© St. Petersburg Times, published February 15, 2002
Like many J-24 sailors, Frank McCarthy was looking to get back to the future.
"Sailing a Melges is like stepping into cyberspace," he said. "Downwind, nothing can touch it. It is like riding a rocketship."
The Melges 24, one of the most technologically advanced boats for its size, has been described by those who race them as a "scaled down version of an America's Cup boat." But it will be just one of 13 classes plying the waters of Tampa Bay this weekend when the National Offshore One-Design Regatta returns to St. Petersburg.
The NOOD, the first in a series of nine national races sponsored by Sailing World magazine, gives small-boat racers a chance to show their skills at the tour's only winter venue. The classes of boats belie the title. With lengths from 20 to 30-plus feet, few would be practical to go offshore.
Each of the classes will have its own start, rather than racing together with a handicap scheme applied like most area races. There also will be a "level" fleet, with boats such as J 80, SR 25 and Tripp 26 racing boat for boat.
The fastest will be seen in the Corsair class, comprised of various Farrier-designed trimarans ranging from 24 to 31 feet. These boats have gained popularity because they fold down, are easily trailerable yet show impressive speed.
"It is the next step up for the beach cat sailor," said Sid Zipperman of the Florida Offshore Multi Hull Association. "When you get too old or need more room than a Hobie Cat, this is the boat for you."
St. Petersburg sailor Doran Cushing, the national champion in the 27-foot Corsair, will race, but Randy Smyth of Fort Walton Beach is considered a strong opponent because he has been a dominant force in catamaran sailing for 20 years. Smyth's 25-footer is crafted of carbon fiber, making it light and strong.
Because the Cosairs vary in length, a handicap will be applied to the finish times of each boat.
The Melges 24, the other speedster on the water this weekend, also has grown in popularity and will be the largest class at NOOD.
"A year ago we had three boats," said McCarthy, a representative of the local Melges fleet. "Now we are up to 16 boats. A lot of them are former J-24 sailors looking to step into the 21st century."
The Melges 24 features ample sail area, including an asymmetrical spinnaker.
This class has become a favorite for teams that can be called "professional" because they have affiliation with the sailing industry. Others are drawn to the fleet because of the high level of competition.
Harry Melges, son of the boat's designer, is a favorite, having recently placed second among 78 boats competing at the Worlds in Key West. Sarasota sailor Doug Fisher is another contender, as is Punta Gorda's Bill Rogner with St. Petersburg's Ethan Bixby at the helm.
"This will be the toughest one yet," said Rogner, who hasn't lost a race in three years.
"But win or lose, I am looking forward to sailing in such a high-caliber fleet."
Another class to watch is the Sonar, which will include physically challenged sailors getting ready for the Paralympics. Irish and Canadian paralympic hopefuls will be part of this year's Sonar fleet.
Other classes are Hobie 33, J-24, Henderson 30, Ultimate 20, J-29, Olson 30, SRMax, Tarten Ten and S2-7.9. Viewing the regatta from land will be difficult since most of the racing will take place more than a mile east of the Pier. Spectacular views of these boats, however, can be had from the Pier in the morning and late afternoons as they head to and from the race course.
-- Times outdoors editor Terry Tomalin contributed to this report.
WHEN/WHERE: Today-Sunday, St. Petersburg Yacht Club.
NOTES: More than 150 sailors from 20 states, Canada, England and Ireland will compete in 13 classes: Corsair, Henderson 30, Hobie 33, J/24, J/29, Level 123, Melges 24, Olson 30, S2 7.9, Sonar, SR Max, Tartan Ten and Ultimate 20. Racing is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Call (401) 965-4726.
To learn about the Melges Class, call Frank McCarthy of the Melges 24 Fleet Tampa Bay at (727) 895-6336 or go to Melges24.com.
To learn about the Corsair class, call Sid Zipperman of the Florida Offshore Multi Hull Association at (727) 736-9462 or go to firstname.lastname@example.org.