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A conversation with Hans Evers about the 2020 Miami to Key Largo Race

by David Schmidt 27 May 08:00 PDT May 30, 2020
Racecourse action at the Miami to Key Largo Race © Image courtesy of the Miami to Key Largo Race/Scott B. Smith

It’s a big deal when a sailboat race matures to the point of celebrating its 65th anniversary, however it’s a sad day when that proud anniversary is impacted by outside forces. This year marks the 65th anniversary of the Miami to Key Largo Race (May 30; MKL) and all systems were a go for a two-day celebratory event, complete with a night of partying. That was, of course, until the emergence of the novel coronavirus, a true scourge on humanity that has cost hundreds of thousands of innocent lives, triggered historic levels of economic disruption and stay-at-home suffering, and—much less importantly but still of significant consequences to dedicated sailors—caused many regatta organizers to cancel sailboat races.

Fortunately for sailors desperate to get a racing fix, the MKL event organizers have decided to move forward with the event, but with significant amounts of social distancing and a revised course baked into the cake.

For starters, the event was initially postponed until late May. Secondly, the skipper’s meeting will be done virtually. Instead of a weekend of racing with an overnight in Key Largo, racers will instead sail a 24 nautical mile course that begins just south of Miami’s Rickenbacker Causeway to the Featherbed Bank and back to the starting area.

Finally, instead of celebrating the event's 65th anniversary in 2020, the race is instead billing the 2020 running as its 64 1/2 anniversary event, with all eyes looking to 2021 for the regatta's official 65th anniversary celebrations.

This event is open to a wide variety of vessels, ranging from offshore-worthy monohulls and multihulls to simple beach catamarans such as Hobie 16s to foiling Nacra F20s and A-Cats, and the race promises big-grin fun for all involved, both on and off the water. I checked in with Hans Evers, race chair of the 2020 Miami to Key Largo Race, via email, to learn more about this exciting weekend of sailboat racing on the waters off of the Sunshine State.

Can you tell us about the culture of the MKL Race? Also, how has the event changed over the course of its proud 65-year history?

The culture of the MKL has always been a FUN race with many different types of boats and racers. At the beginning it was primarily a multihulls and beach cat race. Until the late 70’s the race was scheduled in late August, and was a shake-out race for the other famous multihull long-distance regattas such as the MUG race, the Steeplechase, the Worrell 1000 race and the Tybee 500.

During its heydays the beach-cat fleet would have a fleet of 100 - 150 catamarans and = would take up the entire beach on Virginia Key from the Rickenbacker Bridge to the Miami Seaquarium. The beach became known and is now still referred to as “Hobie Beach”. It’s a about a mile long and would be covered with cats two deep. The total fleet would be 250 big those days.

It was also a regatta where many boats were customized specifically for the race. There was lots of experimentation and engineering going on with home-made cats all in an effort to go lighter and faster and set a course record. For example, Fred Gallow designed a wood cat named Paper Doll. Also a 20-22’ cat named Upside Down. This was especially the case in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Someone designed a Quadra Cat, [which was] a cat with four hulls.

Cat sailors would come from New York, Ohio, Virginia and Maryland and often would stay for several weeks to do a series of the races here. People would add bigger masts, side racks, etc.

Jim William modified his monohull ESCOW just for the MKL by adding extra trapezes just to finish first.

At the time there would be one start for the entire fleet. These days we have two start lines….one for monohulls and one for multihulls.

The race was also always known as a party race, and [it] still is. There would be lots of partying at the end of the Saturday Race, with everyone beached, moored or on the docks at the Anchorage Resort & Yacht Club and Gilbert’s Resort on the South end of Jew Fish Creek. Beach cats used to be able to pull out on the beach at Glibert’s and use the large parking lot to put cats back on trailers for the trip back to Miami or elsewhere. Since 2017 Glibert’s has changed their beach layout and has gotten so busy that they do not allow that to happen and so beach cats now have to go a few miles further South to the Caribbean Club on Key Largo to use the boat ramp to pull out. Many people will reserve dock space and/or hotel rooms at these resorts a year in advance.

The event has changed quite a bit [over the years]. Fleet size is about less than one-third of our heyday and the cats make up only one-third of the total fleet. It has become more limited to local sailors from the Miami metro area and South Florida. There is less experimentation and modifications of boats. But it is still one of the largest race fleets in Biscayne Bay and still a ton on fun and a big event here. Many sailors look forward to this race and many have sailed it for decades and never miss a year!

How many boats do you hope to see on the starting line of this year’s regatta, once the starting guns begin sounding? And are you expecting a bump in participation given this year’s 65th anniversary?

Last year we had 80 boats registered and 72 raced. Twenty of those were beach cats and we had three dinghies. We had nine Corsairs, which is a consistently solid class of around 10 boats. The 2019 fleet was a bit bigger fleet than the years before and we had hoped for a fleet of 90 this year since we’ve done more promotion, started earlier and made it a two-leg race since 2018.

