The 3rd Annual Dick Hitchcock Memorial Regatta was contested in Gulfport, Florida on March 18th and 19th, 2023. Frigid temperatures (OK, Florida frigid (50’s and 60’s Fahrenheit)) greeted the twelve intrepid competitors on Boca Ciega Bay. The weekend began with the well oiled Gulfport Yacht Club regatta hosting machine swinging into action.
After Wetas were directed to the launching area on the beach behind the Lion’s Club, participants were treated to a first class barbecue of hot dogs and hamburgers grilled to order by the grill master, Cliff Peshek. A pre-race clinic was then conducted by Stephanie Taylor on the merits of “spinning the dog.” Some of the participants failed to attend the clinic in its entirety resulting in failed attempts to execute the maneuver.
Saturday dawned with the aforementioned frigid Florida temperatures (60’s) with winds in the high teens and gusts in the 20’s. The volunteers from Gulfport Yacht Club (Billy Crider, Christina Perez, Jennifer Ehrhart, Bob Feckner, and Geoff Hartman) were there to help the participants launch and retrieve our boats. The PRO, Mike Kasper, and the race committee set a square line and a great course which enabled us to get in four races before 3 pm.
Pete Merrifield and Charles “Pooch” Pucciariello dominated the fleet. Pete was second in the first race and finished the day with 3 consecutive bullets. Pooch started the day with a win and battled Pete for the remainder of the day reeling in three second place finishes. Gusty conditions and misunderstandings about the correct way to “spin the dog” resulted in Rick Sylvester spinning the tiller off the head of his rudder in the first race, several intimate starts with amas placed between the hulls of other boats and Tim French attempting to spin his boat around the mast with his transom in the air during race 3.
Good starts, picking the correct side of the course and superior boat speed both up and downwind ruled the day. The evening concluded with another first class meal hosted by the terrific volunteers from GYC and a charity auction benefiting the Magic Yarn Project, a nonprofit providing character wigs for children with cancer, that was started by Dick Hitchcock’s daughter, Bree Hitchcock. Terry Crockett, who evidently injured his back trying to "spin the dog”, coordinated the auction and associated fundraising earning over $2,800 for the charity.
Sunday started with an apprehensive group concerned about the forecasted winds in the mid 20’s with gusts projected in the 30’s. Did I mention the frigid temperatures? They had now dropped into the 50’s. Racing was postponed for an hour and the group slowly made their way to the boats. In a sign the day was going to be great, the spirited GYC volunteers were once again there to help us launch and retrieve our boats and we were treated to a fantastic day of sailing with flat water and shifty winds in the low teens.
The course was fast, the lines were fair, and the race committee was on watch every race even postponing in the middle of the starting sequence to adjust the starting line after a wind shift. Pete Merrifield started where he left off taking line honors in the first race of the day, but cracked the door open when he 1) was over early at the start, 2) fell off the boat at the weather mark, and 3) hit the leeward mark all in the same race. Alan Taylor cruised to a wire to wire victory in the third race of the day only to find out he was OCS. Pooch took advantage and won the second and third races and iced the regatta with a second in the final race of the day resulting in a one point margin of victory.
Once again GYC hosted a fabulous event. At an impromptu meeting, Devin Van Zandt was elected Florida Fleet Captain. He will have big shoes to fill (literally and figuratively) following Cliff’s outstanding contribution to Weta sailing in the state of Florida and nationwide.By Bill Swanson
More Photos by Jennifer Earhart, Richard Kiczek & Stephanie Taylor