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An interview with Sara Zanobini on the 2021 Bacardi Cup Invitational Regatta

by David Schmidt 3 Mar 08:00 PST March 7-13, 2021
2020 Bacardi Cup Invitational Regatta - Day 3 © Martina Orsini

While the promise of spring's arrival hangs in the air, the reality is that it's still winter in North America and competitive One Design sailing is still a ways over the horizon for most sailors. Enter the classic Florida regattas, which offer a reprieve from Old Man Winter and the chance to line up against other skippers and crews for some great racing. Many late-winter and early spring events have been cancelled due to the still-churning coronavirus, but some regattas, including the Bacardi Cup Invitational Regatta (March 7-13), have decided to press on, albeit with stringent COVID-19 precautions in place.

For sailors, these precautions place even more focus on the racing, as all evening and shoreside activities have wisely been cancelled.

But, for the devoted, the chance to sail on warm water and in (hopefully) good breeze against other talented teams is well worth the extra precautions and trimmed-down nightlife.

I checked in with Sara Zanobini, event organizer of the 2021 Bacardi Cup Invitational Regatta, via email, to learn more about this competitive One Design regatta.

What kind of entry numbers are you seeing this year? Also, how do these stack up to previous editions of the regatta?

We are not in normal times, so logically entries have been slower than past years as COVID-19 redefines what we can do.

A lot of competitors are holding off entering until the last minute, as they wait to see how the worldwide situation evolves over the coming weeks. Because of COVID-19 and to enable distancing we were forced to limit entries for the first time to 40 [boats] for the Star Class and 25 [boats] per fleet for each of the J/70 and Melges 24 classes.

We also had no option but to cancel racing for the Viper 640 and VX One classes. Whilst the sailors are disappointed, we really appreciate the understanding they have shown for our decision. Yacht clubs are only permitting members at their venues and public facilities are operating at a reduced fifty-percent capacity, so we have to work around restrictions to keep everyone safe.

With travel bans still in place do not expect to see any competitors from Europe, South America or Canada.

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter on Biscayne Bay in March? Also, what are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

Typical Biscayne Bay conditions in March showcase the best of Miami with beautiful warm days and good breeze-that's what sailors come here to enjoy.

Over the years we've always had a mix of everything and there may of course be days with no wind and days when it gets a bit extreme. This year, we are hoping for good sailing conditions for all races as we all just want to enjoy being out on the race track.

In the ideal world, how many races do you and the other organizers hope to score? Also, how many races will you run per day?

Following tradition, the Star class always contests one long endurance race per day, with six races scheduled over the six-day event. The other classes contest [three] back-to-back [daily races] over three days for a total of nine races.

So, of course, we hope to complete a full series, but we are flexible to the weather and can play catch up for any missed races.

You've helped organize a fair number of big regattas—can you describe the difficulty level in organizing this year's Bacardi Cup compared to previous year?

To put it simply, it has been challenging.

At the start of our season in September 2020 we were hopeful for some light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, and so we took the decision to not pre-empt and not cancel any events. However, we knew we might be forced to adjust our plans so [we] kept sailors regularly informed of all options we were considering.

But, we felt that if we could we would proceed within the very strict COVID-19 restrictions as it is important for sailing to continue despite the global pandemic.

Over the five months' since, we have worked hard on developing our COVID-19 rules and protocols, and [we] introduced multiple safety procedures to safeguard our sailors, Race Committee, staff, and the wider [Miami] community.

Obviously organizing and running a big regatta amidst a global pandemic isn't easy. Can you tell us about the biggest logistical and organizational hurdles that you've had to clear to make this happen?

The biggest challenge has been requesting negative COVID-19 tests from participants in a timeframe of 72 hours prior to onsite registration, as well as the associated paperwork to enforce the protocol.

We introduced this requirement for our Winter Series events, and [we] will continue the protocol again for [this regatta].

Competitors have been incredible in working with us to follow the procedures and submit all the necessary documents. This precaution has produced at least five positive COVID-19 tests for sailors who showed no symptoms and were asymptomatic, thereby preventing them from traveling to Miami and possibly passing on the virus. We are really grateful for the co-operation with the sailors in taking every precaution.

What kinds of safe-play pandemic tactics are you expecting from the racers on the water? Also, what kind of shoreside COVID-19 precautions will the Coral Reef Yacht Club employ?

It will be sensible for all sailors to be wearing masks and I believe this will happen.

From our side, we are making every attempt to minimize contact shoreside, amongst some of the interventions, skippers meetings will be virtual, all social events have been cancelled and we will have contactless pick-up of lunch packs.

In the boat park, we have social distancing in place and one-way systems and I expect sailors to only hang out with team members or people they know very well and who have been isolating themselves and head back to their hotels and accommodation immediately after racing to limit contact.

Although the usually hotly anticipated Bacardi social events have been cancelled, sailors will not miss out as we will be handing out Bacardi make-at-home cocktail kits. Whilst not quite the same as the iconic Bacardi bar, which will be sorely missed, we know teams will have fun being their own cocktail mixologists.

Lots of big regattas have had to cancel their events due to COVID-19. How confident are you that you and the other organizers will be able to successfully hold this regatta, given the size and severity of the pandemic?

Firstly, no event organizer can be confident of anything going ahead, and we are staying closely in touch with all relevant authorities nationally and in Miami, as well as the host clubs.

Equally, we are keeping all sailors informed with regular updates, directly and via social media and if necessary, we will of course take the decision to cancel the regatta. However, we are doing everything possible to ensure all participants stay safe and comply with our COVID-19 Rules and protocols which, as per the Notice of Race, all sailors and those involved in the event are required to follow as part of their entry to the Bacardi Cup Invitational Regatta.

Based on the Winter Series events, the level of compliance was outstanding, so we are confident all sailors will band together and play their part in keeping everyone safe.

Sailors are so grateful we have decided to not cancel and I know will be making extra efforts to focus on being careful. We have also partnered with MarkSetBot, the robotic mark-placement system, and Sail 22, providing online services and logistics support, and consequently have reduced the amount of people and associated risk for those on the Race Committee.

Can you tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the regatta's environmental footprint or otherwise green-up the regatta?

It is of course increasingly important for all event organizers to understand the environmental impact of their events and minimize the damage to the environment.

As an event organizer, we have a significant role to play and our ambition is to be a sustainable event, so year on year we aim to improve our commitment, covering pre-event, during the event and post-event.

Bacardi is committed to caring for the environment and supports #thefuturedoesntsuck campaign. Everything item we bring onto the event venue is biodegradable, from catering items to bags to plastic cups and reusable plastic bottles, and we encourage all our sailors to follow a low-waste approach.

Our partnership with MarkSetBot and Sail 22 allows us to reduce the number of RIBS and boats on the racecourse. Our host clubs also have their own sustainability best practices to reduce the environmental impact of events.

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

The number-one thing I can say is thank you. Thank you to Bacardi who has decided to carry on the tradition and supporting our sailors to come out for some fun competitive racing when the whole word has shut down. Thank you to the sailors, the event team, the host clubs and the wider community for working together to do everything we can to support the hosting of this year's Bacardi Cup Invitational Regatta.

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