Snipes are a highly migratory bird species. Well actually, I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that Snipe sailboats—whether they’re from the JibeTech, Persson, DB Marine, Deimer, or other Snipe families—do like to migrate to Florida during the month of March to enjoy the Snipe Winter Circuit. The Winter Circuit really could be billed as “the ultimate vacation” for the collective Snipe family: sailing with great friends in tight competition in truly outstanding sailing conditions. The traditional Winter Circuit includes three regattas, and results from those three regattas are combined so that an overall Snipe Winter Circuit Champion can be named:
- Snipe Midwinter Championship at Clearwater Yacht Club (racing this year is March 12-14)
- DonQ at Coconut Grove Sailing Club (March 16-18)
- Bacardi/Gamblin/Kelly Regattas, Royal Nassau Sailing Club (March 20-24)
While Notices of Race and registration links for these regattas have not yet been posted (look for updates and links here at SnipeToday once they are), it’s not too early to start planning—especially if you’ll be “migrating” (by plane or vehicle/trailer combo) from cooler climates. Be sure to register before any preregistration deadlines, both to save yourself some cash and to help regatta organizers plan.
The Clearwater Yacht Club, about halfway up Florida’s West Coast, has a long tradition of hosting the Snipe Midwinter Championship—even though currently there is no Snipe fleet at the Yacht Club. Sailing is out on the Gulf of Mexico, and conditions can vary greatly, from light breeze to blustery winter storms. While some sailors launch and sail out of the Yacht Club proper, most teams beach launch at the Clearwater Community Sailing Center. The sail out can take about an hour, especially if the tide is against the fleet coming out of the inlet.
Tradition reigns supreme at Clearwater—and Snipe sailors will likely recognize many evening events from years past, including the grapefruit and rum night and the awards dinner upstairs at the Yacht Club (definitely bring your blazer or dressy outfit). Housing near Clearwater can be challenging because it’s also spring break time for colleges, so plan ahead and ask about lodging.
Snipe sailors also enjoy some great restaurants in the area. A contingent usually heads over to Frenchy’s on Clearwater Beach, and others enjoy one of my favorite restaurants anywhere—Cesare’s on the Beach, which is just at the Clearwater Beach side of the big bridge (reservations needed for great Italian food).
After Clearwater, teams travel to Coconut Grove Sailing Club in Miami—about 4 hours on mostly highway-speed roads—on the day between the Midwinters and DonQ regattas. You might even see an alligator as you do the “dash across Alligator Alley.” And if you’re a baseball fan, there are a handful of Grapefruit League spring training facilities on the drive—catch a game along the way! (I might add, though, that if the travel day lands on St. Patrick’s Day, getting tickets to the Red Sox game can be wicked hard, though not an insurmountable challenge.) Once you arrive, the Coconut Grove area is home to some terrific restaurants and many (though not cheap) hotels.
The fleet at DonQ, which can top 50 boats, is often treated to absolute champagne sailing conditions, seabreeze at 12-14 knots, though certainly more or less can be experienced. But while the conditions are amazing, many sailors come back year after year to enjoy the dockside daiquiris served by Snipe friends and family, and the tremendous Cuban dinner at the sailing club on Saturday night.
After DonQ and some additional packing and planning, a number of the fleet head over to Nassau for additional racing. Time off from work and the added expenses of shipping a boat over tend to make the Nassau experience a little smaller than Clearwater and Miami, but the investment reaps big rewards. The Royal Nassau Sailing Club pulls out all the stops for a terrific event. Sailors, often challenged by big breeze, relax poolside for lunch each race day. It’s just enough time to rinse out your gear (and have it dry in the strong sun) and enjoy some laughs with friends before heading back out for more tight racing.
Many Snipe sailors make participating in the Clearwater/Miami/Nassau circuit a great adventure, but other fun regattas also provide additional ways to enjoy overwinter Snipe sailing in Florida.
The Gaspar Regatta kicks off the 2012 season. This regatta, which will run January 14-15 out of St. Petersburg Yacht Club on Florida’s West Coast, will be preceded by a one-day (Friday) clinic to help everyone ease back into their boats. Notice of race is posted on line, and if you’re making any last-minute plans to get there, please note that you must register by 5 p.m. on January 13. Plans are in the works for a pizza party and dinner at the Yacht Club, so the “Serious Fun” part of the Snipe tradition will be in full effect!
The Comodoro Rasco Regatta, hosted by the Coconut Grove Sailing Club in Miami, is on the calendar for February 4-5. A solid fleet of South Floridians and northerners looking to thaw out will enjoy two days of racing on Biscayne Bay. Traditionally, Old Man and Carmen Diaz have hosted a lasagna party at their home, complete with video footage of Snipe sailing in Cuba—a very special evening that reminds us all how close the Snipe family is. Notice of Race and Sailing Instructions are posted.
I hope to see you down south sometime this winter!