Cruisers and racers alike have long enjoyed a legacy of distance regattas across the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico to exotic ports first in Cuba and then Mexico, and crews from Texas were once a big part of this very active offshore racing scene. With races primarily staged out of Galveston Bay, crews made the trek to ports in Mississippi and Florida in the past, but the big daddy of the racing scene was always the race to Tampico, Mexico, which then morphed into the Regatta de Amigos that finished in Veracruz. However, with growing concern over the crime levels in northern Mexico and with declining participation, this regatta folded sails in 2010. Today, the largest successful offshore regatta is the 150nm Harvest Moon run by Lakewood Yacht Club, which treks the distance from Galveston to Port Isabel, Texas.
Several successful distance races run on the Northern Gulf Coast and from Florida, but the difficulty has always been finding ways to entice Texas’ racers and cruiser/racers to incorporate into these active offshore races due to the transit distances to the race starts. In 2012, the inaugural Galveston to Gulfport (Mississippi) race was run with the hope it could act as a feeder for the long-running Gulfport to Pensacola Regatta, but participation was low. Texas holds a huge stable of boats capable of sailing long distances, and the Northern Gulf Coast has discovered a renewed interest in the next generation of offshore sailors enticed by these adventures at sea. Texas race organizers need only to find the right formula to tap into this success.
Perhaps the most obvious solution would be to merge a start in Galveston into the Regata al Sol which runs every other year between Pensacola and Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Compensating for the differences in rhumb line distances, which has been accomplished by regattas on the East and West Coasts, this possibility should be on the table. The six- mile-long, rustic island off the coast of Cancun has the exotic allure to draw the adventurous, and it becomes a true sailor’s paradise as crews and racer chasers take over the white sand beaches after days on the electric blue waters of the Gulf—an additional fleet from Texas would be welcomed.
A possible long shot option, which has perhaps not been considered, would be a regatta from Galveston to New Orleans. With a very active racing scene, New Orleans
is often forgotten as a destination due to the perceived difficulty of transiting the Rigolets channel into Lake Pontchartrain. There are several pros and cons for this enterprise, but it should be considered given the distance and the real draw that New Orleans adds to any event.
Offshore racing participation has declined since the 1990s, but there is a keen interest in these adventures and the personal sense of accomplishment that it provides— especially among the next generation of sailors. Texas race organizers are actively looking for that right formula for success and should be applauded for their efforts, because Texans deserve something big to challenge them and ignite their offshore and competitive imaginations.
By Harlen Leslie, Southern Boating January 2015