Catapulted In Key West

Steve Hunt, tactician with Joel Ronning's Catapult, checks in from the Melges 32 circle where victory or hard defeat is always only one tack away.
Sailing World

Steve Hunt: Quantum Key West

Steve Hunt, Sailing World racing editor. Stuart Streuli/sailing World

Friday, January 25

Our final day of Quantum Key West was a bit of an average day. We could only move up one place if we sailed well and had the option of moving down, if we sailed poorly. We did our best to have a good day but ended up with middle of the road scores finishing sixth and seventh. We held our eight place overall.

This morning we hit the racecourse like most competitors excited for another perfect sailing day. Warm weather with wind in the teens is about as good as it gets, and we felt lucky to have had that four out of the five days this event. This was my 12th Key West Race Week and it was one if the nicest weather wise. At the end of the day even though we would have liked to do better, we had a great time and made some improvements in our sailing. Our next competition is a month from now in the British Virgin Islands.


But now it’s a scramble to the airport to get home to San Diego. I have to coach Point Loma High School tomorrow in a team-racing event. Should be fun…and different.

Thursday, January 24

Today (Thursday) was a mixed bag for Team Catapult. We finally had our first win of the event in the first race, which felt great. We had a killer start, great tactics, and good speed: basically what you need to win sailboat races. It takes great execution and intense concentration to make it all happen in the Melges 32 fleet. The following race we were OCS again, which made the race tough, but we went fast and keep fighting to pass three boats before the finish. The next race was going well until we got suckered into fouling at the top mark. It was the first time any of us had seen the move used against us and is worthy of sharing.


The story starts the previous night. Inga from Sweden, a M32 team from Sweden, kindly invited us over for a crew party. We went to their house and had an amazing time. We had plenty of great food, drink, laughs and conversation all night long capped off by unique entertainment. A local Key West performer gave us a private and memorable hula hoop show, which included some interesting attire and flaming hula hoops!

It was a show we will never forget!

Ok, so now back to the third race today.


On the first beat we had a good one going and instead of slamming our friends from Sweden who had just graciously wined and dined us the night before, we leebowed them, planning to pinch them off before starboard tack layline. We almost pulled it off but had one slight hiccup: we got headed and they did not, which allowed them to live just long enough to simultaneously tack with us on the starboard layline. We rounded the weather mark and offset leg overlapped almost bow to bow. As we bore away around the offset mark with Inga slightly bow out they bore away and went for the set. Or so it seemed.

Our crewmember whose job it is to call the set saw, their mast man start pulling on their halyard, so he called for our hoist as well.

Little did we know they were pulling a fake set, which none of us had ever seen. They actually did not pull their kite up and after juking us into setting our kite they luffed us. Our kite plastered all over their boat and we both almost went head to wind.


What the?!

As the windward boat we fouled them and had to douse our kite and spin, then reset again. In this tight fleet, with boats planing, that penalty turn cost us hundreds of yards that we never recovered. We finished last.

Ouch. Lesson learned?

Even if you party with your friends and want to be slightly nice to them on the racecourse, don’t! Slam them if it is the best option.

I feel foolish because I called the tack and unfortunately re-learned a lesson I learned earlier in life playing monopoly. Once when my brother was about to go bankrupt I lent him some of my monopoly money. He came back to bankrupt me. Ever since then I have tried to never give my competitors an inch. I broke that rule today and it came back to bite me.

I talked to their tactician on the dock when we got in and he said it was an unintentional fake set. He called for a “hold high” so we would fade back before they hoisted but their skipper bore away big as if they were setting. So their mast man went for the hoist. The tactician called for a “hold,” and then they luffed. The end result was a beautiful “fake set,” that cost us eight places and much frustration.

I will remember that move for the future in case I ever need it.

Tuesday, January 22

Today was a much­ better day for Team Catapult. The breeze was up from the north with flat water so the Melges boats were flying downwind, which is always great fun. Sailing a sportboat in the breeze is exhilarating and today was no exception. After hiking hard on the beat it’s always rewarding to set the kite and take off downwind. With the breeze blowing from the island it was a shifty day with winds in the 13- to 16-knot range. Tacticians had their work cut out for them and Ed Adams on our team did a nice job. After an almost good first race we finished the day strong with a sixth and a fifth.
We are currently in a protest with the Russian team Synergy for a leeward-mark incident in the second race so our sixth may turn into a fifth if all goes well. The Melges 32 class made an interesting move two years ago by adding a class rule that states the owner/skipper must be the representative in the protest room. Before, the owner would typically send in their tactician while the rest of the crew went home and showered and enjoyed a nice dinner. As you may have guessed since the rule change there have been hardly any protests.

