The 26th Annual Key Largo Steeplechase was held in Key Largo December 11-12 with 17 teams of catamaran sailboats from around North America competing. What is normally an action-packed, for sale hull-flying contest, treat the weekend was cursed with light air. On the first day some of the later boats were on the water for over fourteen hours.
The race is a 110-mile trek around the islands with the first leg usually a relative drag race down the ocean side of the islands. The second leg up the Florida Bay side requires a lot of navigation skills and water reading for the sailors.
Brett Moss and John Casey of Ft. Lauderdale were very consistent on their Marstrom 20 and took top honors both on first to finish and on handicap. After 110-miles of grueling sailing in winds ranging f rom 2 to 10 mph, the managed to keep it going the whole time.
Past winners, Eric and Bill Roberts of Palm Beach and sailing an ARC22, were always withing firing range, but could not get past that leading team. Defending champions, Mike Phillips and Kenny Pierce of Miami, also sailing a Marstrom 20, had to settle for 3rd place overall, just 10 minutes behind the Roberts.
The top Nacra20 was Tripp Burd and Dalton Tebo, finishing 5th place overall, and the best F18 finisher was Jim Zellmer and Chris Stocke in 6th place overall. There was a Hobie 16, piloted by Steven Craemer and Jason Aranha, who followed the big fast boats around, but corrected out at 8th place overall.
This event is normally a paradise for a catamaran sailor. 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 third year in a row, and a first for this race, a postponement flag had to be flown.
The races finally got underway at 9:30 with light air on the nose to the first destination – the Card Sound Bridge, another 65-footer, and then another beat to 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 devastated 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 normally a drag race downwind to Anne’s Beach some 60 miles away. This year is was just a drag.
The forecast for Sunday was for lots of wind. Well, it did not arrive until the awards time. Very slow times were recorded for this usually fast event. The worst time was by Dick and Linda Macdonald sailing an old Narca 5.8 sloop – they were on the water for over twenty one hours.., but the still made it in time for awards and received their bottles of champagne.
years ago when a group of CABB (Catamaran Assn. Of Biscayne Bay) members decided to try a race around Key Largo – no entry, no frills, no award. The total distance was 110 miles -- the course starts at Jewfish Creek and goes clockwise around the Keys, through Angelfish Creek, down Hawk Channel, through Channel 5 Bridge and back to Blackwater Sound.
The first race was won by Rick White, Key Largo author and Sailing Hall of Famer. Meanwhile, one of the ladies on ground crew had meandered into the woods and found an old dilapidated lawn chair. As a joke she presented this old lawn chair to White at the finish. After sailing all that distance, White didn’t take it as a joke. He rather proclaimed, “Great! This ‘Olde Lawn Chair’ will be the Annual Perpetual Trophy for the race.” And at that finish many years ago, all the finishers bought themselves a bottle of champagne and toasted each other that they had completed the course. And so now each finisher is also awarded a bottle of champagne.
The race is always the second weekend of December yearly, with next years dates being December 10-11, 2011. For more information see www.Catsailor.com
The annual race was sponsored by Catamaran Sailor Magazine, www.catsailor.com, Rick White’s Sailing Seminars, www.SailingSeminars.com, and www.OnLineMarineStore.com. The headquarters for the race, as well as the start and finish was at the Gilberts Resort in Key Largo.
A big thanks to Craig Van Eaton who supplied the tracking of many of the boats. It was really nice to see the progress of the different boats. The program seems to have a lot of really nice bells and whistles. Hope we can get more teams to use them next year. I do know they are going to be mandatory for the Tybee 500 this year.