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Fort Myers entry crosses gulf first

The long-distance race from Tampa Bay to Isla Mujeres, Mexico, was a first for Manny Reyes, skipper of the Morgan 44 Moonraker. Not only was it his first ocean race in a big boat, but with a crew of only three other men, Reyes put his Fort Myers-based vessel over the finish line first overall in the 16-boat monohull fleet.

Competing in the non-spinnaker division, Moonraker covered the 500-mile race across the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan in 84 hours, 6 minutes, finishing at 10:21 p.m. Monday. Charles Keels' Sabre 37 Rhapsody finished second in the non-spinnaker division.

John Ross of Sarasota took top honors among the spinnaker boats, sailing his Tartan 37 Weather Girl to division honors and posting the lowest corrected time overall after racing handicap adjustments. Weather Girl finished 22 minutes after Moonraker but carried a 50-minute handicap advantage. Finishing just before midnight Monday, Ted Riley's Pearson 40 Bel Esprit took second in the spinnaker division, third overall.

Reyes' wife, Barbara, usually sails aboard Moonraker but chose not to go on the Mexico trip. "Now I regret it," she said after a phone call from her husband. "Apparently the wind was perfect."

In dramatic contrast to the 1997 race, this year's Regata del sol al Sol provided mild conditions at the morning start from St. Petersburg on April 24, followed by favorable winds for most of fleet as it crossed the gulf. Only three boats _ Madonna, Innossfree and Aquarius _ failed to finish, instead motoring into the anchorage at Isla Mujeres.

Ferdinand Manlio's Prout catamaran Escapade was the final boat to finish, taking 115 hours, 30 minutes while racing as the only multihull in the regatta. Brutal winds and waves during the 1997 race damaged boats.

The event, in its 30th year, is known for the post-race camaraderie between the racers and the people of Isla Mujeres. In addition, the notoriety of the regatta has attracted a large fleet of visiting cruising boats. Enrique Lima, whose Club de Yates co-hosts the event with the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, counted 78 boats. "The harbor is full," he said.