Survivors of the 1981 St. Petersburg-to-Fort Lauderdale race will be spinning yarns and trading hairy sea stories for years after the recent "Florida Fastnet Race," which finished Friday in Fort Lauderdale.
Stories of dismastings, broaches, general gear failure, torn sails and bruised sailors were common among the participants in this second event of the highly competitive Southern Ocean Racing Conference (SORC. Only 65 of the 79 starting boats completed the 370-mile course, made even longer by having to sail directly into a 35-knot wind much of the time.
Of the 15 boats unable to finish, nine were dismasted and four were disabled. Two boats tragically went on the reefs near Key West. Captain Z, owned by Morton Levine of Nokomis, Fla., took a heavy pounding on the reef and was declared a total loss. Chloe, a 38-foot Kelly design, was able to be salvaged. All disabled vessels and their crews were reported safe in various southern Florida ports.
Overall honors, went to the smallest boat in the fleet, Robin, a nine-year-old, 36-foot sloop designed, built and sailed by Ted Hood of Marblehead,Mass. This was the second time in three years that Hood has sailed Robin to victory in this most demanding of the six races in the SORC.She also placed first in class last week in the St. Petersburg-to-Boca Grand Race.
The SORC has become one of the most prestigious racing series in the world. The six-race series runs for three weeks, and is a proving ground for the ultimate in new yacht designs. The fleet in port is a flash of color, with wild paint jobs and boat names and logos festooning the sides and sterns.
The first boat into Fort Lauderdale was Jim Kilroy's Kialoa, just out of the yard in St. Petersburg. Designed by Ron Holland, the 80-foot maxiboat crossed the line just short of 50 hours. She edged scratch boat Bumble Bea, an Australian Frers 76, by an hour.
Large boats did not fare well in the overall tabulations. In corrected-time results, smaller boats from Classes C, D, and E dominated the first 10 places.
A heavy storm swept into the area Wednesday afternoon, 24 hours after the fleet had started off Tampa Bay. It brought rain and northerly winds up to 40 knots that were sustained in gusts for almost 24 hours.
These winds against the Gulf Stream produce horrendous sea conditions. Boat after boat reported falling off giant "haycocks" into what felt like bottomless pits. Victor Furss, a Swiss entry in his 51-foot Bla Carat, said, "We reached the top of one wave and there was no backside . . . I yelled, 'Here we go' and saw the mast just coming down."
Bill Ziegler, the renowned sailor from Stamford, Conn., pointed out Gem's mast, where the strain had forced the upper third into a half-moon shape.
Jack King of Fairfax, Va., owner of Merrythought, which placed second in Class B, said, "It was a nasty race, tough on everybody, and we worked our tails off. Any winner really earned the silver."
Running Tide, a 60-foot veteran racer from Alexandria, Va., celebrating its 10th SORC, reported no damage. It was a wild one," said Peter Cavell, who had flown in from Australia for the series. "We went off a few seas so hard we thought we'd lose the rig."
While boatyards are working almost around the clock to repair the ravages of the race, the fleet is preparing for the next events: the Ocean Triangle Race and the Lipton Cup off Miami, Feb. 16 and 20, the 180-mile Miami-Nassau race Feb. 23 and the Nassau Cup Feb. 27.