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BEACH CAT RACING

Evolving Structure of Beach Catamaran Racing in Florida By Roy Laughlin

H

obie Alter did not develop his first Hobie Cats with racing in mind. But the drag-racer performance of these small planing-hulls enthused a racing contingent as soon as two beach cat sailors left the same beach. By the 1980s, Hobie Cat weekend regattas routinely hosted 300 catamarans. The Hobie Cat brand became synonymous with all beach cats, but Prindle, Supercat and later Performance Catamaran’s NACRA line were also conspicuously present. Each manufacturer played a significant if not dominant role in establishing class rules and sponsoring regattas for owners of its products. The Hobie Cat racing organization became so large that the Hobie Cat Company, while retaining significant sponsorship, established a separate membership organization presently known as the North American Hobie Class Association (NAHCA). (The Hobie Class Association is international; only the North American subgroup is important to this story.) This quasi-independent membership group was built on the local “Hobie Fleets.” These in turn were organized into divisions. Florida’s Hobie Division 8 was one of the largest and most active divisions with at least a dozen active local fleets. Prindle catamaran races had a similar, although smaller membership racing group, but they are now defunct. The divisions of these membership groups coordinated scheduling, established regatta rules and procedures, often obtained financial sponsorship, and offered annual awards for sailing skill and sportsmanship. Local fleets did a whole lot more during the years than sponsor races, but preparing for and conducting regattas were, for these groups, the most complex and financially demanding efforts. Many young adults at the time brought business education and job-derived skills to this effort and left with exceptionally valuable and unique career experience. During the 1970s, when beach cat racing was epidemic among young adults, efforts of division and fleet officers were instrumental in the success of beach cat racing. All things pass, and so did the fortunes of beach cat 48 October 2006

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makers and sailors. By 1990, local fleets were anemic for lack of new members. As beach cat sales declined, the manufacturers failed, merged with competitors or moved to new markets, entirely leaving regatta efforts to the local fleets. For the minor boat brands, even the local fleets vanished as membership eroded. The NAHCA, independent of the company, survives and remains a significant force in regatta sponsorship nationwide. But in Florida its fortunes were badly battered by some unique circumstances. The most avid racers moved away from Hobie Cats to high tech brands, most of which are presently built by Performance Catamaran. Local fleets remained responsible during the early 1990s for regattas on Florida’s Hobie Division 8 calendar. As former Hobie Cat sailors moved to non-Hobie catamarans, local fleets faced the loss of both their participation in organizing a regatta and the financial benefit of their registration fees. In response, nearly all local fleets, by 1995, sponsored open regattas, following Hobie-sanctioned rules in order to maintain the broadest participation. NAHCA rules had always limited participation to sailors on Hobie brand products, but at least temporarily turned a blind eye to the open regatta model. When it became predominant in Florida in particular, the national officials, after a long and painful debate, decided to enforce the rule. According to Clark Keysor, a long-time Division 8 associate (as member and division officer), Hobie Division 8 is “still alive and functioning, just not very active.” During this turmoil, local fleets didn’t miss a beat. They became “catamaran associations,” often incorporating elements of the Hobie Fleet number designation to indicate continuity. For example, Brevard County’s Fleet 45 Space Coast Catamaran Association. Some fleets even retain their NAHCA association, but their regattas are not sanctioned Hobie Class Racing Association regattas. The open regatta, welcoming sailors on any beach catamaran, is the dominant model now for beach cat regatta organizers. Nature abhors a vacuum, and the demise of Division 8 left a big one. Regatta organizers needed a way to quickly coordinate scheduling, issue NORs and conduct other public regatta business as division officers had done. The Internet came to the rescue—in a most unexpected way. The Web site, www.1design.net, founded and operated by Brian Karr in Rockledge in 2000, was an existing forum for a group of former Division 8 sailors interested in one-design catamaran racing. These sailors, active in local fleets, began using 1design.net’s forum to disseminate news, solicit opinions and request assistance for newly independent local regattas. Within two years, this modest Internet site became the de facto central node in a self-organizing beach cat regatta network. It is as effective as any top-down organization. Users pay no dues and have only the obligation to register for posting privileges on the forums. Spam and obnoxious inappropriate postings necessitated registration requirements for posters. Anyone can read posts and other information on the site. The North American Multihull Sailor www.southwindsmagazine.com

Southwindsoctober2006  

http://www.southwindsmagazine.com/pdfs-issues/southwindsoctober2006.pdf

Southwindsoctober2006  

http://www.southwindsmagazine.com/pdfs-issues/southwindsoctober2006.pdf