Bella’s Beautiful Mind

Rolex Yachtsman of the Year, Terry Hutchinson, tells us how it's going down among the three maxis in Key West.

Friday, Jan. 23

The dust has settled, literally and figuratively. The final evening was fun filled and it was great to have the opportunity to hand out the trophies and meet the teams, albeit brief, and congratulate everyone for a well-sailed event.

Of note though one competitor stood out in my mind and in a very small way made me smile as you could see a bright future. Twelve-year-old Gannon Troutman finished fifth in the highly competitive J/70 fleet and as Vasco Vascotto and I chatted with him and parents swapping half truths about yelling at each for the last 20 years we were all laughing. It was just awesome to see and it was also great to see the support that Gannon’s parents put around him to allow it to happen. Having great parents that supported my addiction but did not push me it was great to see as Gannon and his peers are the future of our sport.

For Bella Mente the final day was a solid team effort. With a windy forecast we felt better about our chances as Bella comes into her own when there is breeze. The most difficult part of this racing is always the start. I am still learning the boat, pre-start timing, and my interactions with Hap.


It’s a lot to process and yet we managed two reasonable starts with a big thanks to our bowman Doogie bowman on the last one as the competitor to leeward was OCS and as far as I could tell we were spot on. The big nod of the day goes to the boathandling side of the team. Twice we had to execute a jibe, speed build, and douse all within 35 seconds of the gate mark, all while thundering along at 18 knots. As I write it does not sound like a big deal and yet the choreography of the maneuver requires pretty precise timing. As with the entire week the strength of Bella was the teamwork and boathandling so if there was a game ball to issue (deflated or not) it would go to the boys in the middle for making it all happen.

Many thanks to all of the supporters of Quantum Key West Race Week on and off the water. Congratulations for a job well done and thank you.

Thursday, Jan. 22

Well, we have gotten to the point of the event with a chance to win tomorrow and that is really all we can ask for!


The day started in the protest room with the jury reversing the decision to give Bella Mente average points for races 5 and 6. It was an interesting session, and in the end, one of the jury members asked the question if I thought I/we had accountability for bricking it up on a shrimp boat.

It’s hard to give any other answer other than “yes,” and so the decision was reversed and off we went to go racing. We have to continue to race to make sure that disastrous day does not come into play.

On the water, the course delivered champagne conditions and challenges. The Division 1 course presents a couple of unique features with some barrier islands and channel leading to Dry Tortuga to the west and the shipping channel to the east. This creates quite a current wedge in the racecourse, chuck in a couple white and fluffy clouds releasing off of Key West and we have a very dynamic racecourse. For the most part the left side of Division 1 has been strong all week and yet in Race 2 today we had a strong start at the weather end and kept picking up sniffs of righties to pin Shockwave into the left hand side.


The hardest thing for me to get used to is striking the balance of racing the clock as there is almost a 4-minute delta that we have to beat Numbers. Yet Shockwave is quite slippery, so every tack or interaction with Shockwave and Bella Mente is a gain for Numbers. Quite the different chess match.

Wed. Jan. 21

Mike, Mike, Mike . . . What day is it?

Well, we always knew hump day was going to be different, and it was. This is a Key West of firsts for me, which I did not think I would be saying after 21 trips. But from meeting George Strait to hitting submerged objects, I have experienced a lot in the last 24 hours. On the racecourse it was a reasonable day though, considering the forecast. We were greeted by a glamor morning and an incredibly light forecast, yet the race committee waited out mother nature a bit, and low and behold the race committee won.


The day is still a bit of a blur as we had our own hump-day problems. I’m not going to go into it, but will leave it as a big bummer. Funny when you have days like today: it makes you appreciate the good ones. The trick is to get up tomorrow swinging with an eye toward doing all the little things well, not over-thinking the situations. Just get on with it.

One of the cool things going on at race week this year is the Quantum-sponsored coaching by Ed Adams and Ed Baird. It is a new initiative in which Ed Adams is roving from course to course and giving debriefs in the tent at the end of the day. With the use of drone technology they are capturing some incredible footage and giving a new perspective to sailboat racing.

Tonight, as I was hanging around waiting for our hearing to be done, I had the opportunity to listen and learn. The Ed Show was really good! It’s awesome to see and great to see Quantum’s initiative to help support the sport.

