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“The World’s Longest River Race”


May 07, 2011

 by Dave Ellis

For more than a half century the Mug Race has conjured up sailors’ thoughts of stamina, navigation, frustration and feeling of accomplishment. Or not.   A bring-what-you-sail trek 38 miles up (down?) the St. Johns River from Palatka to Jacksonville, Florida, it features a reverse handicap start. Slower boats start as early as 7:30 AM, while the big catamarans start about three hours later. Whoever gets to the finish first wins.        

Paul Keller on his original Raider with the carbon mast and no jib or spinnaker started at 8:12:44, while Dave Ellis on a Raider Turbo with jib and asymmetrical spinnaker started at 8:21:31.  This year, out of 117 starters, only 25 boats made it to the finish line in Jacksonville before the 8:15 PM deadline.  From early morning until around 5:30 PM, depending on where you were on the river, it was light air, upwind, against a half-knot current. Yes, St. Johns is tidal.                                                                        

The half-way point is the Shands Bridge in Green Cove Springs.  For safety reasons it is alright to use an engine, paddle or push on the bridge fenders to get through the bridge. At about 5:30 seven boats were leading in a bunch:  Joe Waters on his Mirage Non-Spinnaker cruiser, two cruising spinnaker boats, three catamarans and the 16-foot Raider Turbo monohull. We drifted under the bridge several times and paddled back out.                                                                                                                                                             

The wind had come in very light from behind for a while. Suddenly a good 12 to 15 knot sea breeze kicked in and the catamarans took off, as did the Raider, away from the cruisers.  After struggling upwind for over nine hours, it only took me an hour and a half to do the second half of the race.                                              

The Raider Turbo, with jib and spinnaker on the extendable bow sprit, finished at 7:26 and was the ONLY Spinnaker Monohull class boat to finish within the time limit finishing 12th overall. Only high performance catamarans finished earlier.   The original Raider finished at 8:03 and was the ONLY Non-Spinnaker Monohull class boat to finish, 22nd overall. Raider Sail maker Joe Waters finished at 7:43 on his Mirage and was the ONLY finisher in the Non –Spinnaker Cruising class. Tough race.                                                                                                            

For complete results:




The 38-mile trek up the St. Johns River from Palatka to Jacksonville in north Florida was a light air affair this year. Of the 109 registered boats, 55 finished within the time limit of 8:15 PM. There was a reverse start, with the slowest boats starting at 7:30 in the morning and the fastest at about 10:30. Paul Keller sailed his original-rig Raider, starting at 8: 12. With the mostly downwind race, he finished at 7:50, after 11 hours 38 minutes of sailing. He was third in Monohull Non-Spinnakerclass, after two MC Scows.

Dave Ellis (sporting hull designation "AA"; guess when he registered for the event!), started at 8:21. He decided to fly the small reaching asymmetrical spinnaker, figuring that a good sea breeze would occur during the day. The larger downwind spinnaker can only be used when on a very broad reach. Alas, the wind was nearly always from well aft. Only occasionally was there a period of beating when the wind could not decide what to do. With the small spinnaker, higher angles, therefore more distance, had to be made. So going to the best side of the river for wind and out of the tide the first half and in the current the second half when it changed, was important.

The Raider Turbo passed most of the fleet that had started earlier by going along the shore. By the first bend in the river it was leading the fleet. At the next bend there was a bit of wind that came up from behind and two large keelboats and a Flying Dutchman sailed by the current North American Champ with his regular crew caught up.

Approaching the mid-point Shands Bridge check point the Turbo was leading, only to be nipped by a short distance by a Marstron 20 carbon catamaran just before the bridge. After the bridge a strange condition occurred with the breeze. There was little or no wind on the water. All the breeze was aloft. The taller the rig, the more breeze it caught. The two keelboats that the Raider was able to stay with in the light air were now able to power away with full sails while the shorter rigged boats moved slowly.

When within a mile of the finish near the Rudder Club in Jacksonville it looked like the Flying Dutchman and a Viper 640 were going to catch the Raider Turbo. Nobody was planing, of course. Their waterline is considerably longer than the Raider and there were no more tricks to pull with the finish line ahead. Suddenly that sea breeze that had been expected hours earlier hit from the east. The Raider Turbo sailed single handedly could not quite hold the spinnaker/jib/full mainsail combination high enough to make the finish line. So he fell off just enough and slogged the small spinnaker in the biggest puffs. Finally, pulling down the spin and close reaching across the line. Upon then looking back, the Viper 640 also had to take down his big asymmetrical and had lost ground. The Flying Dutchman with his usual expert crew work had dropped his 'chute and almost caught the Viper 640.

So the Raider Turbo was first in Monohull Spinnaker class, first dinghy to finish and seventh overall in the fleet. He finished at 7:15 PM after 10:55 of racing. Wonder how it would have been with the downwind spinnaker?

Story by Dave Ellis; Raider Turbo #107

For complete results:

Dave Ellis 2012 Mug Race

Ellis crossing the finish line in "AA"


Johannsen J

ohannsen Boat Works
P.O. Box 2311

Vero Beach, Florida 32961
PH (800) 869-0773