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The Faces of the Acura SORC

Winds ranging from 8 to 20 knots set the stage for the 60th anniversary of the Acura Southern Ocean Racing Conference (SORC) off Miami.
Take in this backdrop—art deco hotel fronts, countless high-rises, palm trees, Latin music, and modelesque women—then add a cross-section of grand prix and grass roots sailboats, and you’ve got the annual Acura SORC, Miami’s midwinter racing fest. Like its host city, the event, which celebrated its 60th year this winter, is nothing if not charged and diverse, from its participants to the boats they race.

Of course the usual suspects of the grand-prix circuit were in attendance—the elite IMS racers, the Farr 40s, 1D35s, and the Mumm 30s—among whom you find the majority of the professional programs. But there were also the rank and file, the people who, sailing a broad spectrum of designs, have populated this event for decades. They’re the ones you’re less likely to read about in the daily press releases churned out for the minions of the media, but across the country, these people make up the backbone of the sport. I took a random sampling of such folk to get their take on the event and to find out how the Acura SORC fit into their sailing lives.

Maritime lawyer and cockpit crew Heather Flick: "People here are just friendlier out on the water."
Sailing aboard Doug Berman’s J/105 Out of Options, Heather Flick joined a group of sailboat racing friends who were escaping the dreary days of winter in San Francisco’s Bay Area. Flick says the group decided to attend their first SORC after they sailed Hawaii’s Kenwood Cup in August and then Key West Race Week this winter further confirmed their preference for sailing in warm weather. "We’re accustomed to more wind," explained Flick, relaxing on the dock after the three-day event. "Even today’s breeze [the regatta’s windiest day at 20-plus knots] was on the moderate side compared to the Bay. We like it, but we think that our sails were too flat for the lighter wind; I guess we need to get East Coast sails."

Flick, an attorney by profession, handles the spinnaker pole controls on Out of Options. She grew up sailing on the Bay, and as an adult she’s collected a vast resume of racing experience participating in events like the TransPac, the Phucket King’s Cup in Thailand, China Race Week, Antigua Sailing Week, and Etchells regattas in Hong Kong. She and the rest of the crew on board Out of Options were in the hunt in almost every race in Miami, and ended up third for the event. Apart from one night of clubbing in South Beach, what Flick and the rest of the crew enjoyed most about the action in Miami was the camaraderie on the water. "In San Francisco Bay, we often get upward of 30 J/105s on the starting line, and it’s very aggressive on the water. But here people were generally very friendly; granted there were just eight boats, but that was the case in Key West too," [where there were 25]. Flick says the team will be back for sure.

Amateur boat builder and dedicated racer Lorin Frank: "That kind of carnage helps too."
Placing third in one of the most diverse classes in the regatta, with boats ranging from the Alan Andrews-designed turbo sled Grins (PHRF rating –84) to the Aerodyne 38 Habanero (PHRF rating 39), was Lorin Frank’s custom 41 Look Again (PHRF rating 27). With its twin helms, 15-foot-wide cockpit, and transom-hung, daggerboard-style rudder, Frank’s homebuilt boat was living up to its name by getting a lot of looks on the water.

Born and bred in Miami, and a 20-year veteran of the sport, Frank owns an architectural woodworking business there, which puts him in a good position to build his own boats—he’s built two others. Resting on the dock after a long and hard three-race day on Saturday, he was obviously proud to be racing with the guys who helped him build the boat. "Everything you see here we built," said Frank. "We put those pedestals together, did the whole lay up, the foils, pretty much everything." Look Again is easily one of the most unusual boats on at this event, and Frank says the sole intent is speed. "I just wanted the fastest thing I could have. I love this boat. It’s just fun. It goes fast, and in sailing, fast is fun. Jib reaching is its best angle, and we’ve gotten it going 14 knots jib reaching before."

