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North Sails 2021 Innovation - LEADERBOARD

An interview with Scott McWilliams on the 2022 Egmont Key Race

by David Schmidt 16 Nov 2022 08:00 PST November 19, 2022

Historically, Cuba has been one of the great ocean-racing destinations for offshore races that begin in Florida. While this tradition has sadly been truncated in recent years by the ugliest of words—politics—this certainly hasn't put a chill on the Egmont Key Race (November 19, 2022), which is hosted by the Davis Island Yacht Club (DIYC), and which was created in 1935 as a feeder race that would help prepare skippers, crews, and their steeds, for the challenges of racing across the Gulf Stream to Havana.

These days, the Egmont Key Race offers two different courses, a longer 63.2 nautical mile run that circles Egmont Key before returning to the DIYC, and a shorter, 35.2 nautical mile course that stays in more sheltered waters. This allows crews to choose their challenge based on their waterline and their ability to handle bigger, offshore conditions.

I checked in with Scott McWilliams, commodore of the Davis Island Yacht Club, which is hosting the Egmont Key Race, via email, to learn more about this exciting mid-fall keelboat contest

How many boats are you expecting on the starting line?

We expect around 40 boats. Participation had fallen off with Covid, but we're hoping to see a full race return this year.

How would you describe competition levels at the Egmont Key Race? Are we talking about family crews, serious Corinthians, or full-on pros?

We consider our Thursday night racing to be our 'training' and practice. We bring our new sailors, shake out repairs in our boats, and build skills. Thursdays would be our family friendly races.

Egmont is our oldest and most prestigious race taking sailors offshore into the Gulf. This race is serious for Corinthians who have been demonstrating since 1935 that their boat and crew have what it takes to do the offshore races to destinations like Cuba.

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter off of Tampa in mid-November? Also, what are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

This race is known for encountering heavy-weather conditions. November brings stronger breezes and occasional cold fronts. This is a good opportunity to check your gear and confirm your first and second reef points work.

Best-case weather is solid 15 knot breeze with relatively light chop. Worst-case is either light breeze over this long distance, or a front during the race bringing very heavy conditions.

Do most boats finish the longer, 65 nautical-mile course under daylight, or are headlamps sometimes involved? What about the shorter, 50 nautical-mile course?

The race is designed to take you late into the evening or early morning.

Quick boats in solid conditions will be in around midnight. Headlamps and night-time navigational skills are definitely involved.

We shortened the 50 NM course this year to 35.2 nautical miles. We had low participation in the 50 NM race with sailors willing to go a little further to do the 63.2 NM course. Our hope is the 35.2 NM distance will attract smaller boats, which will be equally pushed to complete that distance as the big boats's experience going out into the Gulf.

If you could offer one piece of advice to visiting and local sailors, what would be it?

Plan for a long potentially wet day on the water. Bring your foul weather gear. This race is intended as an endurance race, be ready for that.

Are there any new additions or changes to the 2022 regatta, compared to previous editions?

The only change is shortening the shorter course to 35.2 nautical miles to entice the 24s—J/24s, Melges 24s, S2 7.9s—and others who don't generally participate in the 63.2 NM course. Our main focus is building this race back-up to its pre-Covid levels.

We're planning our traditional hot chili in the club house with beverages to greet cold sailors who need warming up.

We're working to promote the race locally, ordering hats and t-shirts and generally trying to fully restore the grandeur of one of our favorite annual race traditions.

Can you tell us about any recent steps that the regatta has taken to reduce its environmental footprint or otherwise "green-up" ?

Davis Island Yacht Club is a certified Clean Marina. We put great emphasis on maintaining and increasing our 'green' status. We recently increased our spill clean-up capacity by adding new spill kits and establishing a revised spill response procedure.

We're working to restore our shoreline. We're removing invasive Brazilian Pepper plants to allow mangroves to expand. We're also investigating placing oyster pods in the shallow areas off our shores to increase oyster growth to better filter the water in our basin.

These efforts aren't directly related to this race, but all our initiatives benefit from our core beliefs around keeping our bay clean and minimizing any negative impact from our club.

Is there anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

Egmont Key Race dates back to 1935 and it is the oldest running sailboat race on the west coast of Florida. It was created as a warm-up race for the Havana Race.

The 63.2 NM long course takes racers around the key and back to DIYC. We also offer a 35.2-mile course that stays inside the Skyway for cruising and smaller boats. The winner of the long course is awarded the perpetual Houston Wall Trophy.

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