Watching from the outside, a sailing race can be pretty confusing.
There is a committee boat, anchored in place, with race officials posting esoteric numbers on a message board. There are cryptic announcements over the VHF radio, countdowns and horns. There are temporary inflatable buoys, placed seemingly at random out in the Gulf, and a collection of boats swirling around them.
With multiple classes of sailboats racing, and each boat handicapped within the class, starting at different times, and sometimes following different courses, just who is going where at any given moment can be difficult to determine. If one is chasing the sailors in a photo boat, and the skipper is the wife of one of the sailors, she has an extra incentive not to even seem to get in the way of the racing captains, who can be very jealous in guarding their right of way.
But that was not the experience out in the Gulf this weekend. One of the longest-established clubs or groups on Marco Island, SAMI, the Sailing Association of Marco Island, held their 49th annual racing event, the Bud Light Regatta, on Saturday and Sunday, just off Marco Island’s beach. About a dozen boats came out on the two days, with most of the racing taking place Saturday, and a “pursuit race” Sunday.
As Rob Reiley, fleet captain of SAMI, put it, “we’re all a bunch of retired guys out having fun on the water,” and that’s what it’s all about. Reiley spent many years in Newport, Rhode Island, perhaps the sail racing capital of the world, and has seen close up the cult of racing sailing. But even though one of the boats racing in the spinnaker class in the Bud Light Regatta was named “Obsession,” this was kinder, gentler sail racing.
“We don’t bother with things like sealing the propeller” to make sure nobody turns on the engine and cheats, said Reiley. “I’m more of a cruiser than a racer, anyway.”
He and his wife Donna, who piloted the photo boat on Saturday, while Reiley crewed aboard Foreign Exchange, competing in the spinnaker class, keep their own sailboat in Grenada in the eastern Caribbean, chartering it out when not aboard themselves. “I’m living the dream,” he said.
SAMI Commodore Ken Bardon, another cruising sailor, was out of town on family business Saturday but did make it back in time to get Moonbeam, his Island Packet 52, out on the water for Sunday’s sailing.
At the awards ceremony at the Speakeasy, winning sailors received pennants, “and all the Bud Light they could drink,” courtesy of race sponsor Coastal Beverage, said Reiley. Sponsorship funds allow SAMI to make a $1,000 contribution to help the work of the Civil Air Patrol, an organization any boater will appreciate.
In the spinnaker class, Obsession, Pathfinder (a trimaran), and Foreign Exchange finished one-two-three. Winners in the “true cruising” class were Eroica first, Windy City second, and Blue Heron third.
The club meets regularly at the Isles of Capri Community Center, and new members with or without boats are welcome. For more information, go online to www.samisailor.org.