The teams until last year had to work hard to be on the starting line on time – they had a draw bridge that opened on the half hour. The start has always been scheduled for 9AM. But, then they had to navigate a mangrove creek to get to the open water of Barnes Sound, where the starting line is set. But, despite a new 65' bridge being built so all they had to do was get to the start line (no bascule bridge to contend with), but for the second year in a row a postponement flag had to be flown.
The First Day
The races finally got underway at 9:20 with a beam reach to the first obstacle – the Card Sound Bridge, another 65-footer, and then a slight angle closer to the wind and head for Angelfish Creek. The creek is the way to get to the ocean side of the string of islands. Many years ago Angelfish Creek was a bit of a challenge. Usually you were fighting the current and sailing upwind. The secret was to stay close to the mangroves on each side, thus staying out of the current. Often you could even catch an eddy to help go upstream. But, since Hurricane Andrew, which devistated south Florida, most of the big trees were leveled and have never regained their height. The fleet still has to navigate the tidal current, but there is usually more wind in the sails to deal with it. Once through the creek it is a drag race downwind to Annes Beach some 60 miles away. This year it was mostly a spinnaker sleigh ride, riding and surfing big waves in Hawks Channel. A good many of the fleet managed to stuff the bows into the next wave and had a few including team cyberspeed had pitchpoles in the process.
Right at the start, Kenny Pierce lost Evan Greene overboard right at the pin. It would have been an awesome start. Pierce picked up Greene after a couple of attempts, pulled him aboard and sailed with a vengeance, passing boats left and right. He managed to land at the first beach just minutes behind the leader, Steve Lohmayer and Jay Sonnenklar, both teams sailing Nacra 20s.
Another catastrophe at the start were Dave and Leah White. They had not sailed their Nacra6.0 for a couple of years, so Dave went to work replacing all the bungee cord and other items that might have decayed in the Keys sun. He forgot the line for the trapeze. One hundred yards into the race and it snapped, Dave going nearly overboard, but in the attempt to stay on the boat broke the tiller extension. Their race was over.
Arnis Zbirbulis and Charles DeMille on a Hobie 20 shredded their tired-looking main and sailed back to the beach. They put on another sail and tried again, but it too was a bit old and also shredded. He said he would be back next year.., with a new sail.
Off the start Eric and Bill Roberts were smoking and had a nice lead on the reaches, but called in to race officials that they had hit a coral head on the ocean side, broke a daggerboard and were returning to the beach.
The third boat to the first finish line was Chris Titcomb and Tripp Burd on an F18, finishing just over 5 minutes behind the lead boat, and taking first place on corrected time. Todd Riccardi and Brendon Scanlon were the next F18 (about 15 minutes behind Titcomb, and then it was Dave and Bob Ingram a few minutes later.
The Second Day
The Second Day of the race is where the event got its name – the Key Largo Steeplechase. In Merry Olde England they would have races. The first to a Church Steeple. You might be able to see the Steeple, head directly for it, but that would require jumping fences, going through creeks, or many other barriers. Some more prudent would venture around the obstructions. The brave usually won, if they didn’t die in the process.
So, too, is the backside of the Florida Keys. There, of course, is the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, with all the marks. That is the safe way to get back to the finish line in Key Largo, but it may not be the fastest.
If you are reaching you might just skim across the flats, kicking up a rooster tail of a mud/muck/sand combination, running over a few mangrove sprouts in the doing. But, that is usually faster than tacking through mangrove creeks, fighting current and lack of wind.
There are several of those bottlenecks. And by the way, paddling in this event is perfectly legal at any time.
The boats start the second day on an off-the-beach LaManz start, self-staged in the order they finished. Pierce and Evans had a great start and were through the Channel Five Bridge (the way back to the bay side of the island chain. Lohmayer/Sonnenklar were not far behind.
Lohmayer and Sonnenklar made it across the flats and into deep water in what appeared to be first place,
but overstood the opening under Channel Five Bridge, allow Pierce and Greene to be first under. (See picture below)
Two-time Olympic Silver Medalist trying to right his inventive trimaran. In the process one of the amas came off, and he all sorts of problems. Dave and Bob Ingram hung around to help, and finally Bob had to jump in and assist. Bob held on to the boat, while Randy held on to Bob's PFD and hiked out. Slowly.., and I mean slowly, the mast started coming out of the water and was finally up and sailable again.
At the finish line it was Pierce and Evans, followed across the line by Brett Moss and Doug Russell on a Marstrom 20, and moments later in came Lohmayer and Sonnenklar.
When the dust settled and the scores were tallied, the winner for the fastest time around the course was Lohmayer and Sonnenklar, edging out Pierce and Evens by FIVE SECONDS. After 110 miles of sailing, and only 5 seconds differentiating the finish times is flat amazing.
For corrected time positions, it was Chris Titcomb and Tripp Burd hanging tough in the F18 fleet, but fell into third place overall.
Awards Beer and Champagne Bust
At the awards each finisher is awarded a bottle of Pink Champagne. The first time the race was attempted, the finishers all bought themselves champagne and toasted themselves. The tradition lives on.
Another tradition was formed that day. At Annes Beach the previous day on of the ground crew girls wandered into the woods (they did not have a bathroom back in those days) and happened upon an old, beatup, discarded lawnchair. Jokingly she presented it to the winners of the first Key Largo Steeplechase, Rick White and Jaime Ramone. White immediately responded by saying, “Great, we now have a perpetual – Ye Old Lawnchaire.”