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St. Petersburg contends for Best Yachting Town title

ST. PETERSBURG

With its expansive waterfront and nearby restaurants and hotels, St. Petersburg long has been a destination for boaters.

Now, the Sunshine City is a contender in Yachting magazine's new competition for Best Yachting Town.

It's an international list: Vancouver, British Columbia, is included, as are several other Florida towns, among them Fort Lauderdale, Islamorada, Key West, Punta Gorda and Stuart.

Yachting's deputy editor, Mary South, said the contest is new this year, and the hope is that it will become an annual event.

"For instance, we left the parameters very open this year — suggesting that beauty was in the eye of the boater," she wrote in an e-mail.

"Though it's been really great to see the range of towns that were nominated, the entries vary from towns that were nominated because of their outstanding marine facilities to towns that were nominated because they have NO marina facilities. This year was a bit of a free-for-all, and that's been really fun to watch."

Earlier this year, and for the second year in a row, AmericanStyle magazine put St. Petersburg at the top of its list of 25 Arts Destinations for midsize cities. Now, there's the boating designation.

"It's a great honor for the city of St. Petersburg to be recognized as a premier destination on the water," said Tito Vargas, commodore of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2009.

Vargas, who has been sailing since he was 5, married his wife, Renée, aboard a Charley Morgan-designed Marauder, the Irene II. Son Mateo, 19, is a skipper for the Stanford University sailing team.

"We're very, very fortunate to live where we are," Vargas said. "Our waterfront is the envy of a lot of people."

Jannus Live owner and SPiN St. Pete partner Jeff Knight, who lives in Redington Shores, said he often brings his 110-foot Broward, Pure Knight Life, to St. Petersburg.

"We pack up, we come down for the weekend. It's a great destination," he said. "You've got Tampa Bay, you can boat to downtown Tampa and back to St. Petersburg or out to the beach. You've got great sport fishing, great recreational opportunities, and the scenery is unbelievable, plus you've got great marina facilities in St. Pete."

Its location on Tampa Bay with a wide, but not too large, body of water makes the city a worthy place to travel, said Bill Ballard, who began sailing competitively in 1947 and is a former commodore of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club.

"Now, this is a very boosterish statement, but I think it's true," he said. "The St. Petersburg Yacht Club has developed a really intense racing schedule for smaller sailboats that basically starts in January and goes through early May. The quality of the regatta committees and the race management people is very high, so that competitors expect and receive very well-run events."

Each year, the club hosts more than 50 regattas through the St. Petersburg Sailing Center, vice commodore Tom Wallace said, and it has seen generations of sailors compete, including his wife, Susan, son John (St. Mary's College of Maryland) and daughter Caroline (St. Petersburg High School).

"They come from all over the United States and internationally," he said. "Everybody loves St. Pete."

Times news researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.

>> Fast facts

How to vote

Yachting's voting for Best Yachting Town continues online through June 1 at yachtingmagazine.com/50bestvoting. To cast a vote, you must register as if posting to the discussion forum.

St. Petersburg contends for Best Yachting Town title 05/24/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 26, 2011 5:43pm]
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