Outdoors

Olympian, defending champ fill their sails in Gulfport to Pensacola race

The War Canoe of Pass Christian crosses the starting line during the start of Gulfport - Pensacola race, Friday, June 16, 2017.
The War Canoe of Pass Christian crosses the starting line during the start of Gulfport - Pensacola race, Friday, June 16, 2017. ttisbell@sunherald.com

Thirty-one sailboats set sail across the starting line as the annual Gulfport to Pensacola race began Friday morning south of Gulfport Yacht Club.

The sailboat fleet rounded Ship Island then turned east on their 100-mile race that will end at the Pensacola Sea Buoy on Saturday morning. The awards ceremony will be held at the Pensacola Yacht Club.

Eric Aschaffenburg, at the helm of Great Escape, finished first in fleet in 2016 in this annual offshore sailing race that originated in 1949.

Olympic sailor John Dane of Gulfport is competing in this race, sailing War Canoe, a Melges 32.

“If you look at the weather, the wind should be coming out of the southwest,’’ Dane said. “So we will have to sail fast. It is supposed to pick up to 10 to 15 (knots) late this afternoon. If that happens, we should have a nice, easy race as opposed to two years ago when the wind was due east and blowing 20 (knots). That was miserable.

“Hopefully we don’t get too many squalls, but I predict at least one.

“I have two of my boys with me (on War Canoe) and we are sailing with eight people instead of nine because it does look like we will have lighter winds.’’

Other Coast sailboats in this race include skipper Tim Lawton in Chaos from Ocean Springs Yacht Club, skipper Thomas Stokes in Free Spirit from Long Beach Yacht Club, skipper Oliver Montagnet in Fidelis II from Pass Christian Yacht Club, and skipper Timothy Cerniglia in Radio Flyer from Bay-Waveland Yacht Club.

There are PHRF, Cruising and Cruising Non-Spinnaker sailboats in this race, which is the second leg of the Sawgrass Offshore Series for the Barnett Trophy.

Fidelis II and Radio Flyer are competing in the Cruising division. Fidelis II finished second in Cruising Division A last year, while Stokes won Cruising Division 2 in 2016.

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