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Snipe Dead of Winter Regatta is a family affair

By DAVE ELLIS
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 2, 2002

Warm weather and pleasant breezes greeted the 21 two-person Snipes to the Dead of Winter Regatta in St. Petersburg.

Colin and Karen Park repeated as winners but had a good battle with their house guests, John and Myrna Chan MacRae of Winchester, Mass.

After two days of racing, the MacRaes were in the lead. But age and treachery prevailed over youth and vigor, as the Parks won both races Sunday. The MacRaes posted second- and third-place finishes.

The Snipe was designed by William Crosby after a visit to Pinellas County in 1931. Local sailors had asked him to outline a practical small boat they could build and pull behind their automobiles.

The plans were published in the fall edition of Rudder magazine as the "Florida Trailer Class," and were a surprising success.

The designation "Snipe" came a couple of years later. It did not take long for the class to be a favorite on Tampa Bay.

Tragically, in November of 1940, a Snipe sailing from Tampa to St. Pete to attend a regatta capsized in a squall. Two youth drowned when apparently trying to swim to Snell Isle.

A strong fleet was established in Clearwater by 1941. The hull is 151/2 feet in length and 381 pounds, with 128 square feet of sail area. Fiberglass hulls, aluminum spars and dacron sails have replaced wood and cotton.

Why does the Snipe today remain among the world's most popular classes in spite of its anachronistic design and low performance?

It's the people.

No sailing craft is fast compared to a jet plane. It's the relative speed to others that counts. With proper tuning of the rig and care of the hull, boats are not significantly different in speed.

So it is the skill of the skipper and crew that spells success. The competition in the class is second to none.

When St. Petersburg's Allison Jolly was training for the Seoul, Korea, Olympics in the 470 women's event, she sailed in Snipe regattas to hone her fleet racing skills. She became the first gold medal winner in women's sailing.

The Dead of Winter Regatta showcased good competition with a decidedly friendly flavor.

Five of the boats had husband-wife crews, two were father-son teams, two were brother-sister, Marty Kullman sailed with his mom, and there were two cousins competing.

Bill Welch skippered one boat while his wife, Sherry, guided another. They tied on points after seven races. Sherry was ahead in the last race so won the tie-breaker for 11th place.

Doug and Marnie Folsetter made the trek from Hamilton, Ontario, for the event.

"Sure beats the snow we left," said Doug, sailing in shorts and a T-shirt.

Crews from Milwaukee, Illinois, Michigan and Atlanta drove down for the regatta and St. Petersburg hospitality.

Engineer and local sailmaker Jamey Rabbit and USF professor Steve Lang were third, with cousins Mike and Jim Blackwood of Milwaukee fourth.

Longtime local sailor Ed Sherman was in a Snipe for the first time in many years. With crew Diane Fowler, Sherman finished fifth.

The regatta ended on a clever note when crews were relegated to spectator status and the skippers raced single-handed. Colin Park again showed the way to the lead, with Rabbitt second and Sherman third.

Bill Welch led one race until the finish. Park nipped him by noticing the long finish line could be reached from the last mark in one tack after a wind shift.

Treasure Island's George Pennington and a stellar team were the volunteer race committee, adapting well to the vagaries of Tampa Bay's wind and current.

ORANGE BOWL REGATTA: In the 1970s, European kids were doing much better in major regattas than their American counterparts.

There were exceptions, such as Mike and Kevin Funsch of St. Petersburg. But there was a need for more challenge.

The Orange Bowl was the brainchild of Dr. William Smoak of Miami. The event invited top kids from other countries to sail in the U.S. so local youngsters could have a taste of the best competition.

The American competitors won the first regatta, in 1976, and the Orange Bowl became an annual holiday event.

Tampa Bay area parents have been hauling Opti's, Laser Radials and 420s to the regatta since its inception.

Paige Railey of Clearwater sailed to second place in the Laser Radial class.

Her older brother, Zach, captured third in the Olympic Laser event that included adults. It was sailed at the venue for the upcoming regatta that will determine the year's Olympic training team.

Largo's Brett Davis lived up to his top ranking by winning on a tie-breaker with Streett Silvestri of New Jersey.

The winds were light for the four days of competition. There was no racing Sunday because of a lack of wind.

SCHEDULE NOTE: The Melges 24 class has moved its regatta to the Davis Island Yacht Club, getting its start at the Commodore's Cup on Saturday.

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