Published: June 2014 – BoatU.S. Magazine
© 2014 Troy Gilbert
The Mississippi Coast is the birthplace of yacht racing on the Gulf Coast with the first regattas tracking back to 1849 in Pass Christian onboard schooners with stake boats as racing marks. Home to two of the five oldest yacht clubs in the United States (Pass Christian & Biloxi), the Mississippi Coast has over the last nine years since Hurricane Katrina built a stable of state-of-the-art yacht club’s and is investing nearly $100M into public marinas and infrastructure.
More importantly, the club’s made their junior sailing and boating safety programs an immediate priority and their efforts are paying off. Gulfport YC’s longtime Sailing Director, Sam Vazquez, was heavily involved from day one, “Within a few months after the storm, we had our junior’s racing up in Atlanta on borrowed Opti’s. By the next summer we had repaired or replaced our fleet of Opti’s, Vanguards, 420’s and Scots and had restarted our sailing camp with 120 kids.”
Nine years out, the junior sailors on the Mississippi Coast are all now considered “Katrina Babies” meaning that all they have known is a coast in recovery and rebuilding mode. And having seen first-hand the importance of getting these kids out on the water, if simply to bring a semblance of normality to the community, the club’s on the coast then reached out to the local high schools. Today there are six high school sailing teams actively competing and their regular regattas are drawing in high school teams from throughout the Northern Gulf Coast. The Galloway Regatta in Gulfport recently hosted 70 junior and high school boats ranging from Optimists to V-15’s.
“The issue for us now though is the lack of big boats coming back, whether sport boats or racer/cruisers that compete around the buoys or in our distance races. Our high schoolers are looking to move up and that’s the wall we’re running into.” Vazquez continues, “We had a lot of boats wash away and a lot of people who still haven’t returned, but every year it’s getting better.”
As the massive public marinas on the coast are coming back online and hardened to withstand future storms, the big boats are finally returning. The Gulfport Small Craft Harbor’s 319 slips are now 50% leased and another 300 slips will become available in the nearby cities of Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian in 2014. Distance regattas such as the 100nm Gulfport to Pensacola Race are nearly back to their pre-storm participation and Gulf Yachting Association’s Capdevielle races and Challenge Cup regatta are well attended.
“We made the kids a priority, because we had to.” Vazquez adds, “These Katrina Babies are the future of the sport on the Mississippi Coast.”