Friday, June 26, 2015

2015 Great Texas 300

2015 Great Texas 300
by Steve Piche

Taking the top five places, F18’s once again dominated the 2015 edition of the Great Texas 300, a 300 mile romp up the Texas Coast that started on Thursday, June 18th in South Padre Island, Texas and finished on Saturday, June 20th in Galveston, Texas.  Taking line honors on a C2 was an incredibly fast Team Lupe Tortilla with skipper John Tomko of San Antonio, Texas and crew Ian Billings of Austin, Texas.  They covered the 300 miles, done in three legs, in 17 hours and 39 minutes with an average speed over 14 knots per hour.

While the race was run in nearly record time, it looked uncertain the days leading up to the event whether the race would take place.  An early tropical storm named Bill ran headlong into the Texas coast the day prior to the scheduled start of the race.  With high winds, big surf and extensive flooding, the race committee decided to postpone the event for a day and combine the final two legs.  Fortunately, the delay worked and the race was run in three days rather than the traditional four days.

On the first day of the race, remnants of the tropical storm presented challenging sailing conditions.    The Great Texas 300 has beach starts and finishes.  A series of big waves broke on Team Lupe Tortilla as they headed out through the surf after the start of leg one resulting in a broken rudder arm.  They went back ashore and replaced the whole rudder assembly.  Starting 10 minutes in the hole, they were able to knife through the whole fleet to finish first despite being last off the beach.

Other teams did not fare as well.  Sailing downwind in big seas and a 15-20 knot breeze, Team Jack Flash, Collin Casey and Joshua Grissom, pitchpoled soon after the start.  Collin hit his head during the pitchpole and received a bad concussion.  Unable to continue the sail, the US Coast Guard rescued the skipper and crew and brought Collin to safety.  He went to the hospital and was later released.  Team Chiindi, Brett Johnston and Anthony Acquilla also ran into trouble.  Anthony got separate from the boat in the big seas and they also needed Coast Guard help to get him back on the boat.

After an eventful first day, the winds and waves laid down and the sailors enjoyed beautiful conditions (south breeze at 10-15 knots) for the next two legs of the race.  After clearing the surf line each day, spinnakers were set and out on the traps went both sailors for a 100 miles double trap spin reach.  It was awesome sailing conditions with the miles flying by at an amazing rate.  There is nothing quite like running 100 miles on an spin reach on an F18 adjusting nothing but the spin sheet and traveler the whole way – just pure awesome sailing.

Once again, Lupe Tortilla was able to win both legs although they had to work for their stage wins.  Overall second place team Yo Baby!, Shannon Galway and Jonathan Atwood, and overall third place team Sailboat Shop, Mike Rohrer and Chris Holt, both teams sailing C2’s, gave Team Lupe Tortilla a fight but John and Ian ultimately put the pedal to medal and won the legs.  It was a good showing by the defending champions.  Lupe Tortilla also won the F18 Class while Team Chums, Lee Wicklund and David Cerdas, took first in the open class.  

Hats off to the race committee who persevered despite the tropical storm and put on a heck of a race.  To see complete results and detailed stories on the race go to  You can also follow the race on Facebook by liking the page  The 2016 Great Texas 300 will be held June 15-18, 2016 and you are invited to join the race up the Texas Coast!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Top 10 List for Day 3 of the 2015 Great Texas

Top 10 List for Day 3 of the 2015 Great Texas 
by Steve Piche of Team Great Texas, June 20th
Matagorda to Galveston Island, 85 miles

