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Rabbitts run fast in night race

In the bay, Windancer, a 27-foot vintage boat, wins Spinnaker B.


© St. Petersburg Times, published September 3, 2000

ST. PETE BEACH -- The Davis Island Yacht Club's Labor Day Night Race tested racers' versatility with navigation, weather prediction and working in the dark -- skills not commonly joined in a regional sailing venue.

Meeting the challenge were about 150 sailors who raced from Davis Island Yacht Club to Pass-a-Grille Friday night aboard 21 monohulls and four multihulls.

The distance race ran from Hillsborough Bay to Tampa Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. The competitors not only needed to trim sails and maximize speed, but also had to navigate through the dead of night. They had to watch for larger commercial ships and the myriad of navigational buoys and towers, many unlit, which dot greater Tampa Bay.

"There was a little bit of everything out there," said Jamey Rabbitt, who skippered his family's 27-foot vintage C & C Windancer to first in the Spinnaker B division.

His mother, Karen Rabbitt, said, "We used just about every sail on the boat."

With a start at 7:30 p.m. just west of Seddon Channel, the crews had less than an hour of daylight. Storm cells to the northwest provided a healthy wind building into the high teens that went against the choppy waves from the day's prevailing southwesterly breeze.

The fleet had a fast departure but it didn't last. The wind faded as the boats searched for the navigational towers used as rounding marks.

Hours of fluky winds and contrary currents tested the teams as most of the boats crossed under the Sunshine Skyway, headed for additional course marks in the Gulf of Mexico near Egmont Key before turning downwind to the finish line at Pass-a-Grille Channel.

And the breeze came back, along with rolling waves generated by storms offshore.

Windancer finished at 5:40 a.m. after covering the 41-mile course in 9 hours, 50 minutes.

Sailing a 48.6-mile course in 8:24, Jeff Fishman's J/35 Hot Water topped the Spinnaker A division for larger boats. Other winners included Don Highnote's Rocket in non-spinnaker and Tri Southwinds in the Florida Offshore Multihull Association division.

"Good crew, with everyone working together, is how you win sailboat races," Fishman said. "We got out of the current at the right time, and got into the current at the right time," he said about the tactics getting out of Tampa Bay quickly.

Regatta organizer Jay Tyson said, "It's a fun way to kick off the racing season and to play in the dark."

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