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Key West Race Week: 30 on 30s

Sailing World's Dave Reed lucked into a ride onboard the C&C 30 Nyabinghi for Quantum Key West Race Week. New class, new regatta, new team.

January 19, 2016
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Friday, Jan. 22

Big-boy breeze, that’s what we had today for the one and only race of the day before the heavens opened up and the squalls came whistling through Key West. That big-boy breeze is big-time fun, though, and on Nyabinghi it seems to be our sweet spot. In these conditions heaps of the credit goes to our guy with the stick in his hands, Angus Davis.

I’ve sailed with a lot of different teams in my time at Sailing World, and I have to say, Angus is one hell of an owner/driver when the breeze gets cranking: consistently on pace upwind and unflinching downwind when the sails load up and the speedo starts spinning.

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What I find amazing is how silent and focused he is, so in the moment, responding with quick corrections to waves and puffs when the helm loads up. Having Charlie Enright on the business end of the spinnaker sheet does help, but with some skippers, it sometimes feels as though a wipeout is inevitable when control goes beyond the edge. Not so with Angus it’s all good all the time, which has a noticeable effect on the confidence of the entire crew. When we’re turning the corner and set the kite, we start looking for opportunities rather than surrendering to the conditions and playing it safe.

So for our final race of this Quantum Key West Race Week 2016, we ended on a high note, finishing third and sailing the race virtually mistake free. In rough and windy conditions, the tacks were good, the jibes solid, and the one leeward mark rounding was a keeper. The adrenaline rush of two high-speed whitewater runs and the speedo pegged at 19 knots is one I won’t soon forget. It’s why we come here every year, to be better in big breeze, to test ourselves and learn.

And learn we did, a lot, which is the consequence of having two engaging pros on board, which is the C&C30 class rule allowance. Sometimes I pick up little things, like lingo or something as simple as folding a sail, or more tune into advanced rig tune or sail trim concepts. I’ve never understand why people complain about having pros in one-design classes, because having them onboard when (and if) they do teach rapidly accelerates a program to from junior league to big-boy status. Nyabinghi is proof positive.

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I have little doubt we would have carried everything we’ve absorbed into the last scheduled race and come away with a better overall result than fifth. And I’m not sure about Angus, who’s a first-timer to Key West Race Week, but I for one had a hell of a time playing, learning, advancing and having fun day and night with a great group of guys. Key West Race Week always delivers on all fronts, but every year is never the same. The only downside is the wait: 364 days and counting. That, and the return to the Great White North.

Thursday, Jan. 21

In all my years of coming to Key West Race Week, I’d never been to Sloppy Joes during the daylight hours, but today we had reason to saunter through its open doorways and pull up a table for seven in front of the stage, with a sole acoustic guitarist belting away his crowd pleasing classics. There we sat after dropping off our torn spinnaker at the North Sails repair facility across the street, the entire Nyabinghi team, matching red shirts and an unquenchable thirst.

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We finally had reason to celebrate. We’d won a race, and it was the last of the day, which made it even more satisfying after finishing sixth and fourth in the day’s other contests. So, allow me to share in this satisfying moment and re-tell the race that stands out thus far as the week’s highlight—as it should.

Readers of this space (below) will remember our starting struggles of the previous days, so intentionally or not, our tactician Cameron Appleton simplified the exercise with time-and-distance approaches today, which got us off the line and going straight, although we still need to work on our speed build. In the few days I’ve sailed with him, I’ve grown to appreciate his reinforcement of mastering the basics: tacks, jibes, etc. Once you’ve got them down, every thing you do on the racecourse is a simple execution and linking of these maneuvers, as if you’re doing it without any boats around. But as good a teacher as he is, I think maybe he realized that our racecourse management had to come back to the basics as well. I can imagine it’s hard to come from pro programs and expect a similar level and ability to execute without thinking, but with five amateurs on the boat, sailing for the first time together getting fancy has to come later.

So in the last race we had a well-timed approach to the race committee boat, safe and easy, sheeted on and were off and running a nearly full speed (that’s our next demon to conquer). He picked the shifts and managed the course with confidence, which is not easy given the fleet tends to split 50/50 left and right. We were second around the windward mark for the first time all week.

