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All NOAA Crew Captures Second Place in Gulfstreamer Race 2024

 NCEI’s Jeff Arnfield, Rost Parsons, and Scott Cross pose before the Gulfstreamer Race in May 2024.

What makes a winning team? For the three NCEI sailors who participated in the 2024 Gulfstreamer Race over the Memorial Day Weekend, the answer is “good data.”
Scott Cross, Jeff Arnfield, and Rost Parsons raced onboard Scott’s 33-foot sailboat, Sea Sprite, on a challenging route that covered 226 nautical miles from Daytona Beach, FL to Charleston, SC. The unique team was made up of NCEI oceanographers and data managers who worked together to identify and integrate important NOAA models and observations, albeit as hobbyists in this role. They finished second overall and third in the Sprint Race. 

“NOAA data and products are widely used in the sailing community, from casual cruisers to professional race teams,” said Sea Sprite Captain Scott Cross. “We've relied on NOAA data and services both times we've done this race, with great results each time.”

The biennial Gulfstreamer race, put on by Florida’s Halifax River Yacht Club, offers a race within a race. The first part of the race was a 10 nautical mile “sprint” from Ponce De Leon Inlet to the Main Street Pier at Daytona Beach on Florida's East Coast. The second part of the race began at the Daytona pier and extended approximately 230 nautical miles northwards to Charleston, SC. This route allowed sailors to take advantage of the Gulf Stream Current—located 45 nautical miles offshore of Daytona Beach—to speed their way north to Charleston.  

Captain Scott Cross at the wheel of the sailboat, Sea Sprite.
Captain Scott Cross at the helm of the Sea Sprite in the 2024 Gulfstreamer Race.

Captain and crew laid out the tactics and route prior to leaving Daytona Beach, taking full advantage of the NOAA products and data available while onshore. Key choices for teams in this race are when/where to enter the Gulf Stream, locating the position of maximum currents, and critically, when to exit the Gulf Stream – all of which heavily rely on NOAA data. Using NOAA weather models (Global Forecast System (GFS) and North American Mesoscale (NAM) Forecast System), satellite data from NOAA Center for Satellite Applications and Research (STAR), buoy observations from NOAA National Data Buoy Center, and NOAA’s ocean model archive (OceanNOMADS), as well as navigational charts derived from NOAA electronic navigational chart (ENC) data, the crew integrated the data for a route that proved worthy of second place.    

The crew, self-proclaimed “Gray Beards'' with an average age of 64, proved that numbers and youth are not essential factors in a winning boat. All other boats had more crew members and some had up to nine. In 2018, Scott won the Gulfstreamer outright as Captain with Jeff at his side (a winning Dynamic Duo) on a different boat, which reinforces the concept that people, preparation, and cooperation—and of course, data—are a winning combination.