A regatta that commemorates a small boat cruise in 1492 is not only one of the longest continually held sporting events in South Florida, but one that has made its mark on the local sailing scene as has its namesake on the New World. The Columbus Day Regatta, set for October 10 and 11 on Biscayne Bay, attracts 100-plus boats and thousands of people who come for the competition and the camaraderie.
“It is a great opportunity to sail distance courses against great competition while staying close to shore and in the protected waters of the bay. There is also a party atmosphere, with lots of spectators on the bay and of course the “3 B’s” back on shore, that being the Open Bar, Barbecue and live Band at the Miami Shake-A-Leg hanger in the (Coconut) Grove,” says regatta chairman, Christopher Lanza.
The event was started in 1954 by Timothy Sullivan, today known as ‘the father of the Columbus Day Regatta.’ Six years later, the Columbus Day Cruising Regatta Club flew the 17th duke of Veraguas, Cristobal Colon, a direct descendant of Columbus, and his duchess, from Spain to Miami to witness the annual regatta. While here the Duke gave the committee permission to use the coat of arms of the original Columbus as a club emblem. The regatta originally ran out of the Coconut Grove Sailing Club before being hosted by Coral Reef Yacht Club. With the exception of 1992 when Hurricane Andrew decimated South Florida and most of the sailboats located in the Miami area, the Columbus Day Regatta has been an annual mainstay of yacht racing on Biscayne Bay.
“What I like most about this regatta is that instead of racing against the same boats as we do all year long, we get a lot of different boats from all over the state,” says Eamonn deLisser, manager at Miami’s Doyle Sail Loft, who won the prestigious Sons of Italy Trophy in 2014, aboard his Farr 395, Senara. “The real secret to winning is to try and stay consistent in both days of racing. Sounds easy, but it’s not. In all my years of competing in the regatta, I have only managed to win the overall twice, in 2011 and last year.”
The Columbus Day Regatta is open to PHRF, ARC and some One Design classes. There are additional classes known as ‘Gunkhole’ and ‘Dowager’ for older cruising boats. There is a wide spectrum of both boats and motivation, and a total of 10 trophies up for grabs. The PHRF A fleet boasts some of the top race teams in South Florida, while many of the Gunkholers are out for a day of fun. There are a variety of courses all set outside of the Biscayne National Park boundary. All classes start on Saturday off the Rickenbacker Causeway; then the racing classes traverse the bay sailing courses from 11 to 20 miles long while the cruising classes generally sail a straight line to the finish off of Black Ledge. The Committee is looking at offering longer courses in the future as boats become faster and faster.
New is the continuation of a tradition that started last year, the Saturday night Conquistador’s Ball at Coconut Grove. The party features an open bar courtesy of the regatta’s title sponsor Bacardi, LTD. There are a barbecue buffet and live music featuring one of Miami’s top bands, ‘PUSH’.
“Last year, we had over 250 people enjoying food, drinks and dancing the night away. This year is also the 25th anniversary of Miami Shake-A-Leg, which was started at the Columbus Day Regatta in 1990. Come help us celebrate a great regatta and a great cause. The event is open to the public and tickets can be purchased on the regatta website www.columbus dayregatta.net,” Lanza invites.