Based off early morning forecasts, it appeared a lay day might be in the cards for competitors at Quantum Key West Race Week 2015. Some sailors might have already been making plays to play tennis or go fishing during an hour-long dockside delay.
However, organizers with Premiere Racing saw a small pocket of sailable conditions and sent the fleet out to the three race courses. Division 1 completed two races while Divisions 2 and 3 both got in one to keep the regatta moving along.
“We actually had pretty good pressure coming off the northerly beach,” said Scott Nixon, tactician aboard the J/111 My Sharona. “It was about seven to eight knots from the northwest and we had a decent race.”
Ken Legler, principal race officer on Division 1, had a building breeze on his course and decided to hold a second race on Wednesday. It proved a wise decision as the wind piped up later in the afternoon.
“We saw seven to 10 knots in the last race today, which was kind of surprising,” said Alec Cutler, skipper of the Melges 32 Hedgehog.
Dave Brennan, principal race officer on Division 2, said the decision to send the boats out on the water came after organizers received live on-water reports from boats that had been sent out to determine exactly what conditions were.
“We were cautious because the forecast was not very promising,” said Brennan. “We had boats out on the water and were watching the progress very carefully. We felt there was a good chance the breeze would stick and that we could give the sailors a race.”
Brennan said conditions on his course, which includes the Melges 24 and J/70 classes, were perfectly fine for Race 5. However, the breeze steadily died and dipped below five knots, which is the threshold Brennan believes is necessary to start a race.
“We got in one good race on a day we didn’t think we would have any so that’s a plus,” he said. “This regatta has always been about quality over quantity and we didn’t think a second race today would be very good so we decided not to get greedy.”
Some of the best racing of the regatta has come in IRC 2, which includes the five boats competing in the High Performance Rule sub-class. Tonnerre 4, a Ker 51 that owner Peter Vroon is racing for the first time here in Key West, continues to lead IRC 2 after posting a third and a sixth on Wednesday. However, Tonnerre is winning a tiebreaker with the Ker 43 Otra Vez, which also has 19 points.
Skipper William Coates steered Otra Vez to a second and a fourth, erasing a three-point deficit to Tonnerre 4 and earn Mount Gay Rum Boat of the Day honors. True (Kernan 47, Leo van den Thillart) and Spookie (Carkeek 40, Steve Benjamin) have also sailed well and are trail the leaders by just four and six points, respectively.
“We’ve been having some wonderful racing out there with both classes. There are a lot of good boats on the course,” Benjamin said. “I, for one, like that we are being dual-scored. I think it shows that both systems are working.”
Tonnerre 4 is winning the HPR sub-class with a low score of 15 points, just one better than Otra Vez and Spookie. Benjamin, who helped develop the HPR rule, said conditions make a big impact on the results as all the boats perform differently in various wind ranges.
There are three Swan 42-footers in IRC 2 and those boats also comprise a sub-class. Impetuous, owned by Paul Zabetakis, is tied with John Halbert and his team on Vitesse. All five boats in the Melges 32 class have proven to be well-sailed and things are tight after three days with skipper Alec Cutler and his crew on Hedgehog leading the father-son tandem of Dalton and Doug DeVos by two and three points, respectively. Dalton DeVos is skippering Delta, which is currently in second place by one point over his father on Volpe.
“We have a small fleet, but everyone is either a world champ or a national champ or the College Sailor of the Year,” said Cutler, the latter title being held by Argo skipper and Yale All-American Graham Landy. “I don’t think there has been more than 30 seconds between the first and last boats in any race so far.”
Canadian professional Richard Clarke is calling tactics for Cutler, the defending Key West champ who has not finished lower than third in any of the six races. “We’ve gone from first to third a couple times and we’ve gone from fifth to third a couple times. It’s real easy to gain or lose in a hurry. Today, it all came down to who was able to get into that little vein of wind.”
Irish skipper Conor Clarke and his crew on Embarr continue to increase their lead in Melges 24 class. Stuart McNay and Dave Hughes, who are mounting an Olympic campaign together, are serving as helmsman and tactician aboard Embarr, which won Wednesday’s lone race and now counts four bullets.
Jud Smith remained the leader in J/70 class for the second straight day, sailing Africa to sixth on Wednesday and adding two points to his advantage over Bennet Greenwald and Perseverance. Trey Sheehan steered Hooligan to third on Wednesday and is now tied with Perseverance on points.
“Everybody is working together very nicely and the boat is moving real well,” said Michael Sheehan, who is crewing for his brother. “We were saying on the way back into the dock that we are not going to change anything. We are just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
Brad Boston is tactician on Hooligan, which has a home port of Put-in-Bay, Ohio and a team comprised of close friends who grew up together in the greater Cleveland area. Hooligan is part of the Flat Stanley Racing program, which also includes a Melges 32.
“We’ve been able to get off the line clean and we haven’t taken any flyers,” Michael Sheehan said. “Brad is really sharp about looking up the course and seeing what we’ve got coming.”
Skipper Iris Vogel and her team on Deviation along with skipper George Gamble and his crew aboard My Sharona have been leaders of the J/88 and J/111 one-design classes at the end of each day’s racing.
Veteran Quantum professional Kerry Klingler is calling tactics for Vogel, who has finished first in three races and second in the two others. This is the first one-design regatta for any of the J/88s competing here in Key West and Vogel said she’s somewhat surprised to be the pace-setter.
“We’ve only being doing PHRF racing so we really don’t know how we good we were,” Vogel said. “It’s exciting to be here competing against other J/88s and finally finding out if we’re fast or slow.”
Nixon, an Annapolis-based Quantum professional, said the My Sharona team put in a lot of time practicing prior to the regatta and that effort is paying off. “We’ve been pretty fast in all conditions,” he said.
Rob Ruhlman, skipper of second place Spaceman Spiff, has been impressed with My Sharona‘s ability to accelerate off the start line. “My Sharona is killing it off the line. Today they got out there with clean air and just launched on the whole fleet. We have to do a better job of starting if we want to have any chance of beating them,” Ruhlman said.
Tangent has been the dominant boat in PHRF 1, which is somewhat surprising since the Cape Fear 38 is a heavy displacement boat that doesn’t normally perform well in light air. However, skipper Gerry Taylor and tactician Chuck O’Malley have handled the conditions well.
“I give all the credit to Chuck and the crew. They are accustomed to sailing in light wind on the Chesapeake Bay and that experience has helped us here so far this week,” Taylor said. “We’re very happy to be in this position and are looking forward to Thursday and Friday when the wind is supposed to be about 15 knots or more, which is right in our sweet spot.”
Single digit winds are also not the preference of sailors aboard the GC 32 catamarans, which need a bit more breeze in order to foil upwind. Skipper Jason Carroll and the Argo team have been the most consistent of the four entries, winning three races and placing second in two others.
“I just think we have a little bit more time in the boat than the other three teams,” Carroll said. “The light air has been a bit of a game-changer, but the boats are still fast and fun even in the conditions we’ve had so far.”
Skipper Alex Jackson kept Leenabarca ashore on Wednesday because of damage to a carbon-fiber sprit. Repairs were made and that GC 32 will be back on the course Thursday when the wind should be ideal for the high-tech cats.
Event Website and full results: http://wwww.premiere-racing.com