Tuesday, Jan. 20

I just had a moment that I think you can only have in Key West, and yet a reminder of why I love coming here.

I was at the Smoking Tuna with the Delta/Volpe team celebrating a crewmember’s 50th birthday, and as I was chatting with singer/songwriter Scott Kirby, who is part owner of the Smoking Tuna, he mentioned to me that George Strait was in the bar.

Now for all who know me, they know that in my mind there are only two types of music, County and Western!

To meet George Strait was absolutely the coolest thing because I’ve been a huge admirer of his music and longevity at the top of his game over decades, something to admire and strive to achieve in my own game.

His wife and son were with him, sporting Dallas Cowboys gear, which quickly struck up a conversation about how they were robbed out of the game in Green Bay. Needless to say, I’m sure it was awkward for them, and I’m sure they were glad when I left!

But again it was just a great moment as a fan.

Apparently, we also raced today, but what the heck. I just got shake hands with George Strait! The best thing that happened today is I have to work tomorrow and George Strait gets to spend a night in peace enjoying Key West.

The racing today did go well. Bella Mente is chipping along. It was a tough day and yet it was good to see us step up our consistency in the first-cross percentage ands starting. While Race 1 was abandoned 70 percent of the way through, we maintained our focus and continued in the starting process. We have a long way to go: only 40 percent of the regatta is completed and a light and shifty day on the docket for tomorrow.

Monday, Jan. 19, 2015

The first day of Quantum Key West Race Week 2015 delivered as promised: tricky, shifty, puffy. Period.

The true wind speed was 8 to 12 knots with a wind direction anywhere from 18 to 65 degrees. Needless to say, there was plenty of anxiety. Also as promised, we needed to sail well to win.

What came from the team debrief on the ride back to the harbor, was to increase our early shift percentage. Shockwave won both first crosses against us and from there we sailed Bella Mente well to get around into the lead by the first top mark. As much as anything, this is on me to nail down, and part of that means the learning curve onboard.

Having not raced Bella Mente much over the past year, I am learning a lot about pre-start acceleration, maneuvering, and open course angles.

There’s a lot to think about, and yet the boat has a very similar feel that the 2007 Version 5 America’s Cup boats had. They are slaves to pressure and good sailing on target rewards a really good VMG: Easy to say, difficult to do as the wind is shifting constantly as it was today.

Boathandling wise, it was a solid day. As with everything, there is a lot of subtlety to the sails going up and down well. It’s not just as simple as hoisting and dropping, and the timing and choreography of good boathandling on a boat this size is hard. Being an observer to it, I can tell you it’s impressive as the guys are sailing the boat as if it is a J/70. This element of it is really cool to watch as you see the importance of the entire team and the consistency it takes to do it well.

On deck for tomorrow is more light air, quite challenging for Bella Mente, and yet a great challenge to raise the first shift percentages and continually improving.

Sunday, January 17, 2015

It was a pretty nice day in Key West, today The final preparations onboard Bella Mente included sail checks, practice starts and a practice race. All in all a good day—short and sharp! This is my 21st Key West Race Week since 1991 and, as always, an event that I look forward to: the start of the new year and really just a great place to go racing. This year is no different.

Weather-wise, the week is going to be tricky. The forecast is looking to be light-to-moderate East-Southeast winds, creating quite the challenge. We are a small class of 3 boats— Bella Mente, Shockwave, and Numbers. The difficult side of this particular matchup is that we know Shockwave is quite slippery in under 11 knots of true wind speed. They won the Copa del Rey this summer against a highly competitive fleet of mini-maxi’s, so we know they are good.

Numbers is a bit of a wild card. Not a lot of preparation time or new gear for Numbers, but a good team that includes Brad Butterworth, Warwick Fleury, Rome Kirby, and Brad Read to name a few. Our challenge is to get away clean and try and extend. Over an hour race, we owe Shockwave 38 seconds and Numbers almost 3 minutes, so any tangling with either is going to be a loss. We have a high priority on starting well and the first cross.

Looking forward to the challenge though and looking forward to get the racing going!

Click here to go back to Sailing World‘s coverage of Key West.

Lisa Gabrielson