Enjoy my top 10 list for day 3 of the Great Texas:
1. 17 hours and 39 minutes: How long does it take to sail from South Padre to Galveston Island? Yep, 17 hours and 39 minutes to cover the 300 mile course if your Team Name is Lupe Tortilla! Can you believe it? That is some serious flying! Yes, the defending champs took a punch on the starting line in South Padre with a broken rudder but once they were back in the ring, they tore the coast up. Congratulations to John Tomko and Ian Billings. Amazing job!
2. Sailing Nirvana All Day: Wow, we ripped off 85 miles today in just over four hours. It was full on double trap spinnaker reach all day. We never dropped below 15 knots. It was, dare I say it, the most perfect sailing leg ever in the Great Texas. It was just nirvana. You will not be able to get the smile off my face for a year. You, yes, you need to come experience this! If you can sail a cat, get your boat here next year. If you don’t sail, learn how and come join us! I guarantee ear to ear grinning fun!
3. The Race for Fourth: We entered today in fourth place with a 1 minute 12 second lead over Team Carbo-Link, Luke McCallum and Aaron McCulley. We were determined to keep our lead no matter what it took and it took a lot! We zoomed down the beach to Bryan Point side by side for 30 miles. Team Carbo-Link got a small lead going into the point but we decided to roll the dice and cut the corner at the point. This was extra dicey because this is where the Brazos River comes out and we knew it would be nasty (waves, shallows, logs and debris). We managed to work our way through the shallows with one rudder pop up and hit a few small float logs. However, our strategy worked and we were able to gain a small lead. We then got in front of them and covered them to the line. We were 10 feet from the line when one of our dagger boards dropped and we stopped. Team Carbo-Link got line honors but only by a few seconds. Mission accomplished, we hung on to 4th. Now, that was tight racing. One minute separated us after 300 miles!
4. Chums takes the Open Class: Congratulation to Team Chums for taking a first place in open class. They proved that Wings lead to a victory. Good job Lee and David!
5. The F18 Battle: John and Ian sailed off the horizon once again but our team, Sailboat Shop, Yo Baby! and Carbo-Link all battled it out in a very tight group. We became obsessed today with covering team Carbo-Link while Team Sailboat Shop and Yo Baby battled for second. For second place, Team Sailboat Shop got an early lead but then Chris Holt got knocked off the boat. Bungee lines broke and they could only use one trap on a double trap day. Yo Baby rolled over them in the last few miles and secured their second in the regatta. Again, only a few minutes separated these two boats. Really good job!
6. Wisconsin and Arizona: We want to thank Team Wisconsin, Todd Bouton and Tyler Gruen, and Team Chiindi, Brett Johnston and Anthony Acquilla/Jose Cerdas, for joining us! They had a great time playing with us this past week and we had a great time meeting them and their team managers! We hope to see more teams from the Midwest and Arizona next year!
7. AnnStrong: I sailed the entire race with my AnnStrong yellow bracelet. Ann Apel had previously served as a race officer on the Great Texas. Unfortunately, she got cancer and it has knocked her out the last couple of years. However, she is a survivor and was just recently pronounced cancer free. She has one more round of chemo and then hopefully she is all done. We all sailed with AnnStong on our wrist this year. We are very, very fortunately to get to do what we do. Thanks Ann!
8. Our Organizing Committee: Thanks so much for our awesome organizing committee. We had some very tough decision to make this week and our organizing committee did a great job navigating some tricky waters. Hats off to Billy, Trey and Terri who keep this whole show moving up the beach.
9. Awards Banquet: We will be handing out awards this evening followed by a catered dinner from Lupe Tortilla. Those that won deserve their trophies but everyone deserves their food. Thanks Lupe Tortilla and Cat Alley for hosting us.
10. Wednesday before Father’s Day Next Year: This is my last top ten list for this year’s Great Texas. I know y’all have a tear in your eye but fear not, I will be back pecking away at my computer in a few weeks when I am in Kiel Germany for F18 Worlds (July 14-18). As I finish all my final top 10 lists for the Great Texas, I invited you, yes you, to join us at the 2016 Great Texas. Come as a sailor, team manager, volunteer or spectator. We start at 10 am on the Wednesday before Father’s Day in South Padre Island! See you in SPI next year! 

Top 10 List for Day 2 of the 2015 Great Texas

Top 10 List for Day 2 of the 2015 Great Texas 
by Steve Piche of Team Great Texas, June 19th
Mustang Island to Matagorda, 101 miles

