ST. PETERSBURG — Todd Fedyszyn spends most of his time teaching other people how to sail fast, so when he does get a chance to race, the competition better watch out.
"We don't get to practice as much as the other teams," said the 36-year-old sailing coach at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club. "But we do our research and make sure the boat is tuned up. And that always gives you the edge."
Fedyszyn will be the man to beat this weekend when more than 1,000 sailors hit the water for the opener of the 25th season of the National Offshore One-Design Regatta series.
"We raced six years in a row and finished second a couple of times but never came out on top," said Fedyszyn, who races with his wife, Genoa. "But last year it finally came together for us."
Fedyszyn, and his crew aboard Spoony Tactics, won last year's NOOD event title in St. Petersburg and went on to win the series' championship in the British Virgin Islands.
"It was unbelievable," he said. "You are racing against the winners from all of the other regattas. Everybody is in the same boat. So it really does come down to who is the best sailor."
That close competition is what the NOOD is all about. Fedyszyn competes in a J/24, which one of the largest and most hotly contested classes in racing today. The series always draws a big crowd in St. Petersburg and the six other U.S. cities it visits.
The St. Petersburg regatta comes just a few weeks after Key West's race week, which, next to the America's Cup, is one of the most competitive racing series in the world.
The NOOD boasts three days of one-design (a term used to describe boats with identical measurements and specifications) racing on different courses with easy viewing from the Pier downtown.
Fedyszyn, and at least 20 other four- to five-man crews, will be favoring the International J/24, one of the most popular recreational keelboats in the world today. The hull was designed and built in 1975 by Rodney Johnstone in his garage in Stonington, Conn.
Since then, more than 5,000 of these boats have been built in the United States, Europe, Asia and South America. Today, more than an estimated 50,000 people race J/24s in 150 fleets in 40 countries. The J/24 has proved so popular with racers because it can be trailered and it is relatively inexpensive to race because of the widespread availability of used models.
While the NOOD usually features at least 10 classes, the overall winner is picked on both fewest number of points accumulated (in sailing, the lower the number, the higher the rank) and the overall competitiveness of the class.
Last year, Spoony Tactics edged North American J/24 champion Mike Ingham's Fawn Liebowitz, 18 points to 20, to win the class. Race fans will keep an eye on that class again this year as the J/24s are once again expected to be the largest and most competitive fleet.
After St. Petersburg, the NOOD series heads to San Diego on March 16-18. Additional venues on the 2012 schedule include Annapolis, Md.; Seattle; Chicago; Marblehead, Mass.; and San Francisco. The series championship will once again be in the British Virgin Islands in November.