As boating season starts to heat up in the South, cruisers are pulling out charts and planning for that next great destination to chalk up on their calendars. Often overlooked are the sailing regattas held throughout the Southeast and Gulf Coasts. Whether you own a sailboat or have always been a powerboater, these events offer an unmatched boating experience as an on-the-water spectator to the action. Spectator boats anchor along the starts or the turning marks, fire up the grills and witness some of the world’s top sailors (and plenty of amateurs) in action. After the day’s racing, cruisers tie up in the marinas alongside the sport boats and the yacht clubs fill for the legendary post-regatta parties with their live music, beverages and food – all are welcome and the camaraderie and atmosphere out on the piers is truly special.
With easily a hundred regattas, both large and small held throughout the Southeast and Gulf Coasts, it’s hard not to find a regatta in a town that’s on your future cruising destination list. The keys though, are to reserve slip space early at many of the larger regattas and to remember to bring your party hats. The gathering of hundreds of sailors around free rum bars leads to an experience best left in the logbook for grandchildren to laugh over later.
These regattas that should be on your radar for 2015 all have facilities to accommodate transient cruisers.
Key West Race Week
January 18-23: KWRW is one of the largest international regattas in the United States. Drawing a who’s who of racing’s top names and expensive boats, this week-long event inundates the island with boaters and sailors, providing plenty of action on the water and in Hemingway’s old watering holes.
January 31: Run since 1904, the Gasparilla is less of a regatta and more of a waterborne and pirate themed Mardi Gras-like event. With cannons blazing, the fleet invades Tampa, and onshore there is a massive parade. Virtually the entire city of Tampa shuts down for this event.
Mardi Gras Race Week
February 19-22: Immediately following the Mardi Gras festivities, cruisers join with racers and refuse to let the party end. Located at New Orleans’ West End, this is a growing one-design regatta held in a spectacular venue and near to the French Quarter.
March 1-7: Located on the beautiful waters of Biscayne Bay, the Bacardi Cup is celebrating its 88th year. A who’s who of sport boat racers flood the coast and the race village at night in a party that could be thrown only in Miami.
Charleston Race Week
April 16-19: The classic and quaint waterfront town of Charleston explodes as the sport boat capital of the world in April. Over 200 boats travel from all over the world to take part in what has rapidly become the largest and most well respected regatta in the United States.
Dauphin Island Race
April 24-26: Over 100 sailboats participate in this regatta which has become an institution on Mobile Bay. In 2015, competitors start at the beautiful Fairhope Yacht Club and sail to Dauphin Island. The barrier island is then host to a seemingly unending array of festivities for the sailors and “racer chasers” until the return race the next day.
Gulfport to Pensacola Race
June 26-28: This 100 nm distance race along the southern reaches of the Gulf Islands starts in Gulfport, Mississippi and finishes at the entrance to Pensacola Bay. The oak lined grounds of the Pensacola Yacht Club then play host to the crews from nearly 100 competing sailboats as they stream in over the course of two days. Sailors throughout the Gulf Coast will tell you that PYC’s bushwhackers and hospitality are not to be missed.
Gulf Yachting Association’s Challenge Cup
June 19-21: The premier inter-yacht-club sailing championship will be held at Gulfport Yacht Club in 2015. The top sailors from the Gulf Coast race hard on 4-boat teams representing their yacht clubs over the course of this long weekend and retire to the piers and grounds of the Gulfport Yacht Club every afternoon for the parties.