Not Up to Usual High Standards
by Dave Gorwitz

The ACURA SORC, this year held February 28th to March 4th in Miami, reliably combines beautiful weather, great racing and top-notch shoreside activities. This year many midwest sailors who made the long trek to south Florida had to settle for just two out of three.

For the first time, race organizers contracted with Octagon Marketing of Stamford, Ct. to manage the event. Octagon’s first big change was to move all the racing to ocean courses off of Miami Beach. In previous SORC’s the PHRF, Multi-hull, Melges 24 and Etchells classes sailed on the protected waters of Biscayne Bay while the big boats battled it out on the Atlantic. According to Buck Gillette, Chairman of the SORC, “by combining our venues and focusing all our efforts at Miami Beach Marina, we’ll have a better handle on racing logistics and all our competitors can enjoy nightly prize givings and hospitality under one roof.” In past years there have been separate shore side activities for each of the racing venues with the smaller boats gathering at the Coral Reef Yacht Club in Cocunut Grove while the big boats rendezvoused at Miami Beach Marina.

Octagon’s intentions were wonderful, their execution was not. When Miami Beach Marina was over booked participants in the Melges 24 and some other small boat classes had their guaranteed slip reservations summarily cancelled and were relocated some five miles away at Miamarina in Bayside. Many of these participants (who had hotel reservations on South Beach, walking distance to their boats) found themselves needing to find transportation to Bayside. Those that had vehicles got stuck with big parking fees on both sides of the Intracoastal Waterway. But that wasn’t the end of the story.

To get your boat from Miamarina to the ocean racing area took around one and a half hours with a three horse power engine. Each way. With a 10am start time one had to leave Miamarina by 8am - thirty minutes before any onshore postponements or announcements were posted at the Miami Beach race headquarters. On the first day of racing a postponement was signaled at Miami Beach. With no race officials monitoring VHF at least 50 small boats were left bobbing around in the ocean for five hours not knowing the status of the race.
As for the shore side parties, they may have been nice but many never found out. By the time the small boats made their two hour trek back to Miamarina it was dark out and the parties were over. Octagon required each crew member to purchase $35 activity passes that wound up being totally unusable. When approached for refunds of the activity fees Octagon refused.

Small boat launching and trailer storage was rearranged to be at the Miami Yacht Club. Communications with the club were nearly impossible. Even one week before the SORC MYC managers could not provide launching or storage details. When the MYC began notifying participants that many of their trailers would be towed away during the event because they were parked improperly on city property stress levels began to rise. When participants made their way to MYC to move their trailers many times there was no one at the club that knew what was going on. It turns out that trailers were allowed to remain parked right where they were so long as you paid $50 to MYC.

Octagon had a tough situation placed on their hands when all the boats didn’t fit at their planned regatta site. With their many easily identifiable red-shirt-clad representatives on site at Miami Beach Marina they had the resources to pull this event off. None of their staff was ever to be seen at Miami Yacht Club or Miamarina. Communications, logistics and the event suffered as a result.

Regattas like the SORC, NOOD, Block Island and Key West are run for profit. They are often expensive to enter and the expenses of boat elivery, crew transportation, housing and meals can really add up. Participants expect something in return for this investment: fun, sun, competition and camaraderie. Some seek fame and fortune. Event organizers can’t control everything but they earn their pay by providing logistics and communication that make it easy for the participants to enjoy the event. When this fails, many participants leave feeling they did not get their money’s worth.

By the way, the racing was super (someone’s bright idea to put the Melges 24’s on the same course as the 50 footers notwithstanding) with sunshine, temperatures in the 80’s and great afternoon winds! Some sailors even got in some beach time and after all it still was South Beach. Given the alternative (Midwest temperatures, snow and work) perhaps two out of three isn’t that bad after all.

Dave owns The Sailboat House and races a Melges 24.