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An interview with Roger Howard on the Redfish Reach and Catamaran Conundrum

by David Schmidt 19 Oct 2022 16:00 BST October 22-23, 2022

Few things are finer than flying a hull at a mid-October regatta. If this sounds like your kind of gravity, the annual Redfish Reach and Catamaran Conundrum (October 22-23, 2022), which is being hosted by the (virtual) Texas City Dike Yacht Club (virtually situated in the greater Houston area), could be your kind of game.

The Redfish Reach and Catamaran Conundrum is open to any beach catamaran or Hobie Adventure Island (AI) or Tandem Island (TI) craft, which will get split into spinnaker, non-spinnaker, and Hobie AI or TI classes. Sunday's Conundrum is open to all production catamarans, and Sunday's race will be scored as one large fleet.

I checked in with Roger Howard, commodore of the Texas City Dike Yacht Club, to learn more about this exciting mid-autumn multihull regatta.

Can you please tell us a bit about the Redfish Reach and Catamaran Conundrum, how it got its colorful moniker, its history and culture, and the kinds of sailors that one can expect to find here?

The original regatta started over 20 years ago and was a one-day distance event. The sailors start from the Texas City Dike and sail NNW to Redfish Island 11 miles away, round the island and finish back at the Texas City Dike. This course is inside of the expansive Galveston Bay complex.

It is not uncommon for the sailors to have a reach in both directions due to the winds in the fall. A few years ago, we were approached about changing it to a two-day event due to some of the distance's sailors traveled to attend. The first year we did some fixed mark racing, the second we conducted buoy races.

Last year we turned it into a conundrum style race where we have a rounding mark at the beach and three fixed/dropped course marks that each sailor must round for the race. The sailors can round the course marks in any order but must return to the rounding mark each time they round a course mark. The results are quite fun as you never really know who is in the lead since you have boats sailing to all three course marks at the same time.

These races are scored as two different regattas as we have some folks that come for the distance race alone.

This Redfish Reach portion tends to draw some of the older sailors in the area who thrive with distance races. However, we see crews of all age ranges competing.

What kind of entry numbers are you seeing ahead of this year's regatta? Also, where do most competitors hail from? Any geographical concentrations?

Our normal entry numbers run from the mid-twenties to the mid-thirties. Five years ago we were approached by a Hobie Tandem Island/Adventure Island group about competing in the Redfish Reach portion of the regatta. We decided to allow the class, and their numbers have grown every year. The first year we had three of the Kayaks compete and last year the field was seven. Those guys are tough, doing over 22 miles on the open part of Galveston Bay. The water conditions are pretty rough at times.

About two-thirds of our competitors are local to the Houston Galveston area, but we do have sailors travel from all over Texas and Louisiana to sail in this event.

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter on the waters of Galveston Bay (near the Texas City Dike) in late October? Also, what are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

In late October there is no telling what we may have weatherwise. We have had days where boats drifted most of the day to be pushed home by a swing in the wind bringing those in the back of the pack up to the leaders.

Imagine 25-35 beach cats finishing within five minutes of each other in 15-18 knots of wind after sitting in zero-to-four knots all day.

We have also had to deal with strong cold fronts that plummet temps 30 degrees before the start and winds blowing from the North at 15-20, which puts the first 11 miles dead into the wind with a screaming downwind second leg.

Our best-case scenario is when we have steady east winds 12-15 from the east and the sailors have two reaching legs for the entire race. We find out who can go downwind for sure.

In the ideal world, how many races do you and the other organizers hope to score?

For this regatta we try and pull off one race each day. Sunday is a contingent day for the distance race in case the conditions are too poor to sail on Saturday. Redfish Reach was the original regatta and we do what we can to complete that distance race as that is the biggest draw for the sailors the compete in this regatta. We do have other regattas where we have multiple races.

How important do you think local knowledge will be for this regatta?

Local knowledge can play a big role in the outcome of a regatta. The area we sail in is subject to a really strong tidal flow. Strong enough that you can be at the front of the pack at one mark and the back at the next.

Our local sailors are super friendly and helpful. We are always coaching sailors new to our venue to be aware of the tide changes.

If you could offer one piece of advice to visiting (and local) sailors, what would it be?

Watch the local weather and wind forecast. Do not sail in conditions that you are not comfortable with, and always check the tide tables.

What kinds of onshore/evening entertainment can competing sailors look forward to, once the racing sails are furled and flaked?

On Saturday night we have a traditional bonfire on the beach. Sailors will exchange stories, ideas and break down the days sailing as well as general camaraderie.

It is not unusual to have two-to-three boats's crews helping [one] another with repairs so they can sail the following day.

Can you tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the regatta's environmental footprint or otherwise green-up the regatta?

This regatta has always been a pretty bare-bones regatta. We only splash the safety boat if there is a need, and we set a minimal number of marks for the Sunday Conundrum, so it is a really limited use any gas-powered boat. Start and finish are on the beach, so there's no need for an RC boat.

Is there anything else about the Redfish Reach and Catamaran Conundrum that you'd like to add, for the record?

Normally this event is held in September. Due to some unforeseen circumstances we had to reschedule to regatta for late October.

This has always been a fun event with a steady participation level and is open to all beach Catamarans. Information about this and all our regattas can be found at our website www.tcdyc.org (currently under reconstruction), and our Facebook page Texas City Dike Yacht Club (TCDYC).

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