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An interview with John McCarthy about the 2019 Southern Bay Race Week

by David Schmidt 23 May 08:00 PDT May 31-June 1, 2019
PHRF action at the Southern Bay Race Week involving Truculent Turtle and Cheeky Monkey © Image courtesy of Southern Bay Race Week / PhotoBoat

While stereotypes don't always match reality, one historically consistent prevailing breeze involves Southern hospitality. True, this friendly and welcoming attitude can apply to almost every facet of Southern life, but the event organizers at the annual Southern Bay Race Week (May 31-June 1) take special pride in calling out the fact that “visitors from near and far are treated as cherished friends from the minute they begin the entry process to when they head for home.”

Couple this welcoming and friendly attitude with the regatta’s reputation for great handicap (PHRF), One Design, and cruising-class racing, and the Southern Bay Race Week, which is hosted by the Hampton Yacht Club, the Cruising Club of Virginia, and the Old Point Comfort Yacht Club, reveals itself as a great time waiting to happen.

Racing is open to boats longer than 20-feet, stem to stern post, and One Design classes will include J/70s, Viper 640s, J/24s, and any other class with more than five boats registered prior to May 16. Multihulls are also welcome to participate (more Southern hospitality), provided they have a valid Chesapeake Multihull Association rating.

I checked in with John McCarthy, who has served as the Southern Bay Race Week’s principal race officer since 2005, via email, to learn more about this classic Chesapeake Bay regatta.

How many boats are you expecting at this year’s Southern Bay Race Week? Also, how does this compare to the numbers and the competition levels that you have seen in recent years?

The past several years we’ve been stable at 90-100 boats and this year the entries are running right on that pace. We have a loyal following and they keep coming back.

What are the best-case and worst-case scenarios in terms of weather? Also, what is it about these conditions (wind direction, wind speed, wave height, etc.) relative to the course that inspires your answers?

Seven years ago a tornado hit the regatta site at night and wiped-out the entire event after one day of racing. Let’s hope that’s the worst case.

Best case is three days of 8 to 12 knots. That’s optimum because all the sailors are comfortable and just having fun racing their brains out.

How would you describe the culture of the regatta to someone who hasn’t yet had the chance to come and compete?

We describe our regatta as Southern Hospitality–Southern Bay Race Week-style. The racers come first on and off the water, we take that very seriously, and they know it. That’s why they keep coming back.

What kinds of course shapes are the Race Committee likely to set? Mostly Windward-Leewards, or will competitors be tested with triangles and/or courses that employ islands and other natural/physical features?

The One Design classes do three days of windward-leewards. Those guys would have a heart attack if you gave them anything else.

The PHRF guys get two days of windward-leewards, but on Saturday we mix in our unique distance race in the Bay that finishes off the historic Fort Monroe seawall. There is a picture of an Southern Bay Race Week boat coming to the finish under spinnaker and seemingly racing a nuclear powered submarine returning to port.

Do you have any advice or insider tips that you’d like to share with first-time racers? What about returning racecourse veterans?

To our new and returning racers alike we say, “cast off all your cares and woes . . .”, come to race all day and party all night–you’ll fit right in.

What kinds of onshore/evening entertainment has been planned for non-racing hours?

First, understand we make our entire Hampton Yacht Club available to everyone. From the clubhouse itself to the regatta tent right outside the front door, everyone is welcome.

Each day starts with a buffet breakfast, moves on to the water [for] the day’s of racing, and ends with awards, food, and adult beverages in the regatta tent–all accompanied by live music each night.

Our newest and already most popular feature are our nightly Beer Raffles where numbered beer cans corresponding to the boats’ bow numbers are pulled from a tub of ice and prizes are awarded accordingly.

Can you tell us about any steps that you and the other event organizers have taken in the last couple years to help green-up the regatta or otherwise lower its environmental wake?

As good citizens of the Chesapeake Bay we all subscribe to the tenants of the well-known Chesapeake Bay Foundation ( In addition, this year we have gone all electronic in hopes of saving some trees along the way.

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