The Re-creation: My Day at the St. Pete Regatta

Experience the thrill and insights of seasoned sailor Herb McCormick at the St. Petersburg Regatta.
Charisma crew
Skipper Tim Landt at the helm of his Nightwind 35, Charisma, flanked by mainsail trimmer Rory Maher (left) and lifelong sailing pal Doug Jones. Herb McCormick

The mid-February day started out like so many other sailing events I’ve enjoyed over the years: meeting up with a new crew, scoping out the particulars of a boat I’d never sailed, reviewing the sailing instructions and forecast for the day’s race, and then dropping the dock lines and heading out. Such is the life of an itinerant sailing writer, and I’ve never taken any of it for granted. 

Little did I know, however, that before this day was done, I’d hear something bordering on the profound. 

It was the opening day of the St. Petersburg, Florida, edition of the Sailing World Regatta Series, sponsored by Cruising World’s sister publication. As he often does, my longtime J/24 mate Dave Reed, the editor of Sailing World, threw me an assignment: Go racing with a team of seasoned homeboys from the St. Petersburg Yacht Club on the day’s distance race, a relatively new element of the regatta for the cruiser/racer set. I was more than happy to oblige. 

Which is how I made the acquaintance of Tim Landt and his close pal Doug Jones, who attended high school in the same prehistoric era that I did, and who have been racing sailboats together ever since. The pair were in the same class as a couple of other St. Pete luminaries, Ed Baird and Allison Jolley, who each rose to the pinnacle of the sport—the former as a winning America’s Cup skipper, the latter as an Olympic gold medalist. “Doug and I were different,” Landt said, laughing. “We had to go to work.”

Landt grew up racing Optimists and Lasers, moved into crewed boats with a Columbia 24 and a Cal 40, and even owned a couple of big Ted Irwin-designed cruising boats. But he seemed proudest of his current ride, a relatively rare Nightwind 35, a centerboard sloop designed by his friend and hero, the late Bruce Kirby, who also created the ubiquitous Laser. “I’d been looking for one for years,” Landt said. “They never come up for sale.” This past October, one did, and he pounced. 

This was only the third race aboard his new Charisma, but he downplayed it. “I got all my old buddies together,” he said. “We’re just out here to have fun.”

But Landt was—how shall we put this?—an aggressive and vocal racer, and he wasn’t there to fool around. He nailed a port-tack start; was on the foredeck for a sail change as the breeze built; called out spinnaker trim early and often; and was more or less a cyclone the entire race, in which Charisma scored a respectable fourth in the 13-boat Cruising division. A very good sailor, Landt’s enthusiasm and exuberance were infectious; it’s always great to sail with a dude who just bloody loves it, and it was clear he did.  

Back at the dock, Landt shared a cool story about naming Charisma: As a kid, he landed a gig as a gofer for a wealthy captain of industry in the days of the great Southern Ocean Racing Conference series. The guy had a boat by the same name. “He was so humble,” Landt said. “I always said if I got a nice race boat, I’d call it Charisma.

And then, he added: “You’re a writer, you might appreciate this. An old commodore, who was also my coach, once told me that the key to sailing is recreation. That’s what you have to turn it into. Now take that word apart, it’s re-creation. You always have to re-create yourself through your recreation. And that’s what sailing does for me.”

In the moment, I laughed and thanked him for a fine day. Only later did it occur to me that Landt had put into simple terms something I’ve always felt about sailing. I’m sure that a ­truly manic surfer or alpinist would say the same thing. That time away from the daily grind, laser-focused on the natural world, is priceless. Every time I’m on the water, whether on a daysail or after crossing an ocean, I come away refreshed and renewed. A new man. Hopefully a better one. Re-created. 

It always keeps me coming back for more.

Herb McCormick is a CW editor-at-large.