The season's final regatta turns into a test of patience on Tampa Bay.
By DORAN CUSHING
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 9, 2001
It wasn't that there wasn't wind during Suncoast Raceweek on Tampa Bay. There just wasn't enough wind on any of the three racing days to allow the skippers and crews to relax and enjoy the scenery.
Throw into the mix three point-to-point courses that zigzagged on the bay and strong tidal currents, and the last major regatta of the season challenged the racers' patience.
Finishing first each day was Robert Buzzelli's Sarasota-based Gulfstream 35 catamaran Merlin, which took honors in the five-boat multihull fleet.
"It was challenging. It took a lot of work," Buzzelli said Sunday of the light wind. "Today was the toughest day with no air."
Taking top honors in the 37-boat spinnaker fleet was Sarasota-based Racer X, co-owned by Mark, Scott and Chris Liebel. The ultralight Viper 830 won Sunday's downwind race from the mouth of the Manatee River at Bradenton to Pinellas Point in south St. Petersburg. Racer X also took top honors in Spinnaker I.
The J/29 Semper Fi, skippered by Ray Mannix of Clearwater, won each of the three races in Spinnaker II and possibly locked up West Florida PHRF boat of the year honors.
Ken Friedman's J/27 Instant Karma, which held a slim lead over Semper Fi and Joe Blouin's One-design 35 Storyville going into the finale of the seven-regatta series, failed to finish Sunday. In Saturday's race from Hillsborough Bay to Bradenton, Storyville missed passing a mark on the correct side, struggled in the light wind to correct the error and finished next-to-last in Spinnaker I for the day. It was eighth for the regatta.
In Spinnaker III, Allan Saunders' Jeanneau 11.2 Cat's Meow battled Ed Collins' Ericson 41 Heart of Gold each day. Saunders' team took division honors by one point over Collins while finishing ninth overall among spinnaker-class boats.
The competition was just as close in the 15-boat non-spinnaker fleet, with boat of the year honors also up for grabs. Terry and Susan Tibbits' Hooks 30 Grand Illusion, the series leader, finished second in Non-spinnaker I. Ken Wilus' Ranger 23 Cakewalk, trailing Grand Illusion for the year-end honors, finished third in Non-spinnaker II. Richard Neal's Soverel 26 Back Off, running third in the boat of the year series, beat Cakewalk by two points in the regatta, but neither boat likely will catch the Tibbits team for boat of the year.
Other division winners included Susan Fox's S2 9.1 Bay Wolf in Non-spinnaker I and Ron Kinney's TMI 27 Eclipse in Non-spinnaker II.
Suncoast Raceweek included a 21-mile race for spinnaker boats and the multihull class Friday; a 25-mile race from Davis Islands to Bradenton on Saturday, and a northbound course through the Sunshine Skyway bridge that was shortened to less than 9 miles Sunday because of the predicted light wind.
The non-spinnaker boats sailed slightly shorter courses the first two days. Strong tides figured into the tactics each day.
The awards presentation for Suncoast Raceweek, along with boat of the year awards, is 6 p.m. Friday at Treasure Island Tennis & Yacht Club.