For the crew of the Swan 42 Interlodge, this year’s edition of Acura Key West Race Week was an up-and-down experience. Early in the week, they recorded a couple of double-digit finishes in the 12-boat fleet, and things appeared to take a turn for the worse on Thurday, when owner Austin Fragomen fell and hurt his back. But on Friday, with Fragomen sidelined by his injury, spinnaker trimmer and alternate helmsman Garth Dennis was pressed into action and the Interlodge team responded with a 3-4-1 day to move them into a tie for sixth place in the highly competitive one-design class and earn them the honor of Boat of the Day. Afterwards, tactician Jody Lutz talked about the accomplishment.
Take us through the last day of racing.
We were a little better getting off the line, and I blame myself for our problems earlier in the week. I wasn’t doing a good job communicating with Austin on the starting line. I couldn’t get the proper communication going: when we have to tack, when we have to set up, when to pull the trigger, when to put the bow down. So I felt bad about that and kept working on it, and on Friday we were able to get off the line better. Like any one-design, if you can’t get good starts, it’s a problem.
What about the conditions?
It was blowing about twenty. One thing about the Swan 42s downwind: With the big chute the rudder loads up easily and the boat is easily overpowered, especially coming out of a jibe. We had a top-notch crew on the boat and on Friday, we didn’t hold anything back, though we did use the back-up spinnaker because the owner wasn’t on board. But we jibed at will and had them under control. Numerous times we gained boats when other 42s would jibe and round up. And if you don’t catch it early, there’s nothing you can do. So we gained a lot of boats downwind. Then we finally put it all together on the last race; we got off the line good, we had great speed, and we were able to pretty much lead all the way around the race course.
What a great way to end the series!
We felt like it was a long time coming. The second race of the series, on Tuesday, we had a great start and were going to be second around the top mark, but on our approach, the jib shackle actually broke off the jib. So were up at the windward mark, about ten boat lengths from the starboard tack layline, with the jib flogging. We couldn’t even pull on the windward sheet; there was nothing on it. So we lost about five boats, it was pretty disappointing because we thought we could pull off a great race for Austin and we had some equipment failures that hurt us.
We hate when that happens. But otherwise, was the crew work okay?
The guys have the boat wired in for speed because we’re definitely as fast or faster than the top boats. Kris Matthews runs the onboard program and he does a great job getting the boat ready. Terry Halpin trims the jib and he’s an excellent trimmer, one of those guys who can really make the small, minute adjustments that make a big difference. When we were struggling for speed-and on the Swan 42s, we all do-Terry was quick to make a switch to find out exactly what was going wrong. Those two guys are the mainstays of the team.
If you had to pick a Most Valuable Player for Friday, would it be one of those guys?
Actually, we’d have to give Garth the MVP of the day. To be thrust into steering the boat with no preparation, he just did a great job. Think about it. We all do our jobs during the week and then Friday at breakfast Kris comes in and says, “The owner’s not feeling well. Garth, you’re driving.” Garth looks at me, his eyes wide open, so just to give him some moral support I said, “Boy, I’m glad I’m not you today, Garth!”
What was your program, logistically, for the week?
We had a crew house for the crew, the owner stayed at a hotel. One of the guys brought his girlfriend, who’s a professional chef, so we had meals at the house every day and night, all set up for us. Going out to dinner every night is nice, but it gets kind of old. So we didn’t have to go anywhere. And I’m sure there’re cost savings for the owner.
Jody, I know you’ve done a ton of Key Wests, so I have to ask what you’d tell a first-time crew planning to do the event. How early did you get down there, and what would you tell a team hoping to maximize their success at Key West?
It’s hard to pick any one thing. You have to be organized. You need a decent place to stay and have all the shore-side things ready-lunches and stuff like that. And you have to be down there several days in advance. First, you have to have the boat set up and ready to go Friday (three days before the actual racing begins). For the working guys, it means somebody has to have the boat prepped and then they need to fly down Friday night. You’ve got to be sailing Saturday and Sunday to get the lay of the land. Then you need the equivalent of a “soccer mom,” whether it’s a spouse or a significant other of someone who’s sailing, to help out on the shore side. Not everyone can hire somebody but you need to do that or have a volunteer so everything goes smoothly.