Old Boats Give New Life to a Worthy Cause

Chief, winner of Most Beautiful Boat in 2023.

With its waterfront lined with masts bobbing in calm water, ropes clinking against metal like wind chimes, St. Petersburg has a rich sailing tradition. The bay offers a large, protected playground for experts and beginners alike. World champions and Olympic medalists have called these waters home. But not all winners are the fastest. The St. Petersburg Classic Regatta is a beloved tradition that is about more than sailing.  

In a world where technology is rapidly changing the sport, a group of dedicated sailors has created a unique way to hold on to traditions. Fourteen years ago, the St. Petersburg Sailing Association recognized the challenge that many sailboat owners had keeping up with newer, faster boats made with new materials. So, they created the St. Petersburg Classic Regatta, a race made specifically for boats twenty years and older – vessels whose owners love friendly competition but might not be the fastest on the water. 

Organizers of that first Classic Regatta were astonished when more than 70 classic boats registered to compete. It turns out, there were a lot of owners of boats built in the 1970s and 1980s who wanted to race, but couldn’t compete with boats built with newer, lighter and stronger materials.

Al Lima and the crew of Jade, winners of the Good Neighbor Award in 2018 and 2020.

Rich Treinan helps organize the St. Petersburg Classic Regatta now. He said, “Older sailing boats were mostly family-type cruisers. Not many were built to be racing boats. During the mid 80s, new boats with lots of hi-tech materials became available at a lower price. Serious sailors gravitated toward the hi-tech boats. This split the community and the family cruisers couldn’t compete.”

Images of John Candy in the film Summer Rental come to mind, winning a race in Boca Ciega Bay with his extra-large Chicago Blackhawks jersey hoisted atop the mast, giving his family the extra sailing power they needed. 

Originally dubbed the “Good Old Boat Regatta,” those early races also created an opportunity to give back to the community. Organizers formed a bond with Neighborly Care Network, and began donating the proceeds from the regatta to Meal on Wheels of Pinellas. The 2023 regatta in October raised $59,000 bringing the total over the years to more than $260,000. Treinen likes to joke that they are “raising a boat-load of money” for people in need. 

Heading into its 15th year, the St. Petersburg Classic Regatta’s popularity has grown. For many cruisers, it might be the only race they enter all year, and they keep coming back. Restricting entries to boats older than 20 years isn’t the only way the event is uniquely competitive and fun. With boats of different classes, sizes, and speeds a handicapping system is used to level the playing field. The race start is staggered, with slower-rated vessels starting earliest. This means that regardless of the type of boat, the first one across the line is the winner.

Previous Most Beautiful Boat winner White Hawk.

Coming in first isn’t the only way to win. Recognition is given to the most beautiful sailboat in the competition, most stylish crew, oldest boat, most unusual boat, and oldest and youngest skippers. The most prestigious award is the Good Neighbor Trophy, which goes to the top fundraising team. This plaque is displayed at the St. Pete Yacht Club with each year’s winner engraved. 

Meals on Wheels of Pinellas County is one of the oldest federally funded Meals on Wheels programs in the country. But as food costs rise, federal funding alone doesn’t come close to covering the need. Susan MacIntyre with Neighborly Care Network explained how important this event is for the organization, which can’t afford to dedicate staff to special events. 

“When the Sailing Association decided to add a charitable aspect to their Classic Regatta we were lucky that a Meals on Wheels volunteer had a connection to their committee. Neighborly Senior Care Network is a lean organization,” MacIntyre explained. “We do not have an event coordinator on staff. We focus on individual donations and grants to help pay for more than 500,000 meals served each year in Pinellas County. Since the St. Petersburg Yacht Club is part of the event, we can use their wonderful club for the after-party to add to the fun and attract more guests and sponsors. All because the sailors acted on the idea of a Meals on Wheels volunteer.”

Richard Boler and Sydney Frasca, Good Neighbor Award winners in 2019 and 2023.

It’s a race that no person – or boat – is too old for. Sailors with boats over 20 years old, interested in being a part of the 15th Annual St. Petersburg Classic Regatta can reach out to Rich Treinen at reinenrich@aol.com

Interested in being a part of the 15th Annual St. Petersburg Classic Regatta? Reach out to Rich Treinen at reinenrich@aol.comThe St. Pete Sailing Association membership includes entry into all of cruises and races, as well as educational seminars, and other social events, and boat ownership isn’t required. For more, visit spsa.us. To learn more about other Neighborly services or to volunteer for Meals on Wheels, visit neighborly.org.