Sailboat racing is at the heart and soul of this Sailing Squadron. Those members who race are fortunate to have Debra St. James as the newly elected Race Captain. Debra became a member eight years ago when she married her husband, Randy. She had crewed with him on his Capri 22 for three years before they became “Team St. James.”
Debra is virtually a native “Sarasotan” having moved here from Massachuetts when she only was seven years old. It didn’t take long after beginning to sail with Randy for her to become a seasoned ‘ragger.’ “When we got married we bought an S.R. Max because there were a lot of them at the club at the time. There were eight or nine of them.” She said. Their next boat was a Melges 24. “We did some traveling and racing with that boat. After the Melges we bought a J-80. However,” she commented, “that was more of a cruising boat. We kept it in the water and had some fun with that, but it wasn’t a racer.”
Debra and Randy now have a J-80. She explained, “The J-80 is a twenty-six foot sport boat – a race boat. We like it. The Melges was a little too sporty for us.” She chuckled. “We don’t like to work that hard when we sail. The J-28 is like a “Big Boy’ Melges, but fun to sail.”
In addition to participating in Squadron races ‘Team St. James’ raced in the Key West Race Week for a couple of years. They also race in area One Design Regattas. “We did the St. Pete’s NOOD (National Off shore One Design) last month. There were nine boats in our class. We finished in third place.” She said, “We were happy with that.” They also travel to racing events in Venice and Bradenton among others.”
“For Squadron races we have a crew of four or five. Charlie Clifton races with us quite a bit.” Debra said, “And Doug Fisher, we sail with him and he sails with us on our boat.”
When the conversation turned to the more harrowing aspects of sailing Debra recalled, “When we had our J-28 we did the Sarasota to Key West Race. It was all up-wind. It took us forty-four hours. That was an interesting race. I started getting sea sick when I could still see Sarasota. I thought about jumping off and swimming back to shore and home. Boy! when I hit the docks in Key West I had lost about fifteen pounds. I was so sick. This race usually takes only 24 to 30 hours, not 44. There were eight of us aboard. For most of the race five were down sick , down and out. Only three of us were left to sail the whole race because the rest of us were so sick. They didn't sleep. They had to be up on deck. It was so rough. So then when it was over we thought, ‘Oh, no! we’ll never do that again.’The next year rolls around and guess what? O.K. we’ll go.”
As Race Captain Debra is responsible for all the intra-club racing events. “I organize the Friday night races and the Sunday races. The Sunday races are informal and free. Any member can participate. They start at One O’clock. We have a number of pre-determined race courses to choose from depending on the best wind direction. The Friday night races also use these courses as well as the established Olympic Course out in the Bay.”
Debra reminisces about the Friday night races when she first started racing. “There would be about eighteen or twenty boats out there. After the race everybody would come back to the club and we all would hang out together. We need to get back to that. That is what a sailing club is all about.”
Both Debra and Randy are excited about the future of the club. “We love it out here. We bring our friends and family here often to enjoy it. Craig, our new manager, is doing an awesome job. The club will continue to grow.”
When she is not involved in club activities, Debra also has a real job. She is vice president of operations for a cabinet and counter top company. The company is Sterling Manufacturing which is a local company.
An appropriate note on which to end this interview is that Debra’s company has donated all of the new countertops, sinks and faucets for the bathrooms in the newly renovated Stone House.