The History of SSS Regattas

by Charlie Clifton w/ Pat Murphy

Charlie Clifton

Charlie Clifton

Pat Murphy

Pat Murphy

Editor's note: At the January 26 racers meeting, Race Captain Richard Elsishan confirmed that the monthly SSS regattas would go back to their traditional dates and names. Some of the newer members indicated that they had never heard anything about the origins or traditions of these regattas. Richard asked for a written description. With the benefit of Pat Murphy's recollections, we put together this report.

The patriarch of the Squadron regattas is the Labor Day Regatta. This event has occurred continuously since 1946. It and the Windjammer are the only ones that survived the move from the City Pier out to the hinterlands of City Island.

Billy Johnson recounted the early Labor Day Regattas in this 1996 story.

In 1958 it had become apparent the Squadron would have to move from the City Pier. Bruce Chadwick persuaded Ken Thompson and the City Commission to allow the Squadron to occupy the north east corner of City Island, a spot that was considered "out in the boonies". (Bruce Chadwick should probably be bestowed with the Squadron medal of honor.)

After spending his youth around the Squadron at the old City Pier, Pat Murphy returned to Sarasota in 1969.The club was closed in the summer. A small group of sailors raced a Fall and a Spring series.

First sailed in 1965, the Hangover Regatta is the Squadron's third oldest regatta. It was always a "fun" race that involved awards for goofy antics and people just having fun in a non-competitive format.

Duval King was one of the early guys Pat encountered hanging out on the group of small islands connected by fill that was City Island at that time. Duval came up with the idea of the New Year's pig roast, a Louisiana tradition. The pig he and the boys cooked in 1969 became a tradition that lasted many years. Recently, it has been replaced by a pulled pork dinner from time to time.

In the '80s there was a group that stayed up all night cooking the pig and then went out at daybreak to "race" the Hangover. They lasted for an indeterminate amount of time. Not many people can keep up that pace very long.

The same "fun" format continues today with a start at "13" and prizes for bizarre sailing techniques, starting at the more realistic time of 1100 hrs.

By the late 1970s, when Pat became Commodore, the crew was trying to entice more people to journey all the way out to their club. Inspired by the 1942 movie, Holiday Inn, Pat came up with the monthly regattas. In the movie, Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire turn a Connecticut farm into an inn, open only on holidays. The sailors decided to open the Squadron for regattas on holidays. The 6 "Holiday" regattas start at "I' at 1330, are open to all boats and are run on the circle race course.

Vice Commodore Wayne Smith came up with the idea for the Snowbird Regatta in 1982. It didn't exactly follow the "Holiday" motif and it was subtitled the "Winter Warm Up". It takes place on the 2nd or 3rd Saturday in January depending on when New Year's Day falls. It should be at least 1 1/2 weeks from the first. In 1990, 80 year old John Aufhammer won the regatta.

Pat Murphy came up with the idea for the Cherry Pie Regatta" in 1982. It takes place on the Saturday closest to Washington's birthday. Ray Sevigny, who had the Trophy Shop for years, made the distinctive Cherry Pie trophy that looks like a real cherry pie. Awards for the Cherry Pie Regatta should be real Cherry Pies or at least cherry tarts.

Murphy also invented the Pot o' Gold Regatta (surprise!) in 1981. The leprechaun pot trophy was found by Pat in a mystical East Indian curio shop. Pat said, "The idea was that the winners would drink the pot of beer but they usually ended up pouring it all over each other. Even when I washed it beforehand." Your scribe first saw it drank in 1991 by Bob Winters and has drank it himself but has noticed a squeemier crop of winners lately.

The Around Lido Race is right up there at the top of the "fun races". Pat Murphy reports that the race had taken place before with Catamaran and Monohull classes but it did not take place from 1989 to 1992. Cindy Clifton, Dave Bridges and the Luffing Lassies got together in '92 and decided to do an Around Lido Race to raise money for a floundering Sarasota Youth Sailing Program. They did a test sail around the Key in Sunfish and invented different activities to coax some bucks out of the sailors. The event was a big success and became very popular. This Memorial Day will be the 23rd consecutive Around Lido Race.

The Unkie Regatta is not one of the Holiday Regattas and sports a different format. The regatta was initiated by George Browning in 1977 in honor of his uncle who used to come sit in his rocker at the Squadron enjoying the locale. George was a 1970s Commodore who had a reputation as "the only honest lawyer in Sarasota". He orchestrated the incorporation of the Squadron and then initiated minutes and record keeping. The Browning family provided the trophy and, for many years, bought a keg of beer and provided food for a party including family and race participants.

