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An interview with Juana Rudzki on the 31st annual Juana Good Time Regatta

by David Schmidt 7 Sep 08:00 PDT September 10-12, 2021
Racecourse action at the Juana Good Time Regatta © Navarre Press

If you're a multihull sailor in need of a good airing after the tumult of the last eighteen months, you're officially a candidate for the 31st annual Juana Good Time Regatta. The two-and-a-half day event is set to take place on the waters of Santa Rosa Sound, off of Navarre Beach, Florida, from September 10-12, and is open to a wide range of multihulls. More importantly, it's also open and welcoming to sailors of all racing and cruising backgrounds, from polished Olympic-level buoy chasers to family-crewed teams who might be contemplating their first organized racing experience.

The regatta benefits from several sponsors, but the driving force is (and has been, for a long time) Juana’s Pagodas and Sailors’ Grill, which is owned by multihull sailors Juana and Steve Rudzki, along with Steve’s brother Ken; Steve's sister Marie serves as Juana’s right-hand-lady in regatta organization.

The event begins with Friday's Wish for Wind Party ahead of Saturday's distance race, followed by Sunday's short-course racing.

I checked in with Juana, who serves as event organizer and chair of the 31st annual Juana Good Time Regatta, via email, to learn more about this fun-minded multihull regatta.

Can you tell us about the regatta's history and culture?

Under the guidance of our friend and sailing hall of famer Carlton Tucker, (whose life was sadly cut way too short) we renamed the event the "Juana Good Time Regatta" and have since tried to keep the "good time" in every race weekend, changing the typical A,B,C classes to X,Y,Z, and insisting our entertaining race committee discourage protests and encourage humor, positive attitudes, and support from serious racers towards the first-timers, while running fair, organized, and timely races.

The most coveted trophy in the regatta is the Carlton Tucker Memorial Platter, which goes to the participant who displays the most "Carltonish" traits: happiness during diversity, helping others even if sacrificing their own placement, sharing love of the sport through mentorship and guidance.... [The] winner's name also goes on a beautiful perpetual trophy proudly displayed in the Pagoda.

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

[It's] still too early to predict entry numbers, but back in the early '90s we averaged 50+ boats (100+ people), with our peak year topping 100 multihulls in 2019.

Last year we registered 70+ vessels, even with Covid protocols in place.

We're hoping for at least that many this year, not including those who register for the timed Wave beach competition.

What kinds of competitors does this regatta tend to attract? Are we talking about polished and serious racers, or is this more orientated towards family-based crews?

This race has always attracted some of the "big boy/girl" beach-cat racers, including silver medalist winner Randy Smyth, the late Carlton Tucker, Kirk Newkirk and his Key Sailing team, Holly Trinque, along with plenty others of like caliber.

However, as pleasure sailors ourselves, we really wanted this event to welcome newbies as well.

Since "good time" was our goal, we wanted wanna-be (Juana-be?) racers to feel comfortable participating in their first real racing experience.

Over the 30+ years we've thrown this event, I can't even say how many, many people have approached me and thanked me for making this venue comfortable for them to share with their young children, many of whom are now sailing as grown adults who claim their cat sailing passion started with the Juana Good Time Regatta.

Our hand-crafted pottery trophies go out to the top winners in their divisions, but we also include a few categories that showcase racers who make efforts in other ways. Other than the Carlton Memorial, there's the Good Time Award, (for the team who displayed the over-all positive "good-time" attitudes throughout the event) Towed Furthest, (team who towed their cat the furthest distance to participate), Love Boat (team owning the boat that appears to be most loved) and Co-Ed, (top male/female team).

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter on the waters off of Navarre Beach/northwest Florida in mid-September? Also, what are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

Originally, our regatta was scheduled for the first week in October. It seemed that date presented us with very challenging weather. I remember being crew for Carlton one year where we had 40+ wind gusts, horizontal rain, and cold. 50 boats registered, about 20 boats went out, and I believe three actually made it back in one piece.

I was quite new to catamaran racing at that time, and after our first pitch-pole on our down-win leg back home, I was sure our race was over. However, Carlton, being the pro he was, got us quickly righted in the howling melees and after three more flips, we were the first boat to make it back to shore.

Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but boat debris littered the north shore of the Sound, and crazy stories abounded for years! I believe we still display a broken rudder someone painted and dated and left as an artistic reminder of their challenging experience that day.

In 1995 Hurricane Opal inconveniently arrived on our regatta weekend. Sadly, our business was destroyed, but we quickly built back, bigger and better, of course! The decision was made that unless we wanted to change our event's name to something like Juana Hard Time Regatta, we should try a different date for future events.

Though good winds are crucial to a regatta, howling rain and cold temps are not conducive to the beach party we envisioned for our event. Since then, the weekend after Labor Day, generally the second weekend of September, has been the date. Best decision ever!! Since then, we've almost always had beautiful weather and a great sailing party weekend. (I hope I didn't just jinx myself there!).

