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A Quick Guide to Winter Racing in Florida

November 24, 2015

For many places up north, the sailing season has come to an end, but the winter sailing season in Florida is just heating up. With a number of signature regattas coming up in the Sunshine State, we put together a high-level guide to help you know what to expect when you arrive for your regatta.

The turquoise waters of Key West during the 2015 Quantum Key West Race Week. Photo by PhotoBoat.

There are a number of great events this winter in Florida, including Quantum Key West Race Week and the Quantum J/70 series that you won’t want to miss. Our experts, Marty Kullman and Scott Nixon, talk about things to know if you plan on sailing in the Sunshine State this winter.

“The major appeal for most is to get out of the snow and head south. Florida is the closest cost-effective location to sailing in the Caribbean, which has better sailing, but Florida is easier to get to logistically,” describes Kullman.

Key West

Close to the trade winds – January’s best…is in Key West.

There are normally 1 to 2 cold fronts per week in Key West during January – meaning a very shifty and strong Northerly with flatter water for a few days. After a cold front, the breeze tends to go northeast and taper off, but the wind stays shifty and could trend right. Northerly direction can blow a lot of weeds onto the course, so be sure to watch out for the clumps. Bring a weed stick to Key West to clear your rudder and continue to practice flossing.

The weather gets hot when the high-pressure system is over Florida and the wind will shift from east to southeast. This is where you will see the classic Key West racing days with sunny clear skies and small wind shifts in the teens. Expect to see some chop and swell from this direction.

After the high leaves the Keys, it stays warm and the breeze gets a bit lighter and shiftier from the southeast with some chop and swell. Watch the right and sail for pressure.

If you're planning to attend Quantum Key West Race Week from January 17th-22nd, Nixon reminds you that "Key West Race Week is a long regatta with five days of sailing, so pace yourself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Top teams start out solid and finish strong. Consistency is key to getting on the podium and Duval Street has taken more than a few good teams off the podium. Have fun, but don’t stay out too late.” You can register here for the event of the winter.

Take advantage of Quantum coaching, debriefs and class gurus available to help at the race village and check out Coach Ed Adams weather report each morning.

Tampa Bay

A challenging and fun venue – expect to see flat water with shifty lake-like conditions. Despite it being known as the Sunshine State, be sure to pack warm clothing and foul weather gear. Fronts move through during the winter months regularly, bringing cold and windy conditions. For the J/70 racers out there, be sure to register here for the Quantum J/70 Winter Series, held the weekends of December 12-13th, January 9-10th, and February 6-7th hosted by Davis Island Yacht Club on Tampa Bay. Competitors must compete in a minimum of two of the three regattas during the series to qualify for a podium position.

South Beach and Ft. Lauderdale  

South Beach and Ft. Lauderdale have some of the best sailing in Florida, with windy and wavy conditions on the Atlantic. Even though these locations offer great sailing, they can be logistically harder to attend due to lack of boat storage. Most venues are out of marinas and it is difficult to leave your boat at these locations.

The Ft. Lauderdale to Key West Race is a popular feeder race for Key West Race Week that attracts a mixture of sailors from grand prix racers to cruisers. This popular race typically provides a nice ride downwind around the curve of the Florida Keys to the crystal clear waters of Key West.

Miami

Miami’s Biscayne Bay attracts sailors from all over during the winter months due to its incredible sailing conditions, warm waters and competitive fleets. Several Olympic and professional sailors flock to Miami and call this place home for the winter months due to a wide variety of training conditions and opportunities to cross-train in other competitive fleets. Lighter air in the summer with land thermal’s and a consistent sea breeze, the winter months bring more fronts and more challenging conditions.

Many fleets are following in the Etchells and Melges 20’s footsteps with winter series. Competitors can find local storage and leave their boats in between regattas if they are going to compete in any of the winter series. Be sure to be proactive and make arrangements early, however, as these places do have limits and will fill up.

Among all the winter series, midwinter championships, and several other regattas being held in Florida this winter it shouldn’t be hard to find regattas that are suited to your sailing. At whatever regattas you may find yourself attending during the winter sailing season in Florida, there are sure to be Quantum experts at each event. Ask our experts any questions you may have and take advantage of their coaching.

Check out our recent article on How to Prepare Your Boat and Your Crew for a Signature Regatta.

The Discussion