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We rolled right into a sambuca, something we’d never practiced, and the spinnaker snapped full and we were shot into the lead. It felt good to be ahead, of course, and ratcheted up the intensity of the entire squad, each of us keen not to flub a jibe or a drop. That pressure, to not screw up anything, keeps you focused.

But the fleet caught up on the run, and as we entered the gate marks, overlapped with a few boats, chaos came raining down. Cam called for two jibes and then a douse, and at some point in the span of five seconds it all seemed to change. The jibes, he meant, were just mainsail jibes, and there I was, the bumbling fool, head down tailing away on spinnaker sheets oblivious to where the gate marks were. Norm, our bowman, is yelling for me to pull on the takedown line. If he’s yelling for it, it’s too late.

The spinnaker did come down, albeit late and messy and we turned upwind to port around the left gate, the jib still flapping as I cursed and put my entire back into the winch handle to grind it in firm. My heart dropped when I saw a half dozen boats sailing hard on the wind from the other gate, and the boat next to us already going higher and faster out of the mark. Thankfully, Cam got us back into the race as we threaded through the downwind J/70s and put us right back into the lead at the second and final top mark. It was the first time we’d led a race outright around a mark and the view was fantastic: identical boats stacked bow to stern.

We nailed the sambuca again, as well as our jibes down the run, allowing us to pull away from the two nearest boats and win the race. There were high fives and bumps all around, and after clean up, Cam reminds us that we’re “only as good as your next race.”

He’s right, and thankfully we have two more tries to make good on it. We owe it to ourselves to prove that we are not a one-win fluke. We have a long way to go to be consistently good and nail the basics, but it sure felt good to be first to the barn.

Wednesday, Jan. 20

After the first race, our tactician Cameron Appleton summed up the result perfectly.

“Well boys,” he said. “We’ve got some work to do.”

And then, after the second race, it went something along the lines of this: “Yesterday, I guess we overachieved. Today is like reality day.”

Whatever happened to hump day? Anyway, you can see where I’m going with this, right?

For us, and I’m sure a lot of other teams, the high-wind lay day on Tuesday didn’t work out in our favor. Either we got slower or the other teams got faster and smarter, or both, but either way, our results today didn’t help us keep our third place in the standings. In fact, tonight I refuse to look at results this because I know we’ve gone backwards, big time. In my mind, the best coping mechanism is to just put it behind and start fresh the next day.

We’ve got likely three races on Thursday and then one on Friday as the Storm Trysail Club tries to wrap this one up with an as- promised 12-race series and get people on the road earlier. So, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time, and I’ll take comfort in the fact that we are getting a bit better—I feel I am at least—in getting a handle on the C&C30’s quirks.

The core Nyabinghi team has sailed the boat quite a bit over the past year, so they’ve already sorted a few of the systems out, but after talking to other crews and owners at the C&C 30 social tonight, it’s obvious there’s plenty left to explore as this one-design class grows. One team, I’m told, has load cells, another has an elaborate bungee systems to help clean up the pile of control line tails that pile into the cockpit after every maneuver. I’m sure all of it helpful, but we don’t have time for major boatwork. We’re mid-regatta and need a few Hail Mary’s. But we’ll start with better starts.

Thus far we’ve been unable to get off the line with a full head of steam, forcing us to clear out on port immediately after the start (or before) and play catch up with the front pack. They’re all good and once they’re out into open air, it’s sayonara.

So for Thursday, starting is a priority, as is improving boathandling, including my tacks on the jib. We made one adjustment yesterday by having Charlie release, allowing me more time to get to the new sheet with gusto.

All we need is some space, a runway, a shift or two come our way and we’ll be enjoying some Key West bliss. Speaking of which, our young man Nick on the runners has owned his role at the back of the bus, and earned the Nyabinghi dreadlock beanie in honor of his contributions to our lay day team-building excursion down Duval and the killer steak dinner that followed. The beanie was below on the boat for the first two races, and in an attempt to improve our luck Nick donned it for the last race, our best of the day.

So that’s another change for Thursday: the dreads have to come out sooner.

Monday, Jan. 18 “That was a long day.”

