APOLLO BEACH – Schooners, sloops and catamarans will set sail from Apollo Beach Saturday to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Gasparilla Regatta.
Hosted by the Tampa Sailing Squadron based in Apollo Beach and open to all types of sailing vessels, the traditional regatta takes place in conjunction with the annual Tampa Bay Gasparilla celebration.
“The regatta attracts sailors from Bradenton to Dunedin,” said Dan Fels, regatta chairman and incoming squadron commodore.
Fels said the regatta has averaged 30 to 40 sailboats in past years. However, he’s hoping for a bigger turnout for its 50th anniversary.
“Last year the number was down because it was held on Super Bowl weekend,” said Fels. “This year we made sure the regatta didn’t conflict with Super Bowl parties.”
Following an 8 a.m. continental breakfast, the regatta will set sail from the Tampa Sailing Squadron Clubhouse, 1250 Apollo Beach Blvd., Apollo Beach, at 11 a.m. for the True Cruising and Mother Lode classes and 11:30 a.m. for Spinnaker, Non-Spinnaker and One-Design classes.
The course, subject to weather conditions and tides, will be determined the day of the regatta.
Fels said one of the big incentives for participating is the price. The entry fee of $50 includes two dinners and two T-shirts. He added the squadron has gone all out this year for its post-regatta dinner and party, which will take place at 8 p.m. Saturday at the clubhouse’s outdoor pavilion.
“We’ll be cooking ribs on our smoker this year, and I’ve asked all squadron members to bring their favorite specialty desserts made in their own kitchens,” said Fels.
Non-sailors are invited to join the party, as well. Tickets for two dinners are $16. The squadron also will have 50th annual regatta T-shirts for $12.
Among the highlights of the regatta is the traditional shoot-out challenge between the Tampa Sailing Squadron and the Davis Island Yacht Club to take home the Pirate Musketoon Award.
“Davis Island won last year but we’re hoping to get the award back for our 50th,” said Fels.
The Tampa Sailing Squadron is the only South Shore sailing facility open to the public for membership.
“We’re not a yacht club,” said Fels, a 10-year member. “We’re a sweat equity club. Pretty much everything has been built by the members over the years – the docks, the clubhouse, the pavilion. We are one of the better values in the sailing community in all of Tampa Bay.”
Membership in the squadron fluctuates between 260 and 310 members, said Fels.
“The membership is an extremely diverse mix, from doctors and lawyers to computer geeks and retirees,” said Fels, a utility contractor. “The average age of our members is 50 but we’re trying to attract younger families through the youth sailing program we host every summer. We’re a friendly place, not an exclusive place.”
He said the squadron functions as a social group for sailing enthusiasts. Each month it hosts a potluck dinner for members; offers a once-a-month women’s sailing group and club races every two weeks; and sponsors Sea Scout Ship 185, a coed Scout troop for teens.
In recent years, the squadron also has taken on an advocacy role for the sailing community, with members active in the Apollo Beach Waterway Improvement Group. ABWIG is currently facilitating a project to dredge the channels off Apollo Beach that have filled with silt since the last dredging 15 years ago. The silt buildup prevents vessels with large drafts from sailing into Apollo Beach at low tide.
The squadron also hosts Coast Guard Auxiliary basic boating and boating safety classes at the clubhouse.
“We’re a very participatory club,” said Fels. “The more you put in, the more you get out of it. Everything we do is geared to enhancing the waters around Apollo Beach and promoting the sailing lifestyle.”
Race entry forms and schedules are available on the squadron’s website, www.Sail-TSS.org.
Registration will take place Friday at the clubhouse from 5 to 7 p.m. and a skipper’s meeting at 8, featuring hamburgers, hotdogs and beer.
For information, contact Fels at (813) 917-8558 or the clubhouse at (813) 645-8377. Limited dock space during the regatta will be available at the squadron on a first-come, first-served basis. To reserve dock space, contact dockmaster Steve Lookabough at (813) 922-4096.
D’Ann Lawrence White is a freelance writer who can be reached at [email protected]