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Rags to Riches Regatta Returns To Grayton Beach

June 30, 2014 by Dwight Williams

A Local Fourth of July Weekend Tradition Finds Its Sea Legs

“Whenever two sailboats are on the water at the same time,” says Charlie Thornton, “it’s a race.  The captains may not admit it, but each wants to go faster than the other.”

Some things never change.

Last Fourth of July local sailors gathered for the legendary Rags to Riches Regatta, a Hobie Cat Race with a course between Grayton Beach and Seagrove. Seventeen captains showed up with their crew and 16-foot Hobies to negotiate the famously rowdy Gulf.

The regatta had endured a 16-year hiatus, but the success of the 2009 event resurrected a catalogue of memories for those who were around when the race first began all those years ago.

“It was the time for us to step up and bring it back,” says race organizer, Elizabeth Savage.  “And the community rallied around it.”

The Regatta’s origins reach back to the spring of 1981 when a group of local sailors were hanging out at Lynn Stone’s house in Grayton Beach.  The idea of a Hobie Cat regatta between Grayton and Seagrove came up and by night’s end they had a plan: a $20 entry fee would get each captain and crew a t-shirt and a beer at the end of the Fourth of July race.  And they had a name.

“Everyone in Grayton Beach thought of themselves as poor,” Thornton recalls of that night, “and they went by ‘rags.’  The folks in Seagrove were all better off, so they went by ‘riches.’  So that year we called it the Rags to Riches Regatta.”  The next year we sailed from Seagrove to Grayton, and would call it Riches to Rags.

Thus a Regatta was born.

The 1981 race was a spectacular success, with 20-25 boats showing up.  Later years would see as many as 35 boats.  And the Gulf promised to keep the sailing interesting.  1985 was one of those years.

“The Gulf looked like the North Sea,” recalls local skipper Chip Haring.

The Gulf was so rough that Haring considered staying ashore with his new 16-foot Hobie. But in the end he set off with the seas continuing to build.  A few minutes into the sail the boat tumbled stern-over-bow, turtling the Hobie.

“I crashed so hard that my wedding ring came off,” Haring recalls.  After a Herculean effort to right the boat, he and his crew were on their way home.

Seven years later, in the 1992, Haring’s brother-in-law was nearly lost at sea during the Regatta after having ventured further offshore for favorable winds.  One of the hulls began taking on water in the rough seas, all but disabling the boat.  The sun went down and the catamaran drifted eastward toward St. Andrews Bay.  The following day the Coast Guard spotted the boat and brought the sailors home.

1992 would prove to be the last Rags to Riches Regatta – until last year.

“Bringing it back was kind of a tribute to the past,” says Elizabeth Savage.  “That was the best times of our lives, and we wanted to give that back to our parents and to our children.”

“It’s a great compliment to the 4th of July weekend,” says local sailor Bryson Stephens.  “You have a barbecue on the beach, sailing, the parade… It’s wonderful.” Last year Stephens and his 5-year-old daughter finished second in the Regatta.

“People wanted it back because it was a defining event for the Seagrove area,” says Haring.

Unlike in years past, the 2010 Rags to Riches Regatta will begin and end at Grayton Beach.  It will be held on Saturday, July 3.  All captains will be required to sail a Hobie Cat 16 or the equivalent.  The $45 entry fee comes with a t-shirt for the captain and crew of one, and a gift bag.  The top three finishes will be awarded.

Registration begins at 8 a.m.  The captains’ meeting will be at 11 a.m., with the race beginning immediately afterward. 

Chip Haring and crew set sail on the 1985 Rags to Riches Regatta.  Shortly after this picture was taken, the boat turtled in the heavy seas.

 

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