Quantum Key West Race Week gave us an opportunity to get on board Interlodge, the latest piece of weaponry in the grand-prix gunfight that is the TP52 Super Series. Between watching the seasoned crew power through maneuvers and fight to maintain their balance while Volvo Ocean Race-winning skipper Ian Walker whipped the boat around without warning, veteran photographer Paul Todd somehow managed to put his talents into action, bringing us a rarified view of the guest-racer experience. Only after his heart rate returned to normal could he describe what he witnessed through his viewfinder.
A blow-through-jibe in 20 knots, going into the bottom mark, requires sharp coordination among everyone, from bow to stern. Here, once tactician Andy Horton makes the call, Ian Walker confidently carves the boat into the turn. In a split-second, the boom whips across and fills with a shudder. Facing aft and not missing a beat is runner caddy, Mal Parker, who intuitively knows when it’s time to release the new leeward runner. The noise is deafening as thousands of pounds of pressure bear down on winches and blocks. The whole maneuver happens, from start to finish, in less than 15 seconds.
After rounding the weather mark, tearing downwind at 20 knots, Ian Walker is hunting waves, throwing the boat around like it’s a dinghy, looking for the next speed burst. When Interlodge jumps on plane, water jets from the back of the boat, leaving a hissing serpentine trail. The Italians on Azzura are following just behind and to leeward, while Quantum Racing sits to weather (not visible). Tactician Andy Horton is anxious to jibe away from Quantum for clear air, but Azzura is staying put, forcing Interlodge to wait a few more boat lengths before it can make its next move.
Ian Walker kicks the tiller a few times to get the bow up and over a wave. As the boat accelerates, going faster and faster, the apparent wind whips forward and the spinnaker trimmer, Zack Hurst, eases the sheet to unload the kite. But the ease isn’t enough, so he finally stands up, steps to the middle of the boat to give the kite a bigger ease, and braces as the boat punches into a wave, lifts up and takes off again. It feels like hitting speed bumps at full pace.
The crews of these TP52s aren’t afraid to play tight like NASCAR. With my camera in one hand and hanging on with the other, the boat bucks violently in the pre-start, especially in the back corner where I’m confined. While looking through the viewfinder, it appears that Quantum Racing’s bowsprit is only a few feet away from my head at times as helmsman Doug DeVos sweeps his boat’s bow up and down, hunting for an open spot. As they ramp up to full speed, Quantum bowman Greg Gendell calls time and lengths from the line.
Despite Andy Horton’s best efforts to position Interlodge on a perfect starboard layline into the weather mark, the Russian entry, Bronenosec Gazprom, risks a very late port approach and tacks below Interlodge’s bow. Horton raises the protest flag in an appeal to on-the-water umpires, but to no avail. Bronenosec Gazprom gets a green flag and sails on. All the while, Ian Walker and crew are focused on the next order of business — hoisting the big A-sail out of the forward hatch and getting around the offset mark.