The format is a single handed race around a regular race course. Any size boat is welcome. Jay Meyer introduced your scribe to the technique of running a line from the tiller, through the spin blocks, around the front of the mast, back through the other spin block and then back to the tiller. With this set up the boat can be steered from any location. It is a fun challenge. It is not a "Bunkie" race and it is not part of the Bikini Cup. The Unkie Race is usually held in April.

The Bikini Cup, started in 1981, has had a long and controversial history as attendance waxed and waned. There have been complaints about the name going back at least to the time when Susie Pether was Commodore all the way up to the present. However Cindy Clifton says, "The Bikini Cup is the traditional name of the regatta and it doesn't bother me." There have been years when the turn out was excellent with sailors coming from Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor. Perhaps a toll has been taken by the success of the Florida Womens' Sailing Association. This event has potential but needs some promotion from the women.

The Windjammer to Venice is the second oldest Squadron regatta. Started around 1950, the race initially started from Marina Jacks and ended at Venice Yacht Club then located about where the Crows Nest is now. Many Venice boats used to come up to race back down. Originally run in the spring, a Fall Windjammer was added in 1965. There have been some wild, exhilarating rides in this event. There also has been some wild activities afterward. Something took place that no one will talk about that resulted in SSS being banned from VYC from sometime in the 80s until the turn of the century. We are now welcome again and as the date seems to continually change, you can count on a variety of conditions.

The Firecracker 400 was another idea that came about to create activities for the group gathered for the annual 4th of July fireworks display. When the sailors could not find any participants for a proposed wet t-shirt contest on that hot summer day 30 years ago, they decided to go out and sail around. The event is based on the Hangover format but has included such maneuvers as man overboard drill, 360s , beach starts, sandbar stops and even a clue hunt. It has been sailed since 1985 and there is no reason to change the name.

The Great Pumpkin Regatta is another Pat Murphy creation with an original trophy by Ray Sevigny. It was first sailed in 1988 and has traditionally been held the Saturday before Halloween. Pumpkin Pies have been a regular award. It is the Kick Off of the prime sailing season, usually benefiting from nice breeze.

The Drumstick Regatta was started in 1979 and has had the best prize of any regatta in the world. Gift certificates for a turkey! Jeff Linton heard about it and came down from Davis Island to try to win one. What an incentive! This is a great time of year for sailing and has historically attracted a good turnout. It takes place the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

The Commodore's Cup was first sailed in 1979. Held on the second Saturday in December, it coincides with the Christmas Boat Parade. This is a great attraction for families and the general community. The first race was called the Commodore's Quadrangle for the course held out in the gulf. Pat Murphy won it in his Santana 20. Since that first race, it has been sailed in the bay.

The Commodore's Cup was the premier "holiday" regatta at the Squadron until it was adulterated by an attempt to change it into a "Commodores at the Helm" regatta. It is hard to understand why we would change our premier regatta to mimic that of a fishing club to the north. It is nice to have past Commodores participate in the event but makes no sense to ruin it to do so. As one former Commodore said to your scribe at the last Commodore's Cup, "Why should I come here for this free dinner? The other place gives me steak." The Commodore's Cup deserves a return to its rightful time slot and its' format as a real race.

These are the regattas that have made the Squadron what it is. The fleets have changed. Some have grown and some have shrunk. It is our task to flow with these changes and work to bring all the boats together in these traditional regattas. This is what we must do to avoid the alternative of just running races for visiting fleets with nothing of our own.


The object of these races is to have fun. That can be done with intense competition or just messing around in the boats. Murphy told me a story of a race that will never happen again but sure sounded fun.

The race was called the Royal Gabboon and its run began around the spring of 1949 or '50. Any type of sailboat could enter and the variety was wide.

It started in St. Pete and ended at Sarasota Yacht Club. The starting sequence entailed eating a watermelon on the beach, swimming out to the boat, hoisting the anchor and sailing away. You could go inside or outside. You could paddle, ooch, push ... anything but use an engine.

Now in those days the Department of Transportation was not quite as regimented as they are today. Some boats had shore crews whose task was to be at the bridges when their boat arrived and make sure that no delay ensued for the passing vessel. The story goes that the shore crews often performed the openings themselves.

The legendary Dick Bertram won one of the races in an E Scow. Cutting across the sand bars that lay west of an undredged and unfilled Bird Key, he sailed the scow directly to SYC. The rest of the fleet had to stay in the channel and go east all the way around.

Then they would all end up at the old Sarasota Yacht Club to discuss and celebrate the race.

©Charlie Clifton 2015,