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An interview with Juana Rudzki on the 33rd annual Juana Good Time Regatta

by David Schmidt 6 Sep 08:00 PDT September 8-10, 2023
Racecourse action at the Juana Good Time Regatta © Navarre Press

A few years ago, I reached out to Juana Rudzki, the founder of Juana Good Time Regatta and one of the owners and operators of Juana's Pagodas and Sailors Grill, the latter being the host cite for the former, for a Sail-World pre-regatta interview. The event's quirky name caught my attention, the sailing sounded fun, and Juana nicely worked with me on an interview.

At the end of our correspondence, when I asked if there was anything else that she'd like to add, for the record, she hit me with this line:

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."

As a writer, I love a sentence that can rearrange one's perspective with absolute precision, and Juana's did just that. So, our interviews have become a bit of a year-on-year tradition ahead of the 33rd edition of Juana Good Time Regatta (September 8-10, 2023). As always, the regatta is open to beach cats and sailors of all ability levels, and, as its name purports, is designed to create smiles onshore and on the water.

I checked in with Juana, the regatta's founder (and a regatta participant), to learn more about this the 2023 edition of this fun-minded beach-cat regatta.

Can you please give me your best elevator pitch on why the Juana Good Time Regatta is always a good time for participants?

It's a weekend event that is in its 33rd year, so it's very well organized, and the race committee is experienced and professional, but they know to keep it fun. The location on the Santa Rosa Sound is beautiful and protected in most winds; the venue at Juana's has everything — food, drinks, beach rentals, restrooms, and boat ramp and beaches for easy launches.

As a registered sailor, there are plenty of free and discounted food and drinks all weekend, liquor sponsor reps are available during most parties and will serve up free tropical drink samples and give out fun swag to racers.

Though it's a serious race, a lot of beginners like to use the Juana Good Time Regatta as their first-time event. It's just a lot of fun, and we are happy to answer any questions first-time or amateur racers may have at the daily skippers' meetings.

How would you describe competition levels at this regatta, compared to other events that feature beach cats? Also, is the emphasis of the Juana Good Time Regatta more on the good-time part than on the regatta part, or is it a mixture of both?

Competition can be fierce! Isn't that true of all racing? However, being the "good time" regatta, many of the "old pros", including big names like Randy Smyth, Kirk Newkirk, Mike Kelly, and plenty others, go out of their way to help the "newbys" by offering advice, helping with rigging, donating parts or physical labor when needed, or any number of supportive gestures that the rookie sailors always appreciate.

Though we have chase boats powering around during the races to help any sailor who might need assistance, it's often the more-experienced sailors who will swoop in and sacrifice their time to help the less-experienced keep racing. Those willing to sacrifice their time to help others have been known to win the prestigious "Carlton Tucker Memorial Award," which goes to the sailor who shows the most over-all helpful, positive, and good-time spirit throughout the weekend.

So, to answer that question simply, the Juana Good Time Regatta is definitely a mixture of both!

Can you please bring us up to speed on any changes to the on-the-water portion of the regatta, compared to the 2022 event, when we last corresponded?

We always have a professional yet fun race committee. This year Kirk Newkirk heads up the committee with some of his Key Team crew. In the past we've tried to do distance racing Saturday, with the larger fast boats going almost to the Pensacola Beach Bridge and back, and the smaller, slower cats going three-fourths of the way or less, depending on boat class.

Sunday is usually some form of triangle racing. This regatta is open to all multihulls, so a boat that does not have enough others in its exact class, (most common are Hobie 16s, but usually we have enough WAVE and Nacra 20s to form their own classes as well) will use a handicap rating to make it all as fair as possible.

So, the answer to your question is that the on-the-water portion will most likely be the same as it's been for 33 years. Distance racing Saturday and triangle racing of some form (sometime we just do windward/leeward if it's light wind or there's some kind of time crunch).

What are your entry numbers looking like, and how do they compare to 2021 and 2022? Also, any geographical hotspots?

If you go to our website and click on, you can see who has registered and on what type of boat.

Most people wait until later in the month to register, but anyone who registers before the end of the month will save some money. However, registration is available online right up until the day before the event.

It's hard to compare to last year because it's still so early, but we have more already at the present time than we did last year, and we generally have between 75-100 registrations by regatta weekend.

As for geographical hotspots, we get a lot of racers from Ocean Springs, MS, Louisiana, Alabama, and of course plenty from the local Fort Walton Beach, Navarre, Pensacola area as well as farther south Florida.

But we certainly have people come from all over the country and beyond. We've had one group of brothers come almost every year since the early days, the Tepe's from Ohio. Over the years they've brought their children and recently grandchildren who have grown to sail their own boats, and it's become an annual, generational family event for them for years.

What kind of weather is common on the waters off of Navarre Beach in early-to-mid September?

Our original regattas were held the first weekend in October, which for those first early years were a challenge. Seemed the weather that weekend often felt like the beginning of winter — with howling winds, rainstorms, and often the first cold front of the season, not exactly the best conditions if you were a beginner.

