Claire Zisson
Where Is Everybody, Anyway ?
An Armada invades Biscayne Bay every Columbus Day weekend for a cruising boat regatta of epic proportions.


 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


the 38 with a shoal draft (3'2" board up; 6'8" board down) and who never lost his smile under the jalapenio-pepper-print cap he wore.

The course was simple enough. For those of us in the Gunkholers cruising classes, Saturday's sail was a beeline reach 11 miles south from Key Biscayne to a marker off Ragged Keys. Pelican completed the job in less than two hours, just ahead of the three Krogen 38 cutters also competing. And with all the lines led conveniently to Pelican's cockpit and a high-cut, boomed, self-tending jib, it was hardly a job.

Jim had modified the cutter he'd penned in 1981 to create the ketch Pelican in 1987 for his own cruiser. In addition to the change in rig, he'd had his Taiwan yard alter the molds for this model; he traded interior cabin space he didn't need for extra room in the cockpit. Extra room just begins to describe the 12-foot-long teak patio we lounged in that weekend.

With the racing out of the way for the day by 2 p.m. for most of the entries, we segued directly into the rendezvous at the acres of anchorage area off the wooded Sands and Elliott Keys.  In what seemed like minutes, Pelican was anchored and expertly rafted into a Krogen 38 mini-rendezvous with Buzz Labbee's Astarte and John Peet's Appassionata, and in the regatta's melting pot spirit, we were soon joined by Ken Lemming's Morgan 46 Fond Trait, Ida Galliherís sleek Concordia yawl Fleetwood, a husky trawler and a lean and mean J-30.

When lines and anchors were put in order, I looked around at a sight I'd never seen before and would not likely see again. The old saw as far as the eye can see sprang to mind. As far as my eye could see there were boats anchored, anchoring or looking for a gap in which to anchor a veritable Woodstock nation of cruisers, and not an angry shout or a collision in sight. It was breathtaking.

"Gee, nobody showed up this year " said Denise Alt from her perch on Astarte's coach roof.

Although I'd had all day to get used to the local cast-of-thousands mentality, I couldn't help thinking Denise was exaggerating a bit. Nevertheless, I was quickly learning to abandon all my preconceived Yankee notions about tight quarters and crowds. Back home in Newport, Rhode Island, arrival at anchorages often involved a lot of meaningful glances of the I-was-here-first variety, and even picking up a mooring in the crowded harbor required paying attention lest one ended up paying for someone's paint job. Yet here I was in a pesky drizzle amid hundreds of boats, many of them still moving (or dragging) targets, but no one seemed nervous and everyone was having fun.

The sunset unnoticed into the hazy cloud cover as we danced and boat-hopped across our raft.  Sharon and John Peet had postponed the official christening of Appassionata in order to hold it among close


friends on regatta weekend,  all gathered around for the ritual of champagne bottle meeting bulwarks with a thwack. It was evident that racing had less to do with this regatta than did friendship.

Sunday morning brought the most sunshine we'd see that weekend (not much) and the least wind (none). The starting line for the race back to Miami was a surreal sight: Hundreds of boats under full sail going absolutely nowhere.

Jim motored Pelican as close to the line as possible and killed the engine. Then we sat. And sat. Twenty minutes after the gun, Jim roused himself from his position staring at the zero reading on the knot meter and woke us all from our numb; glum coma with a stage whisper: "Kurt, get the anchor ."

As Kurt scrambled to the bow, Jim explained that he'd had success with this tactic several Columbus Days ago. Kurt discreetly slid the hook into the water. Nobody on the surrounding boats had noticed. In a few minutes, we began "passing" boats one by one and were soon "headed" for an impressive lead in our class as the outgoing tide slowly carried the fleet backward.

An hour passed. The flat-calm silence was broken occasionally by the sound of an engine starting, signaling another dropout from the standstill race. Then....a flutter of air on the cheek, a sign of life on the knot

 

 

 

meter. When we broke 0.5 knots, Kurt hauled up the anchor. At 2.0 knots, we all cheered and Jim, Kurt and John each chose a boom to lean on, the better to catch the tiny breeze and stop the slatting. In a manner of speaking, I steered.

Deanna silently delivered sandwiches to each of us at our stations. Wordlessly, hopefully, we ate them as the breeze sneaked in. The southwesterly breeze became a northwesterly wind.

"Four point one!" I hooted from the helm. "Four point four!"  

By the time the Miami skyline appeared in the haze, we'd cranked everything in, cranked the board all the way down and had begun topping eight knots on the gusts.

As we congratulated ourselves on our  perseverance, John stood vigil with the .binoculars.  After trying to sail 11 miles in five hours, we'd completely lost track of our class. We had no idea whether they'd all dropped out and gone home, beaten us handily or were trailing in the distance, none of which had the slightest effect on our exhilaration as we crossed the finish line in front of the committee.

"We only race once a year on Columbus Day weekend," said Jim. "It's much more fun if you don't have to do it all the time."

I flew home from Miami the next morning on one of the last planes out of the Miami airport before it was closed down

 

for the day. Hurricane Floyd had arrived, cutting a path directly across Elliott Key, which had hosted Pelican and the hundreds of other boats at anchor just 24 hours earlier.

It took several days, understandably, to figure out who had won. The race committee tirelessly combined, corrected and calculated both days' times for every boat that finished. Kurt Krogen called me from Miami the minute he heard.

"We won our class!" he shouted. "Can you come back next year? You've got to see what it's like when everybody shows up."


Claire Zisson. formerlya Cruising World editor, lives in Sedgwick, Maine.