Imagine a sailing regatta in which the fleet spends the first day of the race swinging nine irons instead of hoisting spinnakers. That is exactly what spectators of The Upper Keys Sailing Club’s Flail and Sail event on Dec. 5 and 6 can expect to see. This unusual race begins, not on the water, but on the golf course, and it is one of the many ways in which UKSC is unique.
“Well, we’re ‘Keysie’,” admits the Club’s Rear Commodore, Sara Kahler.
By that she means that the atmosphere is intentionally laid back, with less emphasis on pomp and tradition and much more on fun and friendship. From its founding in 1973 by a handful of local sailing families, the Club’s mission has always been socializing and sharing a love of the sport. The new group started by holding races wherever they could launch their self-proclaimed “rag fleet,” all the while growing in membership and support. They received their charter from the state of Florida in 1975 and then began the search for a place to call their own.
In 1977 the Club purchased a site on Buttonwood Sound in Key Largo. Today, the Club’s property includes a conch-style clubhouse with a full bar and wide porches, a dockmaster’s cottage, dry and trailered boat storage, and a main dock and dinghy dock for members’ use. The location on the protected six foot waters of Buttonwood Sound provides the perfect venue for racing of all but the largest boats, and the jetty is a prime spot for onlookers to catch all of the action. In fact, most of UKSC-sponsored regattas take place within view of the clubhouse.
And regattas abound at UKSC! November kicks off with the Black Betsy on the 7th, a destination race to the Black Betsy Keys south and west of the clubhouse for PHRF boats. At the race’s end, many of the cruising boats taking part often raft up and spend the night swinging on the hook. This is followed by the Dockmasters’ Regatta November 14 and 15, a race spotlighting the club’s caretakers, that includes a boat-building contest using recycled materials. The aptly named Flail and Sail takes place December 5 and 6, with Saturday spent on the links in a best-ball golf tournament and Sunday on the water in a PHRF race. In addition to these events, there is a regular schedule of “small boat” races, as well regattas for outside clubs, including the Force Five Midwinters, a Catboat Rendezvous, the Buccaneers and Mutineers, and the Dead Dogs & Tin Whistles Regatta.
As any member will be quick to point out, it is not just the casual atmosphere, the busy racing schedule, or even the incredible sunset view that makes UKSC special. Its real strength is the people.
“Many of our members don’t have family close by,” observes Kahler, whose own daughter lives in Texas. “The Club becomes a big part of our lives, filling something that otherwise would be missing.”
This closeness has translated into an unbreakable spirit evidenced by UKSC’s response to adversity. When Hurricane Wilma destroyed the docks, members rallied not only to replace what was damaged but to make improvements as well. Whenever help is needed, whether for an individual or for the Club as a whole, members can be counted on to respond.
All of which makes UKSC more than just a sailing club, it makes them a family – and that really is unique.
UKSC welcomes prospective members and invites them to stop by from 6-8:00 on Friday evenings, or to check out their website at http://www.upperkeyssailingclub.com/index.html.