Keys Reporter Newspaper – Dec 16, 2016
Each year, since 1986, a small fleet of performance catamarans battles the elements and each other during the second week of December. The potentially grueling, two-day race around the Upper Florida Keys tests the two men crews who have to navigate the open ocean, boat traffic, shoals, currents, and the weather. At the end of the second day, the winners go home with a ratty, rusty lawn chair – the coveted perpetual trophy that the Steeplechase regatta is best known for.
The race derives its name from the idea that the Florida Bay presents an obstacle course for the sailboats. According to the sailing instructions, anyone interested in competing should be in good physical shape, be at least a moderately experienced sailor, and have the stamina to endure two days of intense sailing – 55 miles on day one and 45 miles on day two. Other requirements are the ability to right one’s boat and knowing how to navigate in changing or unexpected conditions. All sailors write an emergency number on their arm before setting out.
Despite a small craft advisory, fourteen crew on seven boats set out Saturday morning from the Islander Resort, in Islamorada. The first boat dropped out soon after the start. A second boat de-masted just off of Pennekamp, forcing the crew to wait to be rescued while tied up to a lobster trap buoy. After reaching Angelfish Creek, the remaining boats crossed to the bayside and continued to the Upper Keys Sailing Club in Key Largo. The next day, six boats continued south to Channel Five Bridge in gusty winds and flat water reaching speeds in excess of 25 knots. The fleet arrived at the Islander Resort in the early afternoon on Sunday.
Dennis Green, the owner of Islander Watersports, performed the trophy ceremony. Jaime Livingston and Kenny Pierce won with the fastest elapsed time and the best corrected time on their 20ft Tornado catamaran. Dennis presented the winners with their awards and, of course, with the infamous “Ye Olde Lawnchair”.
Next year’s stakes will be much higher. A local business owner has anonymously donated $1500 in price money to honor Rick White, the founder of the Key Largo Steeplechase Regatta, for his contributions to the sailing community.