In 1995 Hurricane Opal showed up right on that weekend and ravaged our island, covering it with seawater and flooding out Juanas, washing away much of our humble, little business. It was the first and last time we ever had to actually cancel the event. From then on, we changed the date to the weekend after Labor Day, and we have never regretted that decision.

Our idea for this regatta is that it be not only about sailboat racing, but also about a beach party. The prevailing winds at that time are usually out of the southwest, which makes for an exciting, protected beat up and a lovely downwinder back home. Though you never know about the weather.

In all these years, we've certainly experienced a little of everything. Last year we had some ugly, crazy storms hit right in the middle of the distance course. A few sailors had to deal with flipped boats or ended up pulling up to the shore to escape the worst.

This year, we will advise everyone to take their phones. Though we do have chase boats looking to help, when surprise storms come up, coordination and help can be a challenge. This year, any stranded racers can call the race committee, and they will send help as needed. However, history has proven that in general, the Juana Good Time Regatta weekend is usually warm, light but pleasant breezes, and a perfect weekend for a sailing event/beach party!! Hopefully this year will be another one of the good ones.

Do you have any advice that you'd like to offer first-time participants? What about to regatta veterans?

If you're a first-timer and have never raced your boat, get out there now and do some practicing. Try to get out in some decent wind and practice sailing around a mark, tacking and jibing and giving your boat a good shake-down before our event.

During the Juana Good Time Regatta weekend, you will put your boat through a lot of water time, and you want to be sure your boat doesn't break the first day you're racing.

Also, be sure to attend the Saturday and Sunday morning skipper's meetings. A lot of info is shared there, (along with some great continental breakfast foods) and if you have any questions whatsoever, do not be afraid to ask. Even simple questions like starting flag sequences and right-of-ways [questions], don't be afraid to raise your hand and let the race committee give you clarity.

During land parties, seek out an experienced racer and pick their brains for racing advice. And finally, try to find someone who has a similar boat to yours and has good racing experience. Then watch them during the racing, and try to follow their leads. You'll be surprised what you can learn by imitation. And come to trophy presentation even if you know you didn't win. We have various trophies we award for things other than winning races. And it's always nice to have audience support when you win.

If you're a [regatta] veteran, remember that this is a Good Time regatta. As an experienced racer, it's easy to take everything a little too seriously. Be helpful to the newbys if you see them struggling and you can help. Remember to have fun and enjoy the moment while you're kicking some butt - haha!

Try to focus on the moment and enjoy the racing instead of stressing. If you see an obvious inexperienced racer doing something wrong, instead of yelling and being angry, try to be kind in your advice and help educate them in a positive way. Be a good example while showing off your know-how.

During land parties, seek out first-timers and share your wisdom. And if you win, show up to trophy presentation Sunday afternoon or at least find someone to accept your award. It's never as fun to present a trophy if there's nobody there to receive it.

I've heard the water has been really hot off of Florida all year. Will that have any effect on the event?

Who knows? I also hear it's an El Niño year, and though that means bad weather for the country, it's supposed to mean less hurricanes in the Gulf. But as I said, who knows?

Hoping warm water just means more comfortable sailing. Thinking positive!!

You know you're not getting out of an interview with me without facing this question: 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? We won't run fewer chase boats because we do want to be safe, though most of the boats are the smaller, more-efficient models, (as powerboats go, anyhow).

We have three electric-car charging spots in our parking lot, so anyone who wants to drive their e-cars has a place to charge while on property. All our to-go boxes in the grill are biodegradable, and we don't give straws without a request. And finally, we do have a plan to install solar panels on our new bandstand one day soon, though that's still in the future plans.

And of course, it's a sailboat regatta, so throughout the event our main source of fuel is the wind.

Is there anything else about this year's regatta that you'd like to add, for the record?

This is the first year that I am not doing the organizing of this event. I decided after 32 years of organizing, I was ready to "retire" so I could spend more time with my husband sailing, traveling, and enjoying our island life on the beautiful Navarre Beach. It's a big event, and it takes a lot of behind the scenes organizing, (as anyone who's ever put on a regatta understands!).

In the past we've had sponsors and door prizes, both of which my organizing successors, (thank you Marie Rudzki and Daniele Hall) decided were more than they wanted to deal with. So, although we will still have unique event shirts and goodie bags, good food, free and discounted drinks, live music and parties, I don't believe we will be doing door prizes this year. I'm sure I'll get some flak from that, but I'm hoping people will understand.

As I've said in the past interviews, I hope people continue to enjoy the event and if they find themselves frustrated or angry about anything, I'd love them to finish that thought off the beach, on the water, near a beach bar, sailing... and see if that doesn't change their perspective for the better.

And though I'm not organizing this year, I will be there to help and participate in this 33rd Annual Juana Good Time Regatta. I can't wait!! Cheers!

Go to: for all the details, including registration.

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