Frank and his 10-person crew had their best day in the stronger breeze on Saturday. "We had the most breakage today too. We blew up a spinnaker, broke a jibsheet, and lost the outhaul car. But that kind of carnage helps too. We had to deal with it. We put up the cruising spinnaker and kept going, so that was a good drill….We’re steadily improving, and we like that."

J/29 veteran John Esposito: "South Beach is just a great place."
Anyone who has spent time in the J/29 class on the East Coast is probably familiar with Hustler, one of the most well-traveled and dominant boats around. Her boisterous crew is a fixture on and off the racecourse. Owner-skipper John Esposito, a financial consultant from Yorktown Heights, NY, has sailed all his adult life, much of it with members of this crew, including his father. After Saturday’s racing, Esposito was hard-pressed for positive comments. Principally, he prefers one-design racing, but his boat was the only J/29 at this year’s Acura SORC. "Yeah, we’re the only ones foolish enough to sail PHRF," he joked. His team was also recovering from a gear-busting day on the water. The team broke an outhaul cable and the end of their spinnaker pole, as well as snapping a jibsheet. Esposito was chanting a well-recognized mantra about having to give up seconds a mile to other boats that finish well behind them.

"You sail a near perfect race and you get some guy correcting out on you from behind," he said. "And the downwind finishes hurt us because we’re the smallest boat so we’re not able to get the time back that we earn upwind." Despite those misgivings, Team Hustler was having a good regatta and a seemingly a good time. "We’re looking good for tomorrow, unless we break something else," said Esposito. "We’ve got the boat dialed in, but we went the wrong way twice today, and that hurt….It’s still a fun event," he said. "I mean South Beach is just a great place, we love coming here." The boys from New York ended up second in class, which must of made the long drive back to New York and into the teeth of this winter’s worst storm a little less painful.

Multihull designer and racer Peter Wormwood: "There’s just more diversity of boats here."
One of the aspects that distinguishes the Acura SORC from other grand-prix events is that it provides a home for multihull activity. This year eight boats participated, ranging in size from 26 to 42 feet. It was also the first year that the race committee chose to implement PHRF ratings for these tris and catamarans. Multihull designer and Acura SORC participant Peter Wormwood, who competed aboard a 35-foot catamaran that he designed for Bob Zuzzeli, says that the jury is still out on the success of that approach: "What we see in multihullls here is a real performance shift. For example, the biggest and the littlest boats here weren’t in the hunt in the light air, but wind the wind came up they were kicking everyone’s butt. So it’s hard to put a single number on that kind of performance.

Wormwood and the five-person team aboard Zuzzeli’s boat—Merlin—managed to tune their versatile ride well enough to hang tough in the broad range of conditions and win the event. "It’s really a quick cruising boat," he said, [in fact it does sport 60 square feet of teak deck], "but we managed to sail it well enough to win the regatta." He had just come off the water from a day where they sailed three races back to back in winds that approached 20 knots. "We did a lot of hull flying today, which is pretty wild. Even the 26 footer flew a hull….For me, this was a great learning opportunity. We don’t get a chance to sail this boat against such a strong caliber of boats and sailors that often. This kind of competition gives us a good benchmark for moving leads and trimming the sails. That’s the great thing about this event, there’s just more diversity of boats at the SORC. And, as a designer, that’s pretty good R and D."

With a raft of strong winds buffeting the palms along Miami Beach Marina mid afternoon on Sunday, the event wound down with a flurry of trophy presentations at Monty’s Bar. Bob Hughes’ 1D 35 Heartbreaker went home with the top overall honors, winning its class and the enormous silver bowl given annually to the top performer at the event. Jim Kilroy’s Farr 40 Samba Pa Ti narrowly snatched a victory in that 29-boat class by a quarter point. And the sailors you’ll never read about, the rank and file, they got their rewards too. As Wormwood put it, "Winning is nice, but it’s great just being here too."

Suggested Reading:

Racecourse Lessons from Key West by Dobbs Davis

A Kindler, Gentler SORC by Dan Dickison

Buying Guide: Spinnaker Poles

Dan Dickison is offline  
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