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An interview with Sara Zanobini about the 2020 Bacardi Cup Invitational Regatta

by David Schmidt 1 Mar 08:00 PST March 1-7, 2020
2019 Bacardi Cup Invitational Regatta © Martina Orsini

When the conversation turns to historic East Coast regattas, the Bacardi Cup Invitational Regatta always makes the list of the most prominent events, given that it first offered racing for Star class boats in 1927. Moreover, the regatta has long offered Corinthian sailors the opportunity to hit the starting line at pace while racing against some of the world’s most elite sailors.

Interestingly, the regatta was first contested on Cuban waters before migrating to Miami in 1962, thanks to the fine work of legendary sailors Ding Schoonmaker, a seven-time Bacardi Cup winner, and Frank Zagarino, who took top honors in 1969. (N.B., both Schoonmaker and Mark Reynolds have won the event seven times, making them the most decorated Bacardi Cup sailors in history.)

While the regatta was initially limited to the Star class, it now also welcomes J/70, Melges 24, Viper 640, VX One, Windfoil and AV8 sailors. That said, even today, in its post-Olympics state, the venerable Star class still enjoys the most entries and the highest competition level at this historic regatta.

I checked in with Sara Zanobini, event organizer of the 2020 Bacardi Cup Invitational Regatta (March 1-7), via email, to learn more about this year’s event.

Can you give us an update on what’s new with the Bacardi Cup Invitational Regatta for 2020?

Most importantly, the Bacardi Invitational Regatta continues to be amongst the most important events in North America and the Bacardi Cup holds unique appeal as one of the most historic regattas in the world. The level of competition is exceptionally high, with the race tracks showcasing many of the sailing’s biggest stars from around the world who face off against weekend warriors and amateur racers.

Brand new for 2020 are the kite boarders, windsurfers and [the] VXOne [One design class]. But equally, we aim to build on the long tradition of the event in the Star Class and maintain and evolve the heady mix of outstanding racing and memorable pre- and post-race fun, which are at the heart of the Bacardi Invitational Regatta and Bacardi Cup.

Sailors come and race with us because they not only want to be part of one of the sport’s oldest and most esteemed regattas, but we also blend in an exceptional sense of occasion and atmosphere which are a core part of the appeal.

There really is something for everyone here at the Bacardi Invitational Regatta and Bacardi Cup – across the style and level of racing on offer and the post-race fun and entertainment and whether you are a newbie racer or hardcore professional this is a bucket list event.

How many boats have been invited from each of the participating classes? And how many of these invitations do you expect to result in boats on the starting line, once the starting guns begin to sound?

We are enjoying record attendances year-on-year, and for 2020 [we] have invited seven classes. We invite the class to come and race and then teams are welcome to sign up and enter online.

We [currently] have over 165 entries from nineteen nations and we can expect those numbers to grow.

As always, the Star Class attracts the biggest line-up and we expect over sixty-five boats. Next up will be around thirty-five boats in both the J/70 and Melges 24 classes, around twenty-five in the Viper 640, and as new classes for 2020 we plan to host around ten VXOnes and fifteen entries in each of the AV8 and Windfoil fleets.

Is this the first year that kiteboarders and windsurfers will be participating in this regatta?

Yes, it is the first year. We’ve been thinking about adding a foiling circle for a while.

This year, during one of the Cabrinha AV8 demo regattas, we got talking and they were thrilled about the idea of coming to sail with the ‘big boys’ in their yachts. Foiling is exciting, fresh and young, and Bacardi wants to support this new group of competitors and massively popular growth area of the sport. These classes will head to the race track for three days of racing from 5-7 March.

What kind of competition levels can visiting sailors expect to encounter at the 2020 Bacardi Cup? Also, what classes do you think will offer the stiffest levels of competition?

Most importantly, the event remains firmly loyal to the initial concept of being open to all, with the sport’s Olympic medalists, World Champions and legends on the same starting line as talented enthusiasts and amateurs. We are proud of our heritage as one of the few headline events where you don’t have to be a world beater to compete and everyone is welcome to come and race.

We will welcome numerous pros across all the classes and every fleet will feature hard racetrack battles as the reputations run deep and the line-up so far features plenty of super talented names hoping to triumph.