Enjoy my top 10 list for day 2: 
1. Team Lupe Tortilla has to work for the win: John Tomko and Ian Billings of Team Lupe Tortilla did not get anything free today – they had to work for their first to finish today. The race started in light winds off the beach and they put up the kite and took off with Yo Baby. They paced away but then the wind filled in from behind and the fleet caught back up. On a good double trap spin reach, the fleet tore up the miles until a rain storm crossed over the fleet. The rain storm sucked the air out of the atmosphere and everyone compressed together. John and Ian got out first followed by Yo Baby, Chums, Sailboat Shop and our team – Carbo-Link got hung up after having a good first half of the day. John and Ian were able to work back out to a lead and came in 7 minutes ahead of Sailboat Shop. It was a good job of sailing in some variable conditions.
2. Hanging out with my good friend Juke: I spent the entire day hanging out with my friend Juke – I mean really hanging out, on a trap. No better way to spend a day with a great friend than riding waves, flying spinnakers, and trying to beat your friends on a 100 mile leg down the Texas coast. You need to hang out with your friends more often!
3. Sailboat Shop was Awesome: A big congratulations to Team Sailboat Shop, Mike Rohrer and Chris Holt, on an awesome sail today. They had a great start off the beach, set the chute and then BANG – their spin halyard block blew up! Back to the beach they went for a repair. They gave everyone a ten minute start and then pulled a John Tomko. They flew through the fleet and then almost won the leg. In the end, they came up seven minutes short but they looked like the fastest boat out there today.
4. Double Trapped Spin Reach Nirvana: About a third of today was spent in what I call beach cat sailing nirvana – a smooth double trapped spin reach. There is nothing more fun than running down the beach with the spin up and both of us out on our traps. Once double trapped, we try to run the same compass heading – 48 degrees most of the day. As the puffs roll in and out, I work the traveler trying to keep the windward hull flying and going the same compass heading. When it all works well, as it did much of today, it is just a wonderful form of sailing! 
5. Team Managers Rule: As I write this top 10 list, I am once again reminded why Team Managers Rule! I have to admit that my brain and my body are jelly right now. I am wasted from pushing the boat all day long. The only reason I can write this top 10 list is because my Team Manager, Tom Meyer, has been so helpful. He is running around getting food, charging batteries and even helping with my family that just returned from Sweden. There are nine other team managers that are working their butts off this week and we could not get up the Texas Coast without them. Thank you so much Tommy!
6. Zhik Trapeze Harnesses Rule: I spent much of the day hanging from a wire and that wire is attached to a harness. Now when you are in a harness all day, it becomes really, really important that that harness fits well or else your day is basically hell. I have been using a Zhik harness for the past year in my buoy regattas and decided I would switch out my old and very trusted harness which has done two Worrells and 12 Great Texas’ for the Zhik harness. I was a bit nervous about this decision but damn it worked out great – what a comfy ride. Thanks to Mike Krantz at Zhik for hooking me up. 
7. The Billy Washing Machine: Tropical Storm Bill delayed our start and dumped a lot of rain on Texas and that rain had to go somewhere and that somewhere was out the Port O’Connor cut. Now, when a lot of water exits into the gulf, well, it is pretty darn turbulent – basically a big washing machine of turbulence. As we sailed by the jetties near the Port O'Connor cut, it got totally wild. We were in sailing nirvana one moment (see point 3) and in Billy’s washing machine the next. We had huge waves going every direction. We were double trapped running the kite and all of the sudden we were getting pounded by waves. We quickly dropped the chute and jib reached through the mess. We got out the back side and went back to sailing nirvana (see point 3)!
8. We Miss Beuerlein: Damn it all, Matagorda was where Mike Beuerlein always served us the world’s greatest Gumbo each year! Unfortunately, Mike could not make it this year and we were left Gumbo-less (is that a word?). We miss you Mike – you need to join us next year!
9. Cat Alley F16: Good job to team Cat Alley F16, Matt Parker and Nick Maudlin, on hanging in tough today on their F16. I spent the first hour of the day trying my hardest to pass those boys but they had the Mojo going and I just could not get them. Finally, the wind came up and I was able to sneak past them. However, when we hit the rain storm, they came rolling back up out of nowhere and almost smoked past the whole fleet. They sailed very well today.
10. Another Long Leg: No rest for the weary (and I am the weary). We jump of the beach tomorrow and do a combination leg to Cat Alley in Galveston. We have about an 85 mile run down the beach – a bit shorter than our two 100 mile legs. It will be tough but somebody has to do it!

