Linda Robertson

Perfect day for sailing in Bacardi Cup on Biscayne Bay

Sailors compete in the J-70 class in the Bacardi Cup during the fifth day of Miami Sailing Week on Biscayne Bay on Friday, March 11, 2016.
Sailors compete in the J-70 class in the Bacardi Cup during the fifth day of Miami Sailing Week on Biscayne Bay on Friday, March 11, 2016. Miami Herald Staff

Biscayne Bay showed off its power and glory as a wind maker Friday, filling sails with 15-knot gold.

On the fifth day of Miami Sailing Week, with the Bacardi Cup at stake, the bay flexed the muscles beneath its rippling emerald skin and exhaled. Churning waters danced in the sun.

Sailors rejoiced.

“It’s been vintage Biscayne Bay,” Miami skipper Augie Diaz said. “Our bay is one of the best playgrounds in the world. It’s a blessing to sail when there’s a steady easterly flowing breeze.

“Everyone from abroad is saying, ‘Wow!’ They are gaa-gaa over these ideal conditions.”

Diaz and crew Bruno Prada of Brazil are in third place in the Star class with one race to go Saturday. The elegant Stars, with their century-long lineage, tall masts, 285-square-foot sails and narrow hulls, comprise the premier class among the five competing. This year, J-70s, VX Ones, Vipers and the speedy A-Class Catamarans joined the 200-boat show.

The Trofeo Bacardi began in Havana in 1927. The regatta found a new home at the Coral Reef Yacht Club in Coconut Grove in 1962, where the winners continue the tradition of sipping rum on the podium.

Star sailors are still perplexed and mystified that the two-man boat was removed from the Olympics, especially with the 2016 Games coming to Rio de Janeiro, home of the first family of Brazilian sailing, the Graels, and champions Lars and Torben Grael. Was the $50,000 boat perceived as too elitist or not athletic enough? It is a magnet for the world’s best sailors, including the Graels, Paul Cayard, Mark Strube, Diego Negri and Robert Stanjek, who are in Miami for the Cup and the upcoming Star world championships.

“It’s a boat that demands mano-a-mano sailing because you’ve got to get your elbows dirty,” Diaz explained. “You could put our crews on the rugby field — they are great athletes and very tough.”

The Star is a keel boat that performs like a dinghy.

“You must have a deep knowledge of trimming and the physics of sailing,” Stanjek said. “A thin mast, sensitive rig, big mainsail —it’s a technical class.”

Brad Funk joined Strube in the Star after just missing a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in the 49er class.

“I do love jumping in the Star with Mark because it’s such a competitive and prestigious class,” said Funk, formerly of Fort Lauderdale, who now lives in Clearwater and plans to join the new Star Sailors League. “The marvelous conditions allowed us to surf some waves and have a lot of fun.”

Negri and crew Sergio Lambertenghi of Italy are tied for first with Stanjek and Frithjof Kleen of Germany. Both have seven points. No one can catch them.

“It’s going to be exciting because we know each other really well, we trained together in our Olympic campaigns and have sailed together on big boats many times,” said Negri, who passed two boats on the last leg in Friday’s first race to win in what was nearly a photo finish, then rode a good start and a left side route to victory in the second.

“When the wind is light here, it’s tricky, but when it’s breezy it is amazing,” Negri said. “Plus in Italy it is winter, so we like having summertime in Miami.”

Diaz, a multiple Cup runner-up, missed his chance at winning when he went over the starting line early in the first race. Cayard also got a black flag, as did Torben Grael and Lars Grael, who was trying to become the first three-peat winner since 1936.

“As a fleet we’ve been unruly and anxious at the start,” said Diaz, whose partner is Bruno Prada of Brazil. “The second race was frustrating, too. On the second weather leg I got a little lost reading the wind and we ended up in fourth.”

On Monday, high winds led to a few broken masts and ripped sails, so when gusts reached 32 knots on Thursday, the Stars took the day off.

But on Friday, it was sailors’ dream weather. Yellow, blue, pink and green spinnakers flew under a cloudscape that looked like it had been painted in the sky, with the skylines of downtown Miami, the Grove and Key Biscayne as backdrop.

No wonder golfers, tennis players and sailors converge on South Florida in March.

“Everyone kept saying they’ve never seen a better day,” race officer Mike Catalano said. “It was chamber-of-commerce perfect.”