As the origin of the event, the venerable lady is the Star Class, which predictably will attract the biggest line-up. The Bacardi Cup honors list is a roll call of celebrities of Star Class racing and since 1927 forty-four different skippers have claimed the illusive crown. In 2020, some formidable Star Class racing will see rivals attempt to dethrone Eric Doyle and Payson Infelise of the USA who racked up a convincing win in 2019. To list just a few of the big names, we will have sailors such as Paul Cayard, Xavier Rohart, Augie Diaz, Skip Dieball, Mateusz Kusznierewicz, Bruno Prada, Diego Negro, John Dane and Anthony O’Leary all fighting it out for glory.

The J/70 fleet has plenty of teams who can take the crown, as we have already seen at the two warm-up events over the winter, with totally different top-three standings at each event. From those leaderboards, I think we can expect the likes of the teams headed up by Joel Ronning, Ryan McKillen, John Heaton, Trey Sheehan and Pamela Rose to be well up there. But equally, some of the newer teams such as Great Britain’s JOLT, which includes plenty of Olympic talent on board could pack a punch and change the leaderboard guard, and of course the reigning J/70 World Champion, Paul Ward, will no doubt set the race track rivalry stakes.

In the Melges 24 fleet, both the reigning silver and bronze World Championship medalists will be on the start line, along with the best two overall finishers from the two warm-up events here in Miami over the winter, Bora Gulari and Travis Weisleder, who will resume their neck and neck performance.

Last year’s champion in the Viper 640, Mary Ewenson, returns to defend her title but will have to go through some tough opposition to be on top, and we look forward to welcoming plenty of new talent across the VXOne, AV8 and Windfoil where some new heroes will be born.

The event is simply fantastic racing, outstanding Bacardi hospitality, unforgettable experiences and an event where lifetime friendships are sealed.

How many racecourses will be operating simultaneously? Also, how many races per day (and for the entire regatta) does the race committee hope to run per day, provided that the weather cooperates?

There will be a total of four race courses operating simultaneously, with the Star Class racing on a dedicated track and course sharing for Melges 24 and J70, Viper and VXOne, and finally AV8 and Windfoil.

The whole Miami water front works together to be able to pull this off. We can count on some of the best Race Committees teams Miami can offer! A massive thank you to all the volunteers and PROs from Coral Reef Yacht Club, Biscayne Bay Yacht Club, Shake a leg and the US Sailing Center for helping us pull this off. Following Bacardi Cup protocols, we will have three highly experienced international judges sitting on the jury.

What kinds of evening and onshore entertainment can sailors expect?

After racing the shore-side action comes to life. As always, the hospitality on shore will be fun and entertaining and if you are a sailor, Miami is the best place to be in March. Post-race après parties hosted by the legendary Bacardi family and Bacardi Rum brand ensures the fun continues long into the evening with spectacular nightly music and band entertainment.

Sailors, volunteers, the Bacardi brand and fans all mix it up in a week of top-level sport and entertainment as everyone contributes to making this event outstandingly special, culminating with the prize giving on Saturday, March 7, as a fitting finale.

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 reduce its environmental footprint?

The biggest step we have taken towards a cleaner regatta is stopping the use of straws in our cocktails. We have also switched to fully recyclable materials for all our plates, cutlery and glasses, [we] provide reusable water bottles to all competitors, and [we will] run a waste management program.

The organizing committee and Bacardi are fully committed to reducing the event’s environmental impact and playing our part to support a more sustainable world.

Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

Since its inception in 1927, the Bacardi Cup has proved massively popular and swiftly became an iconic event that sailors dream of competing at and set their eyes on winning. The thrill of standing atop the podium and sipping the smooth Bacardi rum from the winner’s trophy has become a lifelong mission for many.

The Bacardi Cup and Bacardi Invitational Regatta really are an annual celebration of sailing and a key date on the international sailing calendar. The Bacardi Cup has particularly unique appeal and we are excited to celebrate its 93rd Anniversary in 2020, and have started the countdown to 2027 when the Bacardi Cup will celebrate its 100th Anniversary.

We are always very conscious of looking to the future as much as we are celebrating the past, and our aim is to continue to expand the Bacardi Invitational Regatta to represent and embrace a broad cross-section of the sport.

The longstanding partnership with Bacardi enhances the event and particularly the post-race ambience and nightly entertainment and we remain proud of the strength of the event and that the Bacardi family is committed to the sport of sailing.

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