It was Friday, February 28, when I collected my regular Wild Hogs Viper 640 crew, Buttons Padin and Chris Foley, and left Washington D.C., heading south down I-95 en route to Bacardi Miami Sailing Week. Taking turns sleeping in the back seat, our smart phones full of music and NPR, we made the run in less than 23 hours. When we emerged from the car in Florida wearing shorts and flip-flops, all Hogs were smiling.
On arriving at the US Sailing Training Center in Miami, we were tired but eager to launch the boat and get in some practice for the two-day EFG Viper Winter Cup, which started Sunday morning.
After that came the first annual Viper 640 Miami Scorch on Tuesday—a searing reach across Biscayne Bay to No Name Harbor on the southern tip of Key Biscayne. The Viper class big-wigs are to be congratulated for conceiving the Scorch. It got us all sitting at a long table, where everyone put down the Racing Rules of Sailing and hoisted Presidentes instead.
Finally, on Thursday, it was time for the main event, Bacardi Miami Sailing Week, which had already been running Star-class races since Monday. Four other classes joined in for the last three days: 40 J/70s, 21 VX Ones, 41 Melges 20s and a handful of Melges 24s. The Viper regatta fleet stood at 25.
Racing on the first day started before noon, but ended about two hours later as a front loomed over Miami, and the 120-plus boats headed for shore. As we were sitting around the pool and bar at the Coral Reef Yacht Club, the sky to the southwest grew darker and darker, and then all hell broke loose and the wind went from 10 knots to over 35 knots in a matter of seconds. Clearly the race committee made the right call.
On Friday, the forecast called for westerly breezes in the high teens, so we bent on our older sails—a good thing. After three general recalls, including the RC going to the “I” flag and then the black flag to get off the J/70s, the Vipers started in a building breeze that was already in excess of 20 knots.
As we approached the windward mark, Buttons, Chris and I debated whether to set the chute. But hell, we were all in—so up it went. Reaching at over 16 knots, with the bow wave kicking up spray, we approached our first gybe. With other Vipers rounding up all around us, we bore off, gybed and promptly joined our friends swimming. A quick recovery put us back in the chase ahead of the less fortunate—turns out sailing a Viper in what ended up becoming 30 knots with gusts is doable, if not exactly suited to our total crew weight!
One shredded spin halyard and another broach later, we saw that the RC had wisely signaled for a shore postponement in the hopes that the wind would ease. Ugh! That meant over 2 miles of windward work, including tacking through the narrow Coconut Grove Channel. In the end, though, everyone got in safely, with the exception of some Melges 20s that broke their masts. A short while later, the postponement turned into the day’s racing being cancelled.
Unfortunately, on Saturday we had the opposite problem. Although the start was moved up to 0945 to get in as many races as possible, the wind proved to be light and fluky. The RC had until 1400 to start a race, but at 1330 they decided there simply wasn’t enough breeze, and the regatta was over.
In spite of the crazy conditions, Team Wild Hogs deemed the trip a success. We’d escaped the frigid north and made lots of new sailing friends from across the United States, Britain and Australia. We also got to drink plenty of Bacardi rum!
If you are a member of one of the classes that race at Bacardi Miami Sailing Week, you should be sure to make plans to join us next year. You won’t regret it.
Peter Bauer, of Mamaroneck, NY, recently retired,
which has allowed him to pursue his passion for sailing
“without the restrictions of vacation time”