Top 10 List for Day 1 of the 2015 Great Texas

Top 10 List for Day 1 of the 2015 Great Texas
by Steve Piche of Team Great Texas, June 18th

Whew, we actually got to go sailing today after having to postpone the Great Texas by a day to let the remnants of tropical storm Bill clear out of the south gulf.  So, here is my top 10 list for our 103.5 mile run from South Padre to Mustang Island.

1.     The Champ can take a Punch:  Beach launches are always exciting as we have to bash through the surf before heading off on course.  Today, the surf gremlins got John Tomko and Ian Billings, defending champs of the Great Texas.  One big wave stopped them, the second wave started to move them backwards and the third broke their rudder.  The champs had to head back to the beach as the fleet sailed off to Mustang Island.  Fortunately, for the champs, Team Great Texas (formerly sailing under team Rudderless), had a complete set of rudders (from Mike Beuerlein) stashed in their trailer.  A quick ten minute fix and the champs were back on the course slicing through the fleet with abandon.  A ten minute deficit turned into a 23 minute lead over the second place boat by the end of the day.  They pulled up with smiles on their face and a big thank you to Team Great Texas and Mike Beuerlein for getting them out a jam!
2.      Coast Guard to the Rescue (Part I):  It was lumpy, bumpy and windy out on the course today and it was easy to go down the elevator shaft and not come back up.  Team Jack Flash flipped over shortly into the race and skipper Collin Casey hit his head.  Due to Collin’s condition, they decided to ask for Coast Guard assistance.  A Coast Guard helicopter rescued Collin and he was taken to a hospital.  He was checked out, found to be OK, and released.  The team later found the boat washed up on shore.  A tough break for a great sailor and friend.
3.      Big Wind Makes for a Fast Run:  Lupe Tortilla (John and Ian) finished the course in just over 6 hours – over 100 miles.  Do the math – they were flying today.  It was a big downwind run in good size seas with a nice south breeze of around 15 knots.  It was game on from the beginning to the end.  A good day to put your crew out on the wire and floor the boat!  Ah, it was fun.  I mean really fun.  Hee, hee, hee!
4.      Coast Guard to the Rescue (Part II):  Team Chiindi came to the shores of Texas to get a wild bull ride and they got one today.  Unfortunately, the bull tossed the crew from the boat part way through the leg and we had a Man Over Board incident.  The skipper was able to keep the boat up right but could not find the crew in the big waves.  A coast guard helicopter located the crew which allowed the skipper to pick him out of the water.  I bet these guys will be using their safety lines tomorrow – I know I always do! 
5.     Three time’s a charm:  Team Yo Baby pitchpoled 3 times today but yet still managed to finish in second!  When they were up and going, they were going fast!  Maybe they were pushing the limits a little too much!
6.     Texas BBQ:  Wow, did we fill our bellies with sailing and BBQ today.  Thank to Andrew and Stephanie of Triple Threat BBQ for the outstanding BBQ on beach.  The ribs were incredible and we finished it all off with peach cobbler.
7.      What a Ride:  The waves got pretty big today and it was quite a ride down the face of some of those monsters!   It was pretty technical sailing today.  When you got on the backside of a wave, the boat would slow down and you had to power back up.  Once powered back up, you would then start to get a good run going until you surfed down the front side of the wave at which point you had to head deep to keep from crashing into the next wave.  Next, you would slow down on the backside and start the whole process over.  Obviously, John and Ian are better at this game than the rest of us.
8.      Kids on the Beach:  The sailors are playing like kids and the kids are playing, well, like kids.  John, Ian and Juke have their kids and wonderful wives along for the ride.  When we showed up at the beach today, all five kids (Dylan, Ryan, Lauren, Lux and little Lorelei) where playing in the water and having just a fantastic time.  They had big smiles as well as their daddys – the moms looked like they were having fun too.
9.      New Beach:  Due to problems at our scheduled beach for today's finish, we tried out a new beach.  We went just north of Peckery Channel and it worked out just fine.  A big, big thank you to Corey Harding and Andrew Tatton for finding us a new beach for the finish yesterday.  At one point, we did not know if we could go because we could not find an open beach.  However, we pulled it off and made it to Mustang Island.
10.   Off to Matagorda:   We have another 100 mile leg tomorrow – no rest for the weary.  It is always a tough leg as we typically go from a downwind ride to a wild reach.  The weather looks good – we start at 10 am.  You can follow us live at