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Wigging Out at the Wrecker’s Race By Cherie Sogsti


he Schooner Wharf Bar Wrecker’s Cup Race bills itself as a sailing race with “no protests and no pageantry.” Five classes of boats race to Sand Key off Key West to honor the days when local wreckers would race to an ailing boat in hopes of saving the crew and sharing a bit of the booty. Race organizers call the last Sunday of the month the “Day of Wreckoning.” The Wrecker’s Race is one of the best sailing events in Key West, and my boyfriend Greg and I wanted to compete. But we had one small problem—we don’t have a boat (not since Hurricane Wilma ripped her off the mooring and dashed her against the rocks). A sailor without a boat is like a ship without a rudder—we were lost and didn’t know where to aim our energy. Unsure about how to get crew positions on a boat, Greg and I went to the captain’s meeting at the upper deck of the Schooner Wharf Bar the night before the February Wrecker’s Race. The Schooner Wharf Bar is the best place in Key West for sailors to meet other sailors. It’s also the best place to get a Painkiller (and I’m not talking about Tylenol). Schooner Wharf Bar was 78 April 2009


crammed with sailors drinking cups full of Pusser’s Rum and telling tales from last month’s Wrecker’s Race. Sailors are always excited to have an audience of fellow racers who actually want to hear the details of spinnaker failures, equipment malfunctions and missed opportunities to jibe. Greg and I sipped rum, gulped down a few snacks and met Capt. Ken Johnson who invited us to join his crew aboard his C&C 121 Grateful Red. Greg and I were both grateful (at the opportunity to sail) and seeing red (those ubiquitous red Mount Gay sailing hats were perched on almost every head). “But we have to warn you,” Grateful Red first mate Kristine Fauerbach said. “Our crew likes to wear wigs as we cross the finish line!” “We found the perfect boat,” I exclaimed. What’s up with your hair? “A wig helps to break down barriers and loosen up sailors who can sometimes be too serious,” said Capt. Ken Johnson who chose to don the Mohawk wig for the Wrecker’s Race. “The Wrecker’s Race is the best bar race in the country,” said avid

racer Jason Goldenberg, another member of the Grateful Red team. “There are no rules in the Wrecker’s Race—it’s like a street fight for yachts.” An example of Wrecker’s Race “lawlessness” is that yachts are permitted to run their engines all the way to the start line. “If the wind is right,” added Jason Goldberg of Pro Yacht Solutions, “you just drive up to the start line and hover in reverse. When the race starts, you shut your engine off and go.” Both the sun and wind showed up for the February Wrecker’s Race; it was a balmy day with a healthy 1012 knot breeze. The start, with dozens of boats bearing down on the start line, was almost as interesting as the race finish. Kristine Fauerbach brought out a bag of silly, colorful wigs for the crew of Grateful Red to wear. As Grateful Red sailed through the finish line, the committee boat cheered and the crew “got wiggy with it” and danced on deck in fabulous pink and purple hairdos. While Ken’s crew was “wigging out,” he sailed Grateful Red into a laudable second- place finish. It was another bad hair day that was destined to go down in sailing history. Once tucked safely in the slip, skipper Ken Johnson and crew Bob Connor became dock heroes when they pulled out a gas-powered blender and whipped up daiquiris for everyone who walked by. “The Wrecker’s Race is a great balance. It’s both low key and competitive,” said Capt. Ken who will always have a special place in his heart for the Race because it was the first race he won with his C&C 121. Now Grateful Red has numerous Wrecker’s Race trophies under her belt, and Capt. Ken has an entire set of Pusser’s mugs, which are given as prizes, along with hats, to the top finishers in each division. The Wrecker’s Race is a great way for local salty dogs and visiting landlubbers to participate in the fun since the tall ships and charter boats load their hulls to the brim with passengers. Don’t miss the last “all-in-fun” Wrecker’s Cup Race of the year. The ships set sail on Sunday, April 26, at 1 p.m. After the race, sailors and their crews gather at the Schooner Wharf Bar to honor the winners and heckle the losers. The Wrecker’s Cup Races are held in Key West four times a year, the last Sunday of each month, from January to April.