyone at any experience level can get involved in.”
The high-tech single-person A-Class Catamaran class, which represents the largest fleet in the St. Petersburg NOOD, has two divisions—Foiling and Classic—consisting of 14 and 25 boats, respectively. The classics are traditional catamarans while the foilers soar above the water, suspended on hydrofoils. The A-Class competitors will launch daily from Flora Wylie Park, north of the New Pier, and among them will be world-caliber sailors with their state-of-the-art catamarans on display before and after racing.
In addition to the Melges 15, Thistle and A-Class Catamaran fleets, the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta St. Petersburg features Melges 24, J/70, J/24, and Lightnings, as well as three PHRF handicap classes. At the conclusion of the regatta on Sunday, April 4, one class-winning competitor will be chosen to compete in the Helly Hansen NOOD Caribbean Championship in October in the British Virgin Islands.