Havana was the exotic port of choice for international regattas from the Gulf Coast for much of the 20th century, but the Cuban Revolution and archaic American policies have mostly kept this out of reach. Today, two distance regattas carry on the legacy of distance racing across the Gulf of Mexico but now with their destination the rustic Mexican tropical island of Isla Mujeres off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Sailing from Pensacola and St. Petersburg, Florida, these are must-do events for any Gulf Coast racer or cruiser worth his salt and seeking adventure.
In the early 1960s, shrewd Mexican government officials saw an opening with the closing of Cuba to Americans and approached the Southern Yacht Club of New Orleans to co-host a distance regatta. Having seen the growth of American tourism in Acapulco after the creation of a regatta from San Diego—and with an eye on developing the Yucatan Peninsula, which consisted almost solely of coconut plantations—the first Regata al Sol ran from New Orleans to Isla Mujeres in 1965. The regatta eventually moved to Pensacola and was followed in 1969 by the Regata del Sol al Sol, which starts in St. Petersburg.
The massive Loop Current is the dominant feature for any regatta crossing the deep, electric blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Steaming north at 4+ knots from the straits between Mexico and Cuba before making a giant upside-down U pattern in the Gulf, this current and the distance define the strategy for the two races. From Pensacola, the rhumb line runs directly into the current and sailors must play the eddies and vortices it throws off. This complexity makes the race significantly longer than the official distance of 555 nm and tends to recruit truer racing and racer/cruiser crews. The approach from St. Petersburg is much less challenging and 100 nm shorter in distance. Sailors use the downward pull of the eastern current to give them an extra kick south and as such, the St. Petersburg Regatta tends to pull in a good mix of racers and cruisers.
Click to Subscribe