2023 sported the return of the back to back regatta Snipe “winter circuit”. As Mark Twain is accused of writing, history doesn’t repeat it just rhymes. In this case, instead of the prior Midwinters in Clearwater followed by the DonQ in Miami and the Bacardi/Gamblin inNassau, it was the Comodoro Rasco in Miami followed by the rejuvenated Mindwinters in Key Largo. Regardless of the regattas and their venues, it was a return to the vibe of marching south from one regatta to the next which brings anticipation of warm weather sailing, friends and Snipe travel.
Back in my early days of Snipe sailing – and I wrote this in my piece Snipe Sailing Act II: Waking Up From a Long Winter’s Nap – I remember Bill Buckles (the former builder of the Mueller Snipe) would disappear in early Spring and come back to cold Cleveland with a tan and an ear to ear grin. After having the Snipe for a few years, I finally made the effort to do the Midwinters followed by the DonQ the weekend after, and felt I had “arrived” in the class being able to do what all the cool kids were doing (well, almost because I never made the third stop on the full circuit in Nassau). Getting out of the cold and marching south to warmer regattas and the whole process of traveling between them was just so much fun. Not only the sailing at the regattas, but hanging out with friends after, working logistics at the next venue, and setting up and practicing prior to the next regatta was part of the whole experience. It was a week of living the Snipe regatta life and being away from the drudgery of winter life at home. In those early years, I never did particularly well but nonetheless it was an exciting experience all around.
Sadly with the death of Francis Seavey in 2013 – he was the institution behind the local fleet – and multiple logistical challenges in Clearwater Beach (the move from the yacht club to the community sailing center and it being during the week), the regatta ran out of steam in 2017. In the recent years that we have been regularly migrating to south Florida to sail, all of the popular winter events have been in the Miami area (either at the US Sailing Center or Coconut Grove Sailing Club), generally about one event a month between December and April. Don’t get me wrong I love sailing in Biscayne Bay during the winter and the US Sailing Center is totally my kind of place (very SSA-like in many ways, sans the ability to drink beer), but given the regattas were all essentially in the same venue, it lacked that je ne sais quoi of the back to back regatta circuit.
Last year our US National Secretary Evan Hoffman came up with the great idea of bringing back the Snipe Midwinter Championships regatta at the Upper Keys Sailing Club (UKSC) on Key Largo. Turns out his brother’s wife’s father is the Commodore and UKSC has a history of running regattas for various one design classes (A Cat, Force 5, Finn et al) so it was a confluence of factors that made it work. Not only were they excited to host us, there was a lot of energy behind traveling to this new venue and it didn’t disappoint! Everything about it was the perfect Snipe venue. It’s a pretty short trip from Miami, about an hour an a half, racing is in the (mostly) protected Buttonwood Sound, has a really nice beach launch area, one block away off-site trailer parking, multiple housing options and most important of all, a really laid back club with a casual bar and kitchen. It was pretty much an all included event, great racing, Friday pizza, Saturday Cuban dinner and Sunday après sailing burgers, for $75!! For sure this is a Snipe kinda place and without a doubt my new favorite venue. The only thing we need to figure out how to make work with the club is a way to have a Friday blender party!
In the months leading up to the regatta, and reaching a crescendo at the end of the Rasco, there was a lot of buzz on the Annapolis and Miami WhatsApp groups about where to stay, when to go, and who’s driving down with whom and what boats are going on what trailer etc, all of that buzz that has been missing since the demise of the back to back venue circuit. It’s definitely more work, but it brings out the attributes of the class that make it so special. These logistics bring people together, creating new connections and friendships. That’s what’s so special about this class, people are not only willing to help each other with learning and sailing the boat, but also all of the meta stuff around getting to events and unloading/loading boats and in this case it really was fun shaking things up a bit with a great new venue. Maybe it’s just a bit of nostalgia for those who are feeling the class elder baton being passed to us (I think 35 years of Snipe sailing qualifies), but regardless I think it’s a great updated circuit and I think everyone who attended was excited about it. It’s not exactly the same as the past, but it definitely has the same vibe. Of course the DonQ in Miami and the Bacardi/Gamblin in Nassau are still prominent regattas but are more stand alone winter events in this current scheme. Change is constant for sure, but we are adapting in a way that preserves the best of the old and the best of the new. Back to the Future!
The Comodoro Rasco was the usual fun event and has doubled in size and in this new scheme taken a more prominent spot on the calendar. Despite not seeing the Old Man and Carmen, we still did the La Bomb Va tradition. For details on the racing, see Kathleen’s writeup on SnipeToday. Yeah, we were midfleet… AGAIN! After the Rasco, we practiced for a few days in Miami, did some boat/trailer shuffling and headed down to Key Largo. We stayed at a local campground that we found last year on a trip to the Keys that worked really well. We unloaded and rigged Friday and were going to go for a sail, but inertia (and beer!) got the best of us and we just hung out enjoying the awesome location. The sailing was like “big lake” sailing with big (but consistent) shifts and flat water. I definitely had my downwind mojo in the medium air Saturday and felt we were going well in the big breeze Sunday. We sailed very consistently and it felt much better than midfleet, but alas with a drop race, we ended up, yup you guessed it, midfleet. Steady Eddy always loses places when there is a drop. Lisa has a great Annapolis Fleet specific writeup on both regattas and Carol Cronin wrote an excellent recap of the Midwinters racing for SnipeToday.