We were also expecting extra interest due to the 65th anniversary. We had hoped to get some major sponsorship but that fell apart with the pandemic. We would love to see a major sponsor make this their annual race…we have even offered naming rights for that! The pandemic and postponement to May 30 have of course impacted those numbers. As of May 25th, we have 42 boats registered and we expect a total of 50 in the end. Miami Yacht Club’s goal is to get the fleet up to and over 100 again in the near future and to keep it there. We do see lots of interest in foiling platforms and want to make the race more attractive to foilers such as the A-Cats, the Narca 17s and 20s and the new iFLY15s. We expected a small fleet of foiling kite surfers to join this year, but that is now postponed to 2021. It seems that is the direction of much of the racing activities all over.

What kinds of boats and sailors does the race tend to attract?

Lots of top-notch cat sailors of National and International repute. Also, many local cat sailors who are less competitive but love this race. Many of the Catamaran Association of Biscayne Bay sailors join this race These days mostly in Hobie 16s and 20s, but also on F16s and F18s and Inter20s. Some foiling A Cats and the occasional windsurfer, but also Stiletto’s and RC20s to 30s and Supercats.

As mentioned before we see a solid Corsair class each year.

Monohulls which make up the bulk of the fleet nowadays range from serious local racers but mostly local sailors who love the spectacle and fun of this race and the camaraderie and partying at the end. They have fun during the race and may even have a beer and wine before crossing the finish line!

J27’s, J30’s, Tripp 33...Tartans, and a range of cruising boats, Beneteaus, Fountaine Pajots, Hunters, etc.

What kinds of social-distancing practices will the event enforce?

We have a virtual skippers meeting via Zoom and will share all racing docs via email and via yachtscoring.

Packet pick will be done curbside at the club with a mostly contactless process. Volunteer staff will practice social distancing and wear masks and gloves.

The Race Committee boat is owned and operated by our PRO, Carol Ewing, and will be manned by family members -no need for social distancing there. The mark boat will be a similar set-up.

The NOR and SIs will specify that all boats and crews MUST comply with all CDC and local directives regarding social distancing and maximum crew size, etc.

Will there be any limits to the number of crew that can be on each boat?

Yes, we will follow CDC guidelines:

—Boats 25 feet or less: Four adults maximum, plus children. Maximum of eight on the boat.

—Boats 26 to 36 feet: Six adults maximum, plus children. Maximum of 10 on the boat.

—Boats 37 feet or greater: Eight adults maximum, plus children. Maximum of 10 on the boat.

—No boat shall exceed the maximum capacity of persons per "maximum capacity label." Children must be 17 and under.

How will this affect the race’s party aspects? Or, given the overall sailing landscape in the year 2020, is everyone more focused on the racing than the partying?

As specified in the NOR, we will have a virtual award ceremony via Zoom on June 13th. Medals only…no trophies this year.

Once the COVID situation has changed and CDC and local guidelines allow for a party at the club, we will host one. It will be outside on the patio and grass with appropriate social-distancing rules as required at that time.

What’s the standing course record, and—looking at this year’s scratch sheet—are you seeing any potential history-book disruptors?

Course record was set in 1989 at 1hr 44 mins by Bill Roberts on his RC27 Out of Sight sailed with his son Eric and Peter Zboyan. They clocked an average [speed of] of 26 knots over 42-mile course.

The fast beach cats…the F18s, Marstrom 20s and foiling I20s we had participate two years ago can easily do the course in 2 hours – 2 1/2 hours in the right wind conditions. Kenny Pierce, on his Stiletto 27, often leads the non-foiling pack.

When the race was a single day/leg, the beach cats would often turn around and sail back. A few years ago, on my Hobie 20, Brian Hollenbeck and I did the race in about 2:25. After finishing we went through Jew Fish Creek and showered and had lunch at Glibert’s Resort and then sailed back in about 2:40. Many others have done the same and continue to do so now.

Last year our winds were mild and the one leg in an F18 took 4+ hours.

The fastest monohull course record was set by John Williams on Escowl, but I’m not sure of date and time.

These days the fastest monohulls are in the ORC Division with boats like Senara, a Farr 395 sailed by Eamonn deLisser, Relentless, a Salona 35 skippered by Oscar Valdes. Main Squeeze and Man O War, both Tripp 33’s skippered by Mark Kamilar and Gavin Heale (respectively).

Last year with the lower winds in the 10-knot range, the fastest monohulls finish with the beach cats in about 4 hours. My H20 went over the line just behind Senara, and they towed us through Jew Fish Creek.

There are no obvious disruptors this year—except the A-Class foiling cats if they get ideal wind conditions. Brett Moss and Ben Hall may give Eric Roberts on his RC 30 a run for his money.

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?

I’m sorry to say that we have done nothing along those lines. We’re open to suggestions.

The format for the organization and promotion has stayed mostly the same, except that things have become more digitally oriented. We have not printed a race brochure for a number of years, but that is mostly due to reduced sponsorships and not a conscious effort to be more green.

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

We are very excited to be out racing again and feel confident that this will be a great race! It is the first major race in Biscayne Bay since the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. Come join us April 24 and 25, 2021 for the 65th Anniversary Regatta!

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