Miami Key Largo
The Miami to Key Largo is a 61 year old sailboat race that begins at the north end of the Biscayne Bay and ends at the southern end of Barnes Sound, just north of Key Largo. The distance is 48 miles, you cross 3 banks and sail under one bridge. Depth on the banks can go as skinny as 12 inches but mostly you’ve got 8 – 14 feet of water. Down the bay you can normally see the bottom, which is pretty cool, but with 6 foot boards it can also be distracting. The Card Sound Bridge is plenty high but there have been boats dismasted from cutting the corner through low spans.
The fleet has everything from big monos to a 49er and multihulls from big cruisers, an RC30 to Hobie 16s. Nacra 6.0s and Hobie 20s are always there, and the top guns drive I20s and M20s. We started doing this race on an old 5.8 and have been the only F18 for the past 3 years. Being the shortest boat in the spinnaker class gives us that “underdog” appearance that we like.
The Florida 300 starts 2 weeks after the MKL so it’s become our official “shakedown” before the “shakedown”. This is year 2 of the Ingram/Macdonald – Turtle Mojo Team Florida 300 and we have all intentions of pushing a Cirrus F18 hard and fast and try to steal some bragging rights.
Forecast is light, (8 kts) from the east. This makes it a nice jib reach down the bay with a chance for some double trapped spin reaching across Card Sound. This is also perfect for the big over powered RC30, M20s and the older boats with big jibs like the 6.0 and H20. Sailflow has the breeze build to 12 and slightly left around noon, hopefully this happens early.
Pulling into Miami Yacht Club where most cats launch from is always cool with the sails all stacked in tight and the sun not quite over the horizon. It’s all good… and then Brett starts yelling at Ding about his age and morning bathroom habits. Time was too short to throw gas on that fire, normally such insults would require the sacrifice of some cold beer. Gear goes on and sails go up, we are off the beach and headed out with better than expected breeze. The kite goes up to the first bridge, nice way to start the day. Pressure holds steady to the start area and we are sitting pretty with 30 minutes to spare. The start area for the MKL can be pure chaos with all the different boats doing different things. We hang out and watch the action and take a head count of our class. The big monos cruise by and smile like “you guys are nuts!”.
We slide in at the top of the line alongside the RC30 and the M20s and get nice clean air start. Once over the line and out of the pack we’re double trapped, clearly we have better breeze than forecast. It’s 10-12 and solid, the angle is perfect and the drag race is on. Ding’s got us powered up and I’m looking up the back of the RC and worried about the M20 below us coming up hard. This F18 is in this drag race and nobodies walking away yet. Just below the M20 is Kenny’s Stiletto 23, an MKL veteran and frequent winner who uses this race to take his girlfriend sailing. Dana is as cool a sailing chic as they come and those 2 are always fun to watch. Imagine a boat as a young horse being broke, but a really big young horse, with blue hulls.
The better than forecast breeze gets even better as we pass Cape Florida and pressure is unimpeded by land. 12-14 kts and we are skimming along at 16 kts. The Cirrus comes to life in breeze, downwind or reaching the boat loves to go fast. I settle in to the back corner with a foot in the strap and the traveler in hand. Ding is cranking away on the main and micro trimming the hull with small steps. The boat is very happy, the wake from the transom is clean and quiet, very small rooster from the rudder. Our speed stays steady as we eat up the bay way faster than anyone imagined. This would be a short day.
The fastest boats in the race are the RC30, the M20s and a Nacra carbon 20. At the Featherbed Bank they have pulled some lead but are still well in sight. And then there’s Kenny, that dude is all over us, he’s been within 10 boat lengths of every side of us. Except the front, we have managed to hold him off. Some young bucks on an I20 are high but even with us and a Nacra 6.0 is hanging real tuff. We all go blazing through the Featherbed channel without dropping a knot. A small fishing boat was on the bank as we blazed by, they sat quietly watching and fishing. The view must have been super cool.
Approaching the Cutter Bank Kenny is trying a sneaky move of cutting the corner. He knows this bank better than me and we have 5 feet of board down. He takes the lead on the corner and about the same time we find a hole. Speed drops to 6 kts, the I20 goes over the top and the 6.0 follows Kenny. It sucked, but the left shift did happen and I’ve already decided the kites going up when we clear the channel. The dang channel is like a mile long and watching these boats out front is making me twitchy. The angle is not really there for a spin run, it will be way too high and not so pretty.
We get our pressure back and get the kite up coming out of the bank. Stiletto Kenny has good lead, the 6.0 is out there and the I20 young bucks have gone way high across the bank where the chart says 1 foot of water. We gotta do some serious sailing or Todd’s (aka El Presidente) gonna throw us out of the fleet. It was not the prettiest or smoothest double trapped spin reaching I’ve ever done, but it was not slow either. We hit 20 knots, laid the Card Bank and held it almost to the bridge. The 6.0 and the Stiletto were comfortably behind but those dang kids pulled off a master stroke of a spin run and got a substantial lead. Someone must have told them, they’re too young to think up stuff like that.
Our ground crew (2 pretty girls we each married a long time ago) were planning to get some photos from the Card Sound bridge. Since we’re passing there 1.5 hours before we said we would, they were still… shopping. Actually they were transporting an F18 for El Presidente to the Islander.
The reach from the Card Sound bridge down Barnes Sound to the finish only took 20 minutes. The RC30 always sails back to the club and we always get a hearty wave. This day passed them all too close to the finish line, and Dave swears someone flipped us the byrd. Probably not but it was a nice thought. We finished in 2 hours and 23 minutes. Not bad for a 48 mile race. We hung out on the line to watch the next boats come in and then wandered up Jewfish Creek to proceed on to the Upper Keys Sailing Club. Lunch, cold beer and 2 pretty girls are waiting. The plan is to sail the 2nd day Steeplechase course to the Islander and leave the boat setup for the Florida 300 in 2 weeks. That’s another story.
Dick McDonald & Dave Ingram (aka Jake Domingo)