Santa Rosa Sound is a protected body of water located between a barrier island and the mainland, which makes it a fantastic sailing venue. Generally, there's a nice prevailing wind out of the east with calm waters on which to play. The winds tend to be lighter on the current [regatta] date, but we've never had to cancel due to lack of wind.

Being on a barrier island and so close to the Gulf, the on-shore breezes almost always blow. And if anyone has an issue while racing, there's always a nearby beach on either side of the Sound for safety.

If you could offer one piece of advice to visiting (and local) teams, what would it be? You just asked for one, but I'm giving you a few.

If you're a serious racer, be prepared to have fun and leave your angry, competitive edge behind you. Use your experience to share with a newbie. It could win you a prize!

If you're a first-timer, seek out one of the pros during Friday night or Saturday morning's gatherings, and see what you might gain. And try to mimic one of the top racers in your fleet during the distance racing. It's amazing what you might learn!

And finally, bring your family/friends and take advantage of the discounted lodging we have arranged with a local hotel and rental property agents who are also sponsors for our event. This is one racing event where the non-racers in your group will enjoy the experience as spectator and tourist as much as you'll enjoy the race itself.

What kinds of course shapes will the regatta employ? Also, will these be mostly short-course affairs, or will the fleet be sent out on longer courses that use nearby islands or other geographic features as turning marks? Finally, how many races do you and the other organizers hope to score per day and for the entire regatta?

Saturday is a distance race. Being an open multihull event, we have various handicap-rated classes: Fleets X,Y,Z, Hobie 16, WAVE, cruising class, Tri classes, and others, depending on who registers that year.

The big, fast boats will go almost all the way to the Pensacola Beach Bridge and back (about 30 miles roundtrip). There are usually three courses, with the other two going around channel markers closer to Juana's.

Sunday is Triangle racing that stays closer to home. We try to do three races Sunday, depending on conditions, though the cruisers generally will do a distance-type race each day. The cruising class is more casual. In the past it's mostly consisted of Gemini Cats, which have retractable center boards that work well in the shallower waters of the Sound, though other big cats have competed as well. Generally, they get together Friday night and Saturday morning to discuss how they want to run their races. [The] race committee will keep their time, but the rest is up to them as far as the course details.

We also include Timed WAVE Beach Races for experienced sailors without boats. We use some well-worn Hobie Wave boats from our rental fleet, (usually three of them) and those who participate, (generally 15-20 people) take turns sailing short, timed courses off the beach in front of Juana's. After two days of racing, those with the shortest over-all time win! It's been a great introduction to racing for those who understand sailing but are intimidated by the thought of participating in a regatta themselves, though temporarily boat-less experienced racers have been known to participate as well.

I should mention that this is two-day event. In order to win a trophy, racers must participate in both days' events, regardless of how well they may have done on the first day's distance race.

I know that it's still early days, but are your eying any perennial favorites for strong finishes? What about any dark horses?

Being the [31st] year of throwing this event, I've become familiar with some of those who seem to excel on the course regularly.

Brian and Jessica Lambert have been at the top of their H-16 fleet, snagging the co-ed award plenty times in the past, Randy Smyth, Mark Bachman, Kevin Smith, Kirk Newkirk, Joseph Procreva, Doug Klem, Kenny Boudreaux, Brian Lambert, Curtis Rundell, Ron and Sarah Gaston.... I could probably go on and on, but these are just some of the names we see regularly as winners over the years.

I don't know if they can be considered "dark horses" but last year's winners in Z class were Matthew Smith and Mateo Auraliano, who I believe were new names in our race.

Too early to guess this year, but I'm pretty sure you'll see many of the above-mentioned names in this year's winner's bracket as well, with plenty new names included.

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?

This has been a challenging year for our service business, first with Covid and now with the shortages of everything, from product to personnel. We were hoping to include in everyone's goodie bag a reusable cup for their drinks all weekend, but the supplier is not committing on being able to get these to us before the September 10-12 event.

We have moved to all on-line registration, which saves paper. We also have a much smaller committee boat that will use less fuel than our past cruising yachts. We don't like to cut back on chase boats for safety reasons, but we do have four relatively small safety boats that use less fuel than some of the larger ones [that we've] used in the past.

Our business has been using recyclable materials for to-go packages for the past couple of years. And with the Sound painted in sailboats, our emissions in this event are minimal in general.

Also, Navarre Beach is a small little island community, so once people park their cars, there is a nice bike/walking path that can be used to get from our place to the Gulf or any other island restaurant, bar, hotel, or condo without ever needing to burn gas. We also have three green parking spaces with two Tesla destination and one Blink charge station that are available for two-hour limits to anyone wishing to bring their electric vehicle.

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

I would ask that due to these crazy times and shortages, anyone planning to participate in this event practice patience and kindness. Due to being short-staffed and often short on supplies, wait times and availability of product can be a challenge.

We hope all goes smoothly and another great event takes place this September, and we ask that if you all really "Juana have a good time" you and yours focus on the fun, and shrug off any frustrations you may encounter due to shortages and Covid protocols that may exist.

Please end all your complaints in your mind with: "...on the beach, in a beach bar, surrounded by boats and beauty and good people" and see if you still really have a complaint.

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