Think Miami Beach and Key Biscayne, big boats and dynamite racing. That’s what comes to mind when you envision the SORC – the late-winter regatta that initially put this southern-most metropolis on the map for sailboat racers. For the uninitiated, what was once the Southern Ocean Racing Conference and is now the Acura SORC, has given sailors a reason to migrate to the sunshine state for almost six decades, offering heated competition and often punishing conditions that serve as a fitting test for some of the hottest new designs in the country.
The SORCs of the mid ‘70s and early ‘80s are the stuff of legend, with heralded boat names – Razzle Dazzle, Sidewinder, Locura among others – bandied about in stories spiced with heroic details of big wind, big waves, and taxing long-distance races. These days the Acura SORC is largely transfigured,and now lives as a five-day affair with no distance races and a curious mix of boats ranging from Etchells and Melges 24s to offshore one-designs and the occasional maxi. This year, the most definitive aspect of the new millennial SORC was the weather, which turned its cheek to offer a kinder, gentler form of entertainment for the 167 regatta entries in Miami this year.
Days before the 2000 Acura SORC kicked off, a lingering high-pressure system floated over the Southeast, blessing the Florida peninsula with benign, perfect weather – perfect for golf maybe. When the four race committees – two on Biscayne Bay and two offshore – fired their starting guns for the event’s first contest on Wednesday, competitors crossed the line in nine-to-ten-knot winds. Not entirely disheartening, but definitely not SORC-like either. The breeze finally did escalate to 16 knots for Saturday’s final contest, but the weak cold front that ensued erased all winds by the following morning, putting an anticlimactic finish on the event as the committee was forced to abandon activity shortly before noon.
The moderate conditions that characterized the majority of the regatta – where the breeze rarely ventured into the double-digit range and sea conditions were more reminiscent of Lake Minnetonka than Miami – put a premium on sailing smart with consistent boatspeed throughout the series. Jointly, those two became the common denominator that vaulted the winners in each of the 13 classes to their respective honors.
Farr 40 Sailing offshore in the northernmost course off Miami Beach, the Farr 40 class saw Massimo Mezzaroma’s all-Italian crew jump aboard the chartered Dawn Raid with just a week’s time in the boat, and beat a fleet of class veterans that included George Andreadis’ Atalanti XI (with Robbie Haines and Ethan Bixby in the afterguard) and Jim Richardson’s Barking Mad (with Adrian Stead in the tactical role), as well as a host of talent fresh from the America’s Cup (Ed Adams and Kimo Worthington on Flash Gordon, and Peter Holmberg aboard Orion among others). "Those guys were pretty polished," said Richardson afterward in reference to Mezzaroma and company. He alluded to the distinct parity that characterizes this class, adding: "people pretty much have the boats sussed out, and there’s not a lot of margin for error." Certainly Mezzaroma, who plans to campaign a new Farr 40 as part of the Italian Admiral’s Cup team, has the boat figured out. Scoring only two bullets in seven races, his team won by a staggering 13-point margin.
1D35 Sharing their course with the Farr 40s, only 13 boats turned up in this hot class, where Bob Hughes’ Heartbreaker repeated its top-caliber performance from a month before in Key West and won by two points. Prior to the final race, Dan Cherish’s Extreme looked primed to win overall, but a mid-fleet finish in that contest gave the title away.
Chessie Racing waits for wind along with the rest of the SORC fleet
PHRF1 On the more southerly offshore course, George Collins’ modified Santa Cruz 70 Chessie Racing continually showed her heels to every competitor and danced away with all but one first-place finish in eight races. Sailing under PHRF, Collins and his team chose to measure in for the regatta with a small headsail, which dropped the boat’s rating to a negative 87. Even when her two class rivals, Richard Orchard’s Corel 45 Grins and Marty Fisher’s J/125 Strabo, locked the behemoth out at the start of Saturday’s first race with deft maneuvering, the 70-footer had the jets to get back in front by the top of the beat and leg out to a comfortable lead and the victory.
IMS With just three boats making up this class (which started each race at the same time as Chessie’s PHRF group), Bache Renshaw’s Nelson/Marek 48 Virago ended the eight-race series ahead by three points over George David’s 50-foot Idler and David Lowe’s Farr 52 Loco. Lowe’s new machine had no trouble finishing well ahead of her rivals, but only in the final day’s bigger breezes could Loco correct out on them by playing the frequent oscillations to her advantage.
