Snipe USA

Meet the Fleets: Fleet 801 St. Petersburg

December 18
10:24 2013

Early History

Fleet 801 was quite active in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Under the leadership of Bill and Sherry Welch, the fleet grew to about 30 local boats and hosted a number of national and world events. The most famous annual regatta was the Dead of Winter held between the Christmas holiday and New Year’s Day. Alas things change. The Welch’s moved away and the fleet lost it’s leadership. By the 2007-2008 season, there were only half a dozen active boats and no regular regattas were scheduled.

Recent history and growth

In 2009 a small group of Snipe sailors gathered in the parking lot and decided to revive the fleet. Since that time the fleet has rebounded and has grown steadily and we hope to get back to the membership of 20 years ago. Here are some things that seem to be working:

1.) The current fleet draws a lot of young sailors from local college and HS teams. Recruiting coaches and sailors who are already committed to competitive sailing is a winner. At this time, we typically have have 3 or 4 college and HS coaches sailing Snipes, and they often include their team members in the action. Out of the 44 (22 boats) competitors at the fall 2013 Florida State Championships, 19 were associated in some way with a local college team. The Fleet 801 Captain is Kevin Reali, the coach of the Eckerd College team. Of course, you sometimes have a kite board on the course for weekend racing!

2.) We advertise heavily on local bulletin boards, social media (Facebook), and with learn-to-sail classes. We leave copies of the US Snipe Sailor out at the sailing center for the taking, and they are always popular reading.

3.) Under the direction of Ernesto Sanchez, we built a 12-boat super trailer (picture) which has been very useful in taking the fleet all over the US and even to Puerto Rico and Mexico. The trailer is under repair, but it’s a winner for fleet building and we hope it is back in action soon.

4.) We have revived the old winter regatta and are trying to maintain traditions. The Gaspar Pirate regatta and Florida State Championships are regular regattas that we host every year, and that gives the fleet some calendar structure.

5.) We maintain a group of 3 to 5 loaner boats. These are older donated boats that sailors can use free or cheaply to introduce the Snipe to new folks. The loaner boats are heavily used and it’s a struggle to maintain them with volunteer help, but they are also a key to getting new sailors on the water. Our loaner boats have attended 3 of the last 4 US Nationals, the mid-winters, the Don Q, and sail in every local race.

Even with the new juniors growing the fleet, there is a core of master sailors who still keep things going. Chris/Antoinette Klotz, me (Steve Lang), and Ernesto Sanchez have regularly organized and participated for years. Another recent development in our fleet are the all-women’s crews. At the last Florida State Championships, there are six boats with women as skipper and crew. Our fleet is welcoming to the ladies, and that’s another area of fleet growth that is great. In fact, at that last regatta we also had one father-son, one father-daughter, one brother-sister, and four married couples. It’s easy to see that the Snipe class is still the most versatile competitive one-design for all ages and combinations of sailors in the world. If there’s any downside, the fleet social activities are a bit interesting since the younger crowd wants a different kind of party than the traditional group is used to, but fun is fun and everyone seems to be adapting.

In recent years, we’ve hosted the Women’s Worlds and we plan to host the US Masters next year. Our fleet goal is to host a major national or international regatta every two years.

Sailing Area

Our fleet is hosted by the St. Petersburg Yacht Club on Tampa Bay. This is a wonderful place to sail! You can sail year-round, but the best sailing is in the winter-spring when sea breezes are steady and predictable. In the summer we sail late in the day, usually after the thunderstorms reside and many starts are as late as 6 PM (picture). In the fall, the weather is dependent on fronts moving through from the north-west, so winds are variable and temperatures ranges from cool (50’s F) to warm (80’s). Even then, the water temperature rarely gets below 65 F. From February to May, sea breezes kick in from the west almost every day with the strongest breeze in March and April. Usually, our club hosts a major regatta every weekend from Valentine’s Day through mid-May. The biggest problem for our fleet at that time of year is getting our share of days with access to the water with the crowded waterfront.

Regional Activity

St. Pete has benefited by working with other fleets in the D4 district of the US. There is good communication with fleets in Miami, Jacksonville, Charleston, Birmingham, and Atlanta. All the fleets encourage travel to each others regattas and try to coordinate dates with each other.

There’s no question that a fleet has to be organized, but they also gain a lot by working with other fleets. Of course, the Miami fleet has had terrific leadership for many years from the Old Man, Augie Diaz, and now Kathleen Tocke, so we often look to them for help and advice.

Fortunately, it’s easy to travel here by car or plane and St. Petersburg is a thriving tourist destination for vacations. We have lots of hotels and entertainment, so there’s good reason to come here in the winter for sailing while taking time for sight-seeing other other fun.

Steve Lang, D4 Governor

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