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Sailing: Returning sailboat in Isla Mujeres race becomes disabled

Sailboats set off from St. Petersburg on a 456-mile race to an island off Mexico. One boat became disabled on the return trip after placing fifth.

Renee Athey | Special to the Times

Sailboats set off from St. Petersburg on a 456-mile race to an island off Mexico. One boat became disabled on the return trip after placing fifth.

Brian Fox's American Spirit, a Beneteau 40 with a home port of Odessa, won this year's Regata del Sol al Sol, a 456-mile race from St. Petersburg to Isla Mujeres off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Fox's corrected time was 53 hours, 16 minutes, 56 seconds.

Christopher Cantolino's Sweet Melissa, a 49-foot Hunter from Bradenton, finished second with a corrected time of 54:02:45, and Blaise Pearson's Midnight Sun, a 37-foot Hunter, also from Bradenton, finished third with a corrected time of 54:34:51.

Twenty-nine boats set sail April 23, with most of them making it to Mexico by the morning of April 28. For the first two days, the winds were favorable, then conditions changed to high seas and winds up to 25 knots.

But the trip back proved more eventful for at least one of the contestants. St. Petersburg's Jopie Helsen and his crew aboard the Jade CruChu had finished fifth in the race with a corrected time of 55:15:59. Helsen's 47-foot boat left after the award ceremony April 30 and soon ran into rough seas.

By the following day, Helsen's boat had lost its rudder in 10-foot seas and 30-knot winds. The crew activated its EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon) at 3:40 a.m. Sunday. The Coast Guard received the distress signal and dispatched a HC-130 Hercules aircraft from the Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater.

While the plane was searching, a notice was issued to mariners to be on the lookout for the crippled vessel, which was eventually spotted by a commercial ship called the Bahama Spirit.

A second airplane, this one from Mobile, Ala., made contact with the sailboat at 10 a.m. Monday. Three hours later, the Harriet Lane, a 270-foot cutter on routine patrol in the central Gulf of Mexico, changed course and intercepted the Jade CruChu about 400 miles south of Panama City.

At first, Helsen and four members of his crew stayed with the racing yacht while it was being towed to St. Petersburg. But as of Wednesday, the captain and crew had jumped aboard the cutter, and as of press time no decision had been made about what to do with the boat.

"It is a delicate operation," said Petty Officer 3rd class Nick Ameen, a USCG spokesman in Miami. "Without a rudder, the boat is all over the place."

College Sailing: The Eckerd College varsity sailing team qualified for the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association Team Racing Nationals by beating other top schools in the district, including USF, Florida, Clemson and Tennessee.

Eckerd's women's team placed first in district qualifiers, giving it an automatic berth to nationals, which will be hosted by the University of Wisconsin from May 25 through June 3 in Madison, Wis., on Lake Mendota.

The co-ed sailors placed third in fleet racing district qualifiers and finished 11th out of 18 teams at the Western semifinals in Seattle on Sunday. In the Eastern semifinals in Charleston, S.C., USF finished eighth to qualify for nationals. The top nine from each semifinal advance to Madison and compete in Co-ed Dinghy Nationals.

Suncoast Race Week: The St. Petersburg Yacht Club, the Davis Island Yacht Club and the Bradenton Yacht Club joined forces to host the recent Suncoast Race Week, which drew 32 boats in six classes.

Ed German's Madcow 2 won the Spinnaker A Class and was followed by Frank Kern's Carinthia and Grant Dumas' Warrior.

George Cussin's Fire & Ice won the Spinnaker B Class. It was followed by Orangutan, skippered by Robert Glasser, and Renegade with Jamie Myers.

Ray Mannix and his boat Semper Fi won the Spinnaker C Class. James Clappier's Further came in second, and Rusty Allen's Salty Pause placed third.

In the Non-spinnaker Class, first place went to Jeff Walden's Crescendo. His boat was followed by Peter Watts' Sazerac and Jack Cavalier's Creola.

Looking ahead: Upcoming regattas: Bruce Watters Opti Regatta, Sept. 18-19; Fall Bay Race, Oct. 9-10; Rolex Osprey Cup, Oct. 20-23; Snipes Women's Worlds, Nov. 8-12; U.S. Disabled Championship, Dec. 2-5.

Sailing: Returning sailboat in Isla Mujeres race becomes disabled 05/06/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 5, 2010 9:04pm]

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