Mumm 30s prepare to start race 4 in the waters off Miami Beach
Mumm 30 Next in the starting sequence on this course was the 17-boat Mumm 30 class where Phil Garland’s Trouble led the regatta from the get-go, with double bullets on the first day and twin fourth’s for the first two races of Day 2. Heading into the final race, Mark Ploch’s Xisled trailed by a single point, but with the breeze intensifying to 17 knots, it wasn’t much of a contest. Garland got his ride into high gear and grabbed first place by a sizeable margin, with Ploch finishing four boats back. "Phil’s just fast in heavy air," explained Trouble’s tactician Chuck Allen. "Game over."
PHRF2 A variety of designs made up the amalgam of boats that raced in the PHRF2 Class. Gordon Schiff’s Mumm 36 The Wall showed her moderate-air speed in the first four races and thereafter she was never seriously challenged throughout eight races. For their efforts, Schiff and his crew were awarded the perpetual Governor’s Cup as the best PHRF boat in the event. Bob Limoggio’s crew aboard the C&C 44 Spank Me, had a chance to finish second overall, but they were slightly off the pace in the final race and scored a three, which gave them an overall third behind the Swan 442 Crescendo.
J/105 Attendance in this class was also diminished since the group’s last outing at Key West Race Week. Seven boats registered and six competed in what became a five-race regatta. Tom Coates San Francisco-based Masquerade was nearly unbeatable as she sailed to a five-point victory over Jim Doane’s Flame with solid tactics and consistent boatspeed. Masquerade’s deepest finish was a second place in the fourth race, but she reiterated her dominance in the finale by legging out to a comfortable lead throughout the four-leg, windward-leeward contest.
The fleet that raced inside Biscayne Bay included three one-design classes (Etchells, Melges 24s, and Hobie 33s), two PHRF groups and a collection of multihulls. Breeze conditions inside the Bay were similarly light-to-moderate throughout the four days of racing and the committee wisely set shorter courses that rarely exceeded six miles for each of the races.
Etchells Dirk Kneulman of Canada and his two crew aboard Cruel Jane, put together a strong enough performance in the first six races that they didn’t need to sail the final contest in this 24-boat fleet. Their worst finish, an eighth in Race 6, left them with few enough points to opt out of the last race and still beat the Piper, Smith, Fraser team aboard Pied Piper by more than a five-point margin and win the regatta.
Melges 24 The 25-boat crowd of Melges 24s were only able to get in five races, but that was all that perennial class stalwarts Scott Elliot and Dave Chapin needed to get White Loaf up to speed. They began the regatta with two fourth’s, and then quickly found their pace to finish the event 1-2-1 and take home top honors by more than a six-point margin over Paula Zubrzycki’s Alize.
PHRF1 Despite the moderate conditions, John Esposito’s team of heavyweights aboard the J/29 Hustler found good pace and virtually owned the regatta after Day 1. Esposito and his team were never seriously challenged after scoring bullets in Races 3 and 4, and took home the top honors by finishing nearly 10 points ahead of the Beneteau First Class 10 L’Outrage, owned by Bruce Gardner.
PHRF2 Chuck O’Malley’s Graham & Schlageter 25 Late Bloomer raced a close series against Larry Etheridge’s S2 7.9 Purr-fect, finishing just three points ahead to win the regatta. Etheridge’s craft rates 30 seconds a mile slower than O’Malley’s boat, so the two didn’t seem much of each other after the starts in most of the five races.
Hobie 33 Fifteen boats made up the fleet for these narrow designs, now in their third decade. Though the group only got four races in, that was enough for Barbara Reed’s Risky Business to pull in front for a three-and-a-quarter-point victory overStu Kevelighan’s Stealth. Read and company didn’t look strong after three races, but a bullet in the finale jumped them into the winner’s circle.
Multihull John Teloh’s F-25C Lunatic Fringe managed to correct out over some larger, faster multihulls to win the event by a large margin. Teloh finished with 5 points in five races. Second place went to Doug Harkrider’s F-31R Rocket Science, which finished with 14 points. When the breeze came up on the final day, Bob Buzzelli’s just-launched 35-foot cat designed by Peter Wormwood was the only boat to steal a first-place finish away from Teloh.