MIYC Fall Regatta designed to be 'spectator-friendly'

Diane Fowler helms ‘Windy City,’ out of Cape Coral.

Photo by LANCE SHEARER // Buy this photo

Diane Fowler helms ‘Windy City,’ out of Cape Coral.

'Third Tri' leads on the downwind leg. The Marco Island Yacht Club held their annual Fall Regatta over the weekend, with races off the beach and proceeds slated for the Community Sailing Center. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

Photo by LANCE SHEARER // Buy this photo

'Third Tri' leads on the downwind leg. The Marco Island Yacht Club held their annual Fall Regatta over the weekend, with races off the beach and proceeds slated for the Community Sailing Center. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

A crewman on Wild Deuces splashes his face.

Photo by LANCE SHEARER // Buy this photo

A crewman on Wild Deuces splashes his face.

Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent (4)
Cruising boats form a tight pack as they cross the line to start racing in 2012. The Marco Island Yacht Club will hold its annual Fall Regatta over the weekend, with races off the beach.

Photo by LANCE SHEARER // Buy this photo

Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent (4) Cruising boats form a tight pack as they cross the line to start racing in 2012. The Marco Island Yacht Club will hold its annual Fall Regatta over the weekend, with races off the beach.

Maria heels over in the northwest breeze. The Marco Island Yacht Club held their annual Fall Regatta over the weekend, with races off the beach and proceeds slated for the Community Sailing Center. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

Photo by LANCE SHEARER // Buy this photo

Maria heels over in the northwest breeze. The Marco Island Yacht Club held their annual Fall Regatta over the weekend, with races off the beach and proceeds slated for the Community Sailing Center. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

‘Wild Deuces’ runs downwind under her spinnaker.

Photo by LANCE SHEARER // Buy this photo

‘Wild Deuces’ runs downwind under her spinnaker.

Ordinarily, to take part in a sailing race, you have to be out on the bounding main, hauling on (or splicing) the mainbrace, working hard to keep your heading up and your luffing down. This year, though, for the Marco Island Yacht Club’s Fall Regatta, there is an easier way to get involved: go to the beach.

The MIYC Fall Regatta, the club’s signature two-day sailing race, is slated for Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 16 and 17. As always, there will be a variety of classes of sailboats in competition, from the speedy multi-hulls and Melges one-design boats up to the cruising sailers, running a triangular course in the Gulf of Mexico just west of Marco.

This year, though, MIYC is adding a new wrinkle. On Saturday, they are partnering with MICA, the Marco Island Civic Association, to present a way for landbound spectators to enjoy and understand what’s going on out on the water. A MIYC official will be present on Residents’ Beach, communicating with the committee boat and the racers via VHF “ship to shore” radio, and using a bullhorn or public address system to give beachgoers a “play by play” of the action as it happens.

Chuck Downton, the MIYC member who is working with Sailing Fleet Captain Lois Dixon to organize the regatta, said this year’s race should be “bigger and better” than last year’s event, which included 22 boats, and will be routed close to the beach to give onlookers there the best view. Boats came from as far as Canada; top finisher “Barking Mad” in the one design Melges 20 class had crew members, including some veterans of America’s Cup races, flying in from Boston, Annapolis, Vermont and New Zealand.

As of now, he said, there is no way to know exactly who or how many yachtsmen and women will show up. “Sailors are notorious for waiting for the last minute to commit. They want to know what the weather will be,” explained Downton, although last year’s races certainly showed that predicting winds off Marco in November, even hour to hour, is a losing proposition. For that weekend, Saturday delivered light, fluky breezes, and Sunday gave the sailors all the wind they wanted and then some. “Roughly half the boats come in (to register) in the last few days” before the race.

One who definitely expects to be there is Joe Bonness. The skipper of Maria, which was owned and raced by his father before him, is a longtime competitor — and winner — in local sailing events. In last year’s race, he and his crew won their class, the spinnaker-flying cruiser category, and have every intention of repeating the performance.

The great majority of the local captain/owners of the MIYC sailing fleet are up North for the summer, but Bonness, a Naples resident and a working stiff who owns a road construction company, is here through the summer, and working on his boat as well. On a recent holiday, the crew was busy offloading everything that could be carried ashore, including the 10-horse outboard that propels Maria when she is not sailing, to set her ashore after many months living on a lift. Bonness, an all-round athlete who enters and wins triathlons, did his part by shinnying up the mast to loosen the standing rigging.

The secret of his success, said Bonness, may be built into the design and construction of the boat. “We’re considered an ultralight. We have a tremendous amount of sail area — great in light airs (which are prevalent in Southwest Florida during racing season). We get trounced by the big heavy boats when it really blows,” he said.

“When we go downwind, we’re a rocket. We’ve had the boat (traveling) over 18 knots, and it feels like you’re completely out of control. That’s a knuckle biter.” The knuckle biter for the competition will be whether Maria shows up to collect another title.

The yacht club is also partnering with local end-of-life care provider Avow Hospice. Avow representatives will attend the regatta, which they will combine with their own ninth annual sailing regatta, to raise funds to continue the work of their organization.

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