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North Gulf Challenge heads for Pensacola Friday

by Talbot Wilson 20 Apr 14:47 BST April 22-30, 2021
'Merlin' sailboat has made its way to the Florida coast and its ready to race! 'Merlin' owned by Chip Merlin, a Tampa Bay attorney, is the scratch— meaning the fastest— boat in the North Gulf Challenge ocean race from St. Petersburg YC to Pensacola YC © Sharon Green/Ultimate Sailing

Following a competitors briefing and welcome party Thursday night at the St. Petersburg (FL) Yacht Club, the new North Gulf Challenge starts Friday, April 23 at 1100 EDT in Tampa Bay.

The fleet of some 10 yachts ranging from 36 to 70 feet will start the 319 NM ocean race in Tampa Bay "Cut C", race under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and continue Northwest to Pensacola Bay in the Florida panhandle. The host club at the finish is Pensacola Yacht Club. The 70-foot Merlin, a famous Bill Lee sled, could finish as early as Sunday evening.

Shore-side spectators can track the race through the Yellow Brick (YB) Tracking system at Or they can download the YB Races app to follow the racers on their smart phones.

Race information, the scratch sheet and results will be posted on Yacht Scoring.

The long-range weather forecast from ECMWF, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, predicts southerly winds of about 6-8kts as the boats head northwest out of Tampa Bay. The breeze is expected to shift from the South to Southeast at 12-18kts Saturday.

As the boats head northwest the forecast predicts a shift through the South to the Southwest very early on Sunday morning. By daybreak on Sunday the breeze should shift to the North. Close to Pensacola winds should be very light Sunday before building back from the northeast, east and southeast for Monday and Tuesday finishers.

The new ocean race was organized due to international 'covid' concerns. The St. Petersburg (FL) Yacht Club decided to cancel their biennial Regata del Sol al Sol to Isla Mujeres MX scheduled for April 2021. They reached out to Pensacola Yacht Club which had previously organized the Pace Offshore Challenge race from Pensacola to St. Petersburg in 2019. The two clubs have created the new North Gulf Challenge, sailing north this time.

The regatta is open to all boats holding a valid and current 2020-2021 West Florida PHRF Certificate with a rating between -100 and 320. Eligible classes are Spinnaker, Non-Spinnaker, Racer-Cruiser, Cruising, Multi-Hull and Double-Handed.

This is the schedule of events for the race:

Thursday, April 22 - 1700-1900 Registration at SPYC in the 1909 Room
1900 Skippers meeting SPYC 1909 Room

A Bon Voyage Cocktail Reception for skippers and crew will follow:

Friday, April 23 - 0800 Continental breakfast at SPYC Docks
Sunday, April 25 - 1800-till Early Arrival Party at PYC
Monday, April 26 - Club open all day. Bar menu available
Tuesday, April 27 - 1200 PYC Club day events (TBD)
1700-1800 Cocktails
1800-2000 Dinner and Awards
Wednesday, April 28 - 1200 Go Retro tours (TBD)
1400-1800 PYC Fish Class events
800-2100 all you can eat Shrimp Boil
Thursday, April 29 - 1600-till Thursday night beer can racing and sendoff party
Burgers and Beer (Blue bar)

For more information contact St. Petersburg YC Event Chair Selga Sakss, 727-320-5177 or Pensacola YC Event Chair David Johnson, 850-292-8414.

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