Once invidiously called the Grapefruit Circuit, the series of late-winter races collectively known as the SORC (for Southern Ocean Racing Circuit) has developed into an important testing ground for the new ideas of the entire racing season. Its six events offer tight competition in every condition of sea and weather over a thousand miles of racing. And when the SORC ends, likely leaders in the next Bermuda and Transatlantic all have been determined—for the time being, at least—and many still newer and hotter boats have been commissioned for future seasons.
This winter's SORC was the closest ever and was marked by the presence of a whole fleet of new, experimental boats built like giant surfboards, with wide beams and sharp, short keels designed to slide down the wind and the waves.
Red Jacket, a new 40-footer owned by the Royal Canadian Yacht Club's Perry Connelly, won the opener, the 105-mile St. Petersburg-to- Venice Race. Light, very fast and spectacular downwind, Red Jacket found conditions exactly to her taste, and she crossed the line second, well ahead of many boats twice her waterline length.
The next race, St. Petersburg to Fort Lauderdale, was not designed for light-air boats. There was a moderate breeze at the start, but it freshened as the fleet rounded the tip of Florida and started back up the coast. The last 100 miles of the race were dead to weather and in a freezing gale.
Chubasco, the 67-foot sloop once sailed by Humphrey Bogart and now by Arnold Haskell of Newport Beach, Calif., finished first on sheer size and power. Remarkably, however, Red Jacket was second. She had reached out into the Gulf Stream in some four hours of downwind sailing and, with the Stream under her and the wind screeching, carrying a spinnaker on planing runs, she got as high as 12 knots over the bottom.
The Lucaya Race allows the finishers to visit that fabulous port on Grand Bahama. Points in it may be substituted for points in the Venice race, and William Snaith's Figaro IV (SI, July 11, 1966) was able to exchange a 17th place for a ninth to raise her overall score, but top place was won by another experimental craft, Circe II, a Columbia 40, racing with her centerboard slot fiber-glassed over.
I had a berth aboard George Moffett Jr.'s 49-foot aluminum sloop Guinevere, which, like Thor Ramsing's Solution, is a kind of compromise between the old and the new. Being aluminum, she is light enough to take off downwind, but she still has enough lateral resistance underneath to ensure performance to weather. But even Guinevere had no built-in device—beyond the crew's alertness—to prevent her going aground, and that, after a disappointing ride, is exactly what we did, right in sight of the finish line. We spent the night grinding gently on a coral head and listening to the fun ashore.
Back to Miami went the fleet for the Lipton Cup Race, an all-day affair around the buoys off Government Cut. It proved to be another field day for Red Jacket, with the Cal 40 Old Salt in her wake.
With only two races left—the Miami-Nassau and the Nassau Cup—Red Jacket was ahead in the point scores, with four boats close behind: Henry Burkard's Otseketa, Roland Becker and George Dewar's Stampede, Bill Snaith's Figaro, and Vamoose, the new 40-footer owned by last year's SORC champion, Ted Turner.
The Miami-Nassau was the race to win. Like the Lauderdale, it offers more points than the other races. A close-winded affair, it presents no advantage to a light boat's ability to surf downwind and many temptations to the daring tactician. Disregarding this, the light leaders—Otseketa, Red Jacket and Vamoose, which Turner built specifically to beat the time of his speedy Cal 40, Vamp X—concentrated entirely on one another and paid little attention to more conservative boats like Solution and our Guinevere. It cost them dearly, as we short-tacked along the Berry Islands in a rising breeze that shifted in the black middle of the night right into their noses.