Race boats at the Hartley dock ready for the Papa Jim Regatta.
There was extra cause for celebration and excitement along the banks of Salt Run this past Labor Day. For the past three years the Papa Jim Regatta, in honor of the late Jim Hartley, has been hosted by the Hartley family and SPARS, a local group dedicated towards teaching people of all ages, especially youth, the benefits of sailing.

SPARS, which stands for “Sailors, Paddlers, and Rowers of St. Augustine”, has done a wonderful job of engaging local kids and getting them on the water. A small fleet of sailing prams, and Sunfish comprise their training rigs and during the Labor Day event they loan the boats out to folks who want to compete in the regatta. LAMP, however, has no need to borrow a small sailboat since the Boatworks here at the lighthouse built the Bevin’s Skiff in 2007. And so, like last year, I took the pride of our wooden fleet down to the water to stretch her legs. My good friend, Rob, met me the morning of the race to get the boat dusted off, loaded onto its trailer, rigged and then launched. It had been a year since the little boat had been properly sailed and it took some earnest remembering to remind myself how the sail was lashed to the mast to get it ‘just so’. After we got the boat in the water and everything looked like a sailboat I hopped in, trying to look the part of the racing salt saddling-up. Rob reminded me from the shore that I needed to drop the daggerboard in order to begin sailing forward, instead of sideways. With a shake of my hand in acknowledgement and yelling something about ‘still too shallow’ I slapped the daggerboard in and away we went. Most of my sailing experience for the past year has been on much bigger boats that take longer to react to adjustments of the sailing rig and this is simply not the case with a sailboat that only weighs twice the weight of its skipper. To remind myself of these subtleties I decided to tack and gybe a bit to get the hang of it again. I’m sure most people watching must have thought what a maverick I was, darting about so quickly and so close to the other boats and pilings. It would have been harder for them to tell how masterfully I was hiding the look of terror as I got the boat back under control and headed the right way.

A couple of surprise gybes later I felt sufficiently confident to try a controlled crash into the regatta center of operations, the Hartley family dock. Neptune kindly diminished the winds so I could slide into a spot by nuzzling the bow of the skiff into the smaller, lighter, and very plastic boat (Sorry if I left some paint folks.) I’m pretty sure that the race committee on the dock was impressed by my striding off the boat by using three or four nearby masts and pieces of rigging to steady myself in a somewhat acrobatic way. Nonetheless, I had arrived at the right place at the right time, the race was on.

The first order of business in a regatta is to hold a captains meeting where everyone stands around in a tight group, arms folded over the chest, and trys to remember what a boomvang is and if they brought theirs or not. The course is established and rules are agreed upon. Then, after, being deafened by a testing of the air horn, we were told the starting procedure. I sign my name on a piece of paper and then hustle back to the boat, eager to get underway and hone my competitive edge.

I decided to depart early from the race dock and survey the course, mostly just to see if I can actually make it all the way around without using a motor. Fortunately, there is ample wind blowing for me to get up enough speed to make it just far enough from the starting gate to be almost a minute late in crossing the line. It was really for the better because I would hate to have been taking up so much of the starting line and depriving the other contestants of a good start. Starting behind the crowd also allows me to observe their secretive sailing tricks, such as making sure you catch your hat when a trick gybe takes it off your head and tries to fling it overboard.

As I finished the second round I noticed that I was getting ready to pass one of the speediest of boats, the one favored to win. Casting a glance over I nonchalantly asked Rick why he was still working on round one when I darn well knew he was finishing lap three, but the mental warfare was just too tempting. It was the third and final lap that really had the crowd on the edge of the seat, and for two reasons. One was that they could really enjoy watching an unobstructed view of the Bevin’s Skiff because; two, I was the only one out there who still had to finish the final lap. As I glided across the finish line, to the relief of the committee boat, I turned her nose for the dock and joined Chuck for the post-race celebration. We all grabbed a plate of food and watched the second race, a youngster-only race. I am a big fan of these youth races, especially since they keep the kids who blew past me last year from doing that again! At least I was getting honestly whupped by my own age class this year.

The Hartley residence is a beautiful house on the banks of Salt Run and they put on a magnificent spread of food for everybody. As always, there were fixings for turkey sandwiches, complete with cranberry dressing. They even had a bushel of oysters on the steam and we all enjoyed some of Apalachicola’s finest. Loads of people from the neighborhood came to the event, which is hosted as a benefit for SPARS, and hung out on the dock to watch the last few races. All participants received a nice piece of sailcloth with the name and date of the regatta on it.
To see more pictures of the event, take a gander at the SPARS website. They host some very nice events and help keep St. Augustine’s waterfront public and fun. Thanks to Wendy Thomas, SPARS president, the Hartle family for hosting the events, and to all of the other SPARS volunteers who helped make the day a success!