War Canoe wins Race for the Case

War Canoe, captained by John Dane III, won Race for the Case Sunday. Piranha, captained by Steve Nolte, was second.
War Canoe, captained by John Dane III, won Race for the Case Sunday. Piranha, captained by Steve Nolte, was second. Special to the Sun Herald

On a day noted for speed, the 49th running of the Race for the Case was not.

“It was not the Indianapolis 500,” said Piranha Captain Steve Nolte. “It was the exact opposite.”

John Dane III made the run with War Canoe from the Gulfport Yacht Club to the Biloxi Yacht Club, crossing the finish line first around 4:30, about three hours sailing. Winning boats normally make the run from Gulfport to Biloxi in about two hours or less.

Dane felt winds at the start of the Race for the Case were initially good, with his instruments measuring a 14 knot breeze. However, a sudden squall hit the flotilla and, after the squall, the breeze died down to under 2 knots. As the ships entered the Biloxi channel, many of the boats could not make headway against a 1.4 knot current going east to west.

“The beginning was beautiful,” Nolte agreed. “One of my crewmen asked me early in the race how long did I think it would take us to get to Biloxi. I told him I thought about an hour-and-a-half. I was only off by two-and-a-half hours.”

“We passed two boats who were anchored,” Dane said. The boats were anchored in the strong current to avoid going backwards in the current.

Dane, who took the lead off the Beau Rivage, credited a good crew and a high sail that helped him make it through the calm breeze. The high sail took advantage of differences in the breeze at sea level and at 20-to-30 feet above the sea’s surface.

Nolte felt the day made for a challenging, technical sail.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” he said. “It’s so hot out there that it’s hard to concentrate, and you have to concentrate to get the best air. You have to look at all your surroundings and note what the other boats are doing. You have to change what you are doing to take best advantage of the breeze.”

A constantly changing wind direction added to the light breeze. Both Dane and Nolte said the wind circled the compass during the race, starting from the south then coming from the southeast before north and then back to the south.

“With the wind changing, you have to constantly change your gears and change you sails,” Nolte said.

Nolte crossed the finish line about 30 minutes behind Dane. A Boston Whaler Harpoon 5.2 crossed third under the command of Paul Barardi.

The Race for the Case was started by Ocean Springs sailor Bache Whitlock 46 years ago. The original race ended in Ocean Springs and contestants gathered afterwards in Whitlock’s back yard for a post-race party. The name comes from the winner’s prize, a case filled with rum, champagne and beer.

This year’s winner received his weight in beer from Biloxi Brewing and Mississippi Brewing.

Next year’s race will mark a half-century of the running of the Race for the Case.

Race for the Case results

1. War Canoe (John Dane III)

2. Piranha (Steve Nolte)

3. Unnamed Boston Whaler Harpoon 5.2 (Paul Barardi)

4. Free Spirit (Tom Stokes)

5. Unnamed Cat Boat entered by the Seafood industry and Museum

6. Fidelis II (Steve Montagnet)

7. Knot Fas (Bryan Cromwell)