I chuckled when I heard my teammate Charlie Enright say it as we motored back from the racecourse after an eight-hour race day. Now, here’s a guy who went and sailed around the world over nine months on Volvo 65, all day, all night. But the truth is, he’s right. The first real day of sailing for us on the C&C30 Nyabinghi was a long one, but between dock out and bail out, time did fly. It was a blur of a day and somehow we’re standing third overall, not too far from first, and not to far from the back of the fleet either. The racing was close, and as it is with one-design keelboat racing in a new class, someone’s bound to have shocker. We avoided it today, so we have that going for us.

But it did almost happen in the third race when, as we were looking unable to lay the pin end at the start, tactician Cameron Appleton called for two quick tacks: leave the jib trimmed for a quick back and then tack right back to starboard. It might have worked any other time, but the seven of us onboard, including Nyabinghi‘s owner and super helmsman Angus Davis, had never sailed together as a team until this very morning. We’re not quite ready for rock star moves, and flubbed the tack-tack, fouling a boat in the process that came sweeping into our leeward quarter, won the pin that Cameron was gunning for, and sailed off to win the race.

After penalty turns, however, we were fighting our way back for the next five legs, long windy and bumpy ones, and the patience of Cameron to find opportunities and the hyper intensive trimming of Charlie on the mainsheet was a strong combination. But the hero of the day award goes to Angus who hasn’t driven the boat since the summer of 2015. We didn’t have a single minute of practice before this morning and he was fast, steering through narrow lanes in big lumpy seas, 20-knots of breeze downwind and keeping his composure as we threaded on the edge downwind through J/70 targets coming upwind. It was pretty amazing stuff: We didn’t have a single wipe out or yard sale mark rounding, nothing broke, and at times we were the fastest boat on the course upwind. In other words, it was a day to be proud of, one to build on, as Cameron says, as we gel as a team, get our communication down, and each of us settle into our jobs.

On the bow we have Norm, by far the youngest on the boat and one hell of a young sailor. He hails from the Great Lakes and it’s clear he’s been around a few good grand-prix programs and brings some clever ideas, such as threading monofilament into our spinnaker take down line, which apparently helps discourage it from knotting and kinking. That’s on the work list for tomorrow (Tuesday). One position back from Norm is Leeds, our pitman. The C&C 30 doesn’t have much of pit. Strike that…there is no pit, just a cockpit full of ropes and no possible way to keep them tidy, so it’s a non-stop task for him. I’m aft of Leeds in a sort of hodgepodge role that’s full-time and fully entertaining. There’s cross-sheeting the jib, which I admit I have not even come close to nailing—maybe by Friday—which entails two big pulls from the little winch, one rotation of the handle, and then straight to the rail with the tail in hand so Charlie can grind in the last few inches, J/24 style.

Charlie, without a doubt, has his hands full, trimming the boat’s big square top main, making all the jib-car adjustments, loading my lazy sheet, keeping Angus on target, and jumping onto the spinnaker trim downwind. As a testament to his round the world stamina, I don’t think it fazed him one bit. He never looked one bit spent. He does, however, burn heaps of calories, and hits the lunch cooler often. He’s two-sammie man.

Angus, of course, drives the bus and was all smiles today. After one wild windward mark exit he looked at me with a big grin and said nonchalantly, “Now that was exciting.” I know he meant it, and excitement really is what Key West offers on days like today.

At the extreme back of the bus, manning the runners, making the meals, and doing a lot of the dirty work behind the campaign is Nick. He’s new to sailing and has one of the best seats in the house. He’s flanked by Appleton, Google him—you’ll see how good he is. He’s incredibly talented and has a cool, calm, but high-expectation way of leading the team. He made brilliant calls all day, and manned up to our only one major of the day—the pre-start penalty.

Now, Cam was fully behind the creation of the team’s daily award, presented to the one crew deemed to have had the biggest cock-up. For missing the short practice on Saturday afternoon on account of being too tired, Leeds was the first recipient of a dreadlock beanie bought somewhere on Duval Street. He wore it with pride all day.

Could Cameron the dreadlocked tactician calling the shots for Tuesday?

Well find out in the morning.

C&C30 Themis

Walt Thirion’s Themis, with Nick Ewenson on the helm, finished the series with a fourth in the final race to win the C&C30 class at Quantum Key West Race Week 2016.
Key West Race Week 2016
C&C30 pitman Leeds Mitchell starts off Quantum Key West Race Week with the crew shout-out beanie. Many dreads were shed over three windy races. Dave Reed/Sailing World
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