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A conversation with Todd Stebleton about the biennial 2018 GulfStreamer Offshore Sailboat Challenge

by David Schmidt 21 May 08:00 PDT May 25-27, 2018
Yachts competing in the Gulfstreamer pass the Daytona Beach Main Street Pier en route to the finishing line off of Charleston, South Carolina © Image courtesy of the GulfStreamer Offshore Sailboat Challenge

For East Coast-based sailors, the Gulf Stream holds powerful sway over the imagination. Junior sailors hear wild-eyed tales of big winds and giant seas from their friends returning to the mainland from their first Bermuda Race, and plenty of experienced adult sailors have found themselves holding on for dear life as Gulf Stream waters wash over the decks. Of course, the vast majority of sailors who cross the Stream come back with tales of fantastic bluewater sailing, but rare is the passage that doesn’t leave the crew at least a little bit shaken, if not also properly stirred.

While the non-sailors amongst our ranks might balk at the thought of navigating such challenging waters, there’s a pointed reason that so many of us enjoy sailing in the Stream, namely because of its typically fresh conditions and the challenges of navigating its eddy-strewn flow.

Races such as the storied Newport Bermuda Race, the Marion to Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race, and the Annapolis Bermuda Race typically grab a lot of the Gulf Stream-related headlines, but the biennial GulfStreamer Offshore Sailboat Challenge (May 25-27, 2018), which is hosted by the Halifax River Yacht Club in Daytona Beach, Florida, and runs from Ponce Inlet, Florida to Charleston, South Carolina, offers a 226-nautical-mile racecourse that challenges offshore crews without sending them across wide swaths of blue.

Interestingly, the GulfStreamer is actually a race within a race, featuring the Brian Every Sprint Race, which runs some 10.6 nautical miles from Ponce Inlet to the Daytona Beach Main Street Pier, in addition to the macro-picture 226-nautical mile namesake race. While there’s no doubt that these races will keep competing sailors fully engaged, especially if the Gulf Stream is really ripping, the other cool thing about the GulfStreamer Offshore Sailboat Challenge is that spectators can enjoy good views of the racing action as the fleet sails from Ponce Inlet to the Main Street Pier (Hint: The Landshark restaurant will be hosting a viewing party on May 25).

I interviewed Todd Stebleton, coordinator of the 2018 GulfStreamer Offshore Sailboat Challenge, via email, to learn more about this exciting biennial offshore challenge.

Can you give me a 35,000’ overview of the race?

Open to sailboats thirty feet and over, the 2018 GulfStreamer is 225-mile race from Ponce Inlet (Daytona Beach area) to Charleston, South Carolina. It takes pace over Memorial Day weekend starting at 1400 on May 25.

The event is a race within a race, as the Brian Every Memorial Sprint Race is the first ten or so miles of the race from the Ponce Inlet Sea Buoy to the Daytona Beach Main Street Pier.

GulfStreamer participants are registered for both races while locals may participate in only the sprint portion of the race. Awards are given for both races.

How many boats are you expecting on your 2018 starting line, and how does this number compare to other recent years?

The damage caused by hurricanes Matthew and Irma have caused significant damage to our East Coast racing fleets, resulting in lower than average turnout this year. While we normally turn out 18-25 boats or more, we are only expecting about a dozen this year.

What kind of offshore conditions should participants be prepared for, or does the race change moods drastically, year-on-year?

We have experienced conditions from hours of flat calm in the Gulf Stream to shortened races due to tropical storms. Conditions can even vary greatly from boat to boat as much of the fleet will run off shore to the Gulf Stream to take advantage of the current and others will choose the rhumbline.

The warm temperatures of the Gulf Stream can create very different weather and wave patterns from the inshore portions of the course.

Of the ten trophies that will be contested, what do you see as the hardest win? Also, does the Perseverance Award go to the last straggler home or to the team that “came to terms with and overcame the most adversity”?

Typically, the performance or Spinnaker Division boats are the most competitive. These boats often race against one another at events up and down the Southeast Coast and battles can be hard fought. I don't mean to take anything away from the cruising division boats as these races often come down to just minutes between finishes once handicaps are applied.

The perseverance award has gone to boats overcoming adversity and boats challenging themselves to complete the race.

Every race has its own characteristics and it often becomes very clear who has earned this award.

Any advice for first-time GulfStreamer racers? What about for returning veterans?

I encourage anyone considering this race to just get out there and do it. Newcomers can benefit from knowing there are other racers in the area, and veterans know that tactics and weather are a huge factor in determining who wins this race.

Anyone who competes in and finishes this race is a winner.

What about onshore and evening entertainment—what do you guys have cooked-up for the racers?

Racers can expect a well-planned pre-race Rum Party, sponsored by Florida-based Code Rum, at Halifax River Yacht Club the evening of May 24th.

A skippers' meeting and breakfast for the crew is scheduled for May 25th and the awards Ceremony and party is scheduled at the Charleston Yacht Club for May 27th. The awards banquet includes a low-country boil.

Can you tell me about any steps that you and the other event organizers have done to reduce the regatta’s environmental footprint?

I regret we have not considered a partnership to increase environmental awareness with this event. We will make that a part of the 2020 GulfStreamer race.

Anything else that you’d like to add for the record about the 2018 GulfStreamer?

While the turnout this year is relatively low, enthusiasm is very high. We are looking forward to another great event this year.

If Mother Nature cooperates and delivers no future hurricanes, we expect the 2020 GulfStreamer to be a much bigger event.

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