Ah, the Tampa to Naples race, what an incredible experience it was. Our journey began as we set sail from Marco Island at 4 PM on a Wednesday. Earlier that day, we had meticulously prepared for the voyage, gathering groceries, cleaning the boat’s bottom, and ensuring everything was in order.
As we sailed through the cut towards Marco Island, we encountered an unexpected obstacle—the dredging barge, blocking our path. I made a mental note that it would still be there when we returned.
With the dredging barge behind us, we set our course towards Tampa, strategically placing a waypoint about 2 miles offshore of Sanibel Island. The sea conditions were calm, and a gentle north wind barely graced us. As the sun began to set, we were treated to a magnificent display of colors painting the sky.
Our journey along the coast continued, with each of us taking turns on two-hour watches. The delivery itself was uneventful but enjoyable, and we reached the Davis Island Yacht Club late on Thursday morning. Let me emphasize just how accommodating and welcoming the club was—they truly were the best!
It was a Thursday afternoon, and the club was buzzing with excitement for the upcoming Thursday evening races. There must have been at least 150 people present. A skippers meeting was held, for the Tampa to Naples race both in person and via Zoom, ensuring everyone was well-informed about the race details.
The morning of the race arrived, and we eagerly departed from the dock, heading towards the starting mark. To make the most of the light air conditions, we decided to test our spinnaker skills. It was a good decision, as it helped us navigate the initial part of the race smoothly. After some adjustments and fine-tuning, we reached the starting mark.
The Spinnaker boats started in a riot of colorful sails. We followed suit, starting about 15 minutes later, (though we might have been over the line a bit early, having to return). Nevertheless, we picked up speed and began blasting down the bay, sailing at around 2 to 3 knots.
As we approached the Skyway Bridge, a significant change in wind direction—a big header—forced us to take down the spinnaker. Undeterred, we maneuvered our way through the bridge and ventured out towards the sea buoy. With the wind intensifying to 17 knots on a close reach, we experienced exhilarating speed, averaging almost 9 knots. Around 4:45 PM, we reached the sea buoy. Excitedly, we hoisted the spinnaker again and embarked on a starboard jibe, sailing consistently at 9 1/2 to 10 1/2 knots.
However, just as we settled into our rhythm, the wind changed direction, lifting us 20° off course. It felt as though we were headed towards Mexico, with winds blowing at 25 knots.
Worried about potential damage to the spinnaker, we quickly doused it and jibed over to a port jib reach, with the wind now on our beam. It was a thrilling ride, sailing at 9 to 11 1/2 knots, occasionally catching exhilarating surfs along the way.
Meanwhile, NoName was closing in. They skillfully rounded the sea buoy, reefing their main and later the jib as the wind picked up. I heard Jerry say that they had never seen a boat move that fast before. As the wind moderated, they removed the reefs and continued their race.
Back on Dragon Fly Plus, the sailors encountered a patch of light air near Sanibel, but the wind picked up once they entered the bay. Passing a couple of spinnaker boats due to our longer waterline, we raced ahead, our excitement building. Finally, at 4:42 AM, we crossed the finish line, completing the race.
Filled with a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie, the sailors attended the awards party, expecting a modest gathering. To their surprise, a crowd of around 125 people had gathered, creating an atmosphere of celebration and friendship. Stories of the race were shared, forging connections among the sailors and fostering a sense of unity.
It was a truly remarkable event to be a part of, leaving lasting memories and a yearning for new sailing adventures in the hearts of all who participated.