100 mile distance race, no ground crew needed!
Editors note:Ever thought you'd like to do one of the distance races like the Tybee 500 or the Great Texas, but don't have the ground support or resources for such an adventure? The Fort Walton Yacht Club, 'Round the Island is the perfect event to challenge yourself without breaking the bank or scaring your loved ones. Sail a 100 mile round trip race with the start and finish inside the bay, no surf launch to deal with and only takes a weekend. Read on for the race details.
Note: This years race start is Saturday, June 16, 2007
The Round the Island Race is a 100 mile circumnavigation around Santa Rosa Island located in Northwest Florida. Headquartered at the Fort Walton Yacht Club, the race begins off the point, through the East Pass and continues west through the Pensacola pass where the northern turn is made for the return trip.
Having one start for all competitors, the initial direction is east in the Choctawhatchee Bay as the boats head for the East Pass from the start. The wind is usually 4 to 6 knots from the Northeast so the start is a one legged beat. As the multi-hulls round a turning mark off the shoals of Crab Island, they head for the Destin Bridge and the East Pass. There they meet the Destin Charter Boat fleet heading out the Pass for a colorful parade of sailors and fishing boats. Spectators line the Destin Bridge and capture some beautiful sights, as the fleet hoists spinnakers using the NNE breeze to speed them out the Pass.
White sandy beaches and glistening emerald water provides for a spectacular run to the Sea Buoy. Approximately one-half a mile out the Pass leaving to starboard, the fleet will now head due west for 50 miles of beautiful sailing in the Gulf of Mexico. The fleet is usually favored to stay along the shore to take advantage of the east to west flowing beach current where most of the competitors will stay within 1 to 2 miles of shore. As the sun rises higher and starts its usual east to west trajectory the wind follows it. Thus the NNE breeze in the morning will give way to a Southeast veer that will usually turn southerly before going to the Southwest in the late afternoon. This makes for a lot of spinnaker work and reaching in the Gulf before reaching the Pensacola Pass.
The fleet will pass three fishing piers in the Gulf at Fort Walton, Navarre, and Pensacola Beach so the landmarks are easily recognizable as well as great perches for the spectators. Upon reaching the Pass at Pensacola the competitors will usually hug the shoreline at the Fort Pickens State Park as they round inside the Pass for the run home. The lead boats, usually RC 30’s and 27’s as well as a sprinkling of Super Cat 22’s will enter the Pass from 1p.m to 3p.m. if the normal wind pattern holds true. The majority of the fleet will be in the Pass from then on into the late afternoon with everyone required to be in the inter-coastal waterway before sundown.
Land has had sufficient time to heat up by now and the Southwest sea breeze will be pumping for the great ride back to Fort Walton Beach through the inter-coastal taking the sailors through the Santa Rosa Sound. The east to west narrow body of water separated from the Gulf of Mexico by a sandy dune lined barrier island with the towns of Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach interspersed between U.S. Air Force testing ranges. This run is often the highlight of the race as it is traditionally a double trap broad reach with chutes flying and warm spray everywhere.
With the fleet passing under two more bridges, one at Pensacola Beach and the other at Navarre Beach, spectators will line the bridges to see this beautiful sight as the sailors near the completion of their journey. As the sun lowers on the horizon the breeze will remain fairly constant into the early evening ours until it dies out and the Northwest or Northerly springs back. By this time the fleet is racing into what is affectionately know as The Narrows. Located about six miles west of Fort Walton Beach the waterway narrows between waterfront homes on the north shore and a string of barrier islands that forms the South shore. Skill and talent is challenged, as the racers must decide which route to take, safety in the deep water of the channel or the more risky route between the low-lying barrier islands.
The sailors will cruise into the bright lights of Fort Walton Beach, passing under the Brooks Bridge and headed for the finish line. The finish line is located off the point of the Fort Walton Yacht Club so the exuberant racers round up and hit the beach only yards away. It’s an amazing distance race that starts and finishes in the same location so ground crews are not required. At the beach the sailors are met with fresh, cooked to order and piping hot hamburgers and cold beverages so the war stories will go on for while. After securing their boats, most sailors will join the race committee on the point to check on the finishes of their friends and competitors.
The exciting weekend concludes with the Awards Presentation and breakfast Sunday morning. Unlike some other major distance races the results and scoring is finished early Sunday morning so the competitors are on the road home by noon at the latest. This allows ample time to load up the boats Sunday morning after a good nights rest before the Breakfast and Awards ceremony.
If you have never done the Round the Island Race you owe it to yourself to give it a shot. Just to have finished the race is more than enough for most competitors because it is truly an endurance event combined with minor navigation, sailing in some of the most beautiful surroundings in the United States. The list of competitors from over the years will read like the Sailing Hall of Fame, Carlton Tucker, Keith Notary, Randy Smyth, Hans Geissler, Kirk Newkirk, Brian Lambert, Bob Curry, Bill Roberts, Rod Waterhouse, Billy Whitehurst, Brett Dryland, and the list could go on. So on June 15 make your plans to start your summer with a great weekend of exciting fun, hearty revelry, and a challenging race in the great Northwest Florida playground!
For more information, contact
Shari Seaton, RTI Chairman