St. Pete Yacht Club – Regata del Sol

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THE TRADITION CONTINUES

Regata del Sol al Sol Celebrates 50 Years of Sailing from St. Pete to Isla Mujeres

BY CINDY COCKBURN

It’s a beautiful time of year to set sail anywhere from the downtown St. Petersburg Yacht Club. Even better would be to join in on the club’s  international race to Mexico and head out to sea. The 50th anniversary of the Regata Del Sol al Sol takes place this year. On April 26, over 30  boats and hundreds of sailors who have registered to race to Isla Mujeres, Mexico, will leave from St. Petersburg on the 456-mile journey. This Regata starts at the Club and ends on a beautiful island in the Mexican Caribbean, just off the coast of Cancun.

And what a popular regatta it is. It all started in 1969.  The regatta has become what’s called a family tradition by loyal club members, “THE” bucket list Spring vacation to an idyllic tropical island for friends, family and participants of all ages.

It takes approximately three days to get to Mexico, depending on weather conditions, on boats averaging  35 to 45 feet and up.

 WHERE IT ALL STARTED

Rich in history and tradition, the St. Petersburg Yacht Club is one of the oldest yacht clubs in the United States. Established in 1909 and completely renovated in the early 1990s, the Club is located on the beautiful waterfront in downtown. A gathering place for avid boaters, it is also one of Tampa Bay’s most prestigious social venues.  While members enjoy a reputation for warm hospitality it’s the passion for world-class sailing that is the turn-on. Yes, they have two clubhouses between downtown and St. Pete Beach (SPYC at Pass-a-Grille) plus permanent boat slips and a swimming pool, but it’s the regattas that really have the most appeal to the members. 

“These Regattas offer members the chance to participate in a big way. We conduct over 15 per year,” explained membership director Susan Robertson.

SALTY SAILOR  

Fred Bickley has been a resident of St. Pete for 74 years and now lives on St. Pete Beach.  Fred raced in the 1970s in Newport, Rhode Island, known as the Sailing Capital of the World and even sailed with America’s Cup skipper Dennis Connor. He’s raced over ten times in the Isla Mujeres race,  but is not participating this year. He’s even won a few.

Bickley does enjoy his own 68-foot boat called Mango Latitudes.  “It’s an Irwin and I’ve owned her for ten years,” he claims proudly. She’s a beauty, and was even featured in a Hollywood movie!

He has been a member of the  St. Petersburg Yacht Club for almost 47 years, joining as a teenager. A native of St. Pete,  Bickley  knows a thing or so about racing . He explained the official name Sol al Sol literally means “racing from sunrise to the sunset”  in the Gulf of Mexico.  “I had a bigger boat and I won a number of these regattas,” he said.

This may be one of the few remaining family fun events in the yacht-racing world, but it can be very rough, says Bickley.  “The wind against the current causes big steep waves,” he explained.  “If you get on the wrong side of the current it can be treacherous.  The current is more critical than the wind. ”

ISLA MUJERES

Isla Mujeres is small (four miles long) and moves at a slower pace given its true island vibe.  Translated as  “Island of Women,”  Isla Mujeres  is a 20-minute ferry ride from Cancun. It is surrounded by some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and has not become over saturated with megaresorts and a raging nightlife scene like Cancun, says Bickley.  It has the perfect amount of charming beach bars and restaurants frequented by tourists from around the world. “Cancun didn’t exist when we started going there,” he added.

HISTORY OF THE REGATTA

In 1964, the past president of Mexico,  Miguel Aleman Valdez, then President of National Tourist Council, called together yachting principals from the Gulf Coast of the United States to meet.  In 1969,  the first race of Regata Del Sol al Sol was held,  organized by Past Commodore Tom Downs from the St. Petersburg Yacht Club and Rear Commodore Esteban Lima of the Isla Mujeres Yacht Club.  The Commodores of each of the yacht clubs at this time were Jack Clark of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club and  Vicente Erosa of the Isla Mujeres Yacht Club. The race is handicapped on the Performance Handicap Rating Formula for a distance of 500 nautical miles (now rated 456 KN) and is a navigator’s race in that the course crosses three major current complexes.

The hospitality of the Island of Isla Mujeres cannot be exceeded by any race destination. And the St. Petersburg sailors return the gesture.  A highlight of the event for many is the Regatta Amigos, the post-race sail around the “Island of Women.” The yachts are loaded with native youngsters having the time of their lives. Many of the children who raced many years ago are now leaders of the Island and all have many wonderful memories of this experience.

“One year I had 64 kids on my boat,” Bickley remembers.   “We had a variety of crew through the years, and my kids went with us a lot. I have been sailing all my life. My kids are better sailors then me!”