Because of this there has been a notable change on the water, too. Teams go for it now on close port crosses, stick their nose in there for room at the marks, and basically foul at their leisure knowing they will most likely not get protested. The owners want to shower and go to dinner like they always have so the sailors play off that knowledge. Today, after being fouled three times on separate occasions, our owner Joel Ronning said enough is enough and decided to go through with one. I’m currently sitting here outside the protest room waiting for him to finish. Having gone through many of these long nights myself I remember how appreciative I was for the few crewmembers that stuck around to support me. I hope he is successful. All in all it was a better day on the water than yesterday and with a forecast of even more breeze tomorrow we are excited to keep climbing the score sheet. **

Monday, January 21

It was a tough day at the office for Team Catapult. After a difficult first race where we were late to the line and got forced to the unfavored right-hand side of the course, we had high hopes for the second race. Our plan was to win the pin and go left. With three fleets on our course–the Melges 32s, Melges 24s, and J/70s–it was clear from watching all of the fleets that the left was the place to be.

Now for the big story of our day: We had a beautiful pin start set up with intentions of playing the left side of the course. We did the standard “trail in on port” technique used for winning the pin, and it all seemed to be setting up nicely. We tacked beneath the first group of starboard tackers, luffed them for 20 seconds, and then released for the line. Our acceleration was not the best because we were on a thin pin layline, and we ended up being a little late for the line. When the gun went off, we could clearly see the pin flag about half a boatlength in front of our bow. The group above us were all advanced about three quarters of a boatlength and threatening to roll us just after the gun. We made the pin and footed away for a lane and speed.

We were thinking it would work out OK because we had the left side and our lane was opening up. Then, to our surprise and dismay, we were called OCS, along with three other boats near us. The only problem was, we were nowhere near being OCS. Our whole crew was dumbfounded and a debate broke out. After sailing for a good while, we finally decided to go back. We were last by a long shot after our debate and only caught up enough to threaten the tail-enders, but not pass.

It was a disappointing last place.

After the finish we talked to our coach Bill Hardesty, and he said, “Guys, I watched the start from a great vantage point right by the pin, and you were late.”

He even took a video of it. So we went straight in and filled for redress. It was disappointing to hear the race committee guy who was calling the pin say he was willing to watch the video, but he was 100 percent sure we were over early. When he watched it, he said, “The video angle was not taken perfectly in line with the flags, so it proves nothing.”

Even though we could clearly still see we were late, unfortunately he had already made up his mind and we did not get redress. When we watched the video in our team debrief we were all shocked at how obvious it was we were not over.

The big lesson of the day is to go back immediately when you are called OCS even if you disagree. Also, sometimes the race committee gets it wrong and sticks to their guns. We just have to move on and keep fighting. There’s still plenty of regatta left.



Sunday, January 19**

It’s the night before the first day of racing at Key West Race Week and team Catapult is feeling ready. We arrived Thursday and have had three great days of practice. Since we have three new team members on board, our goal was to sort out our boathandling first, and then work on starting and light-air speed.

In the past we have been quick in 15 knots or more, but in light winds we struggle. I think our process to improve has been smart as we reached out to many of the top sailors in the Melges 32 class and asked them for advice on light-air speed. After hours of discussion, accurate documentation, some new rig ideas, and two new light-air jibs we think we have made progress and feel fortunate to have had two days of light-air practice this weekend. It seems our new North Sails jib is quick, and softening the rig has helped as well. Tomorrow is forecast to be light so it will be a great opportunity to test our new set up.

Friday was breeze on and a great way to get the team working together on the first day of practice. We did multiple short windward-leeward laps around two channel marks and worked until the crew was exhausted. Yesterday we did some light-air tuning with our Japanese tuning partners on Swing, which won two light-air races at the recent worlds by minutes. They were nice to let us keep changing back and forth between our two new jibs and experiment with new rig settings.

Today (Sunday) the fleet had informal racing and drills by repeatedly running two practice starts followed by a short race. We enjoyed the seven-boat practice, and looking back on the past three days, can check all three items off of our preparation list. While we feel prepared, we still know this week will be tough.

The practice races were a reminder of how tough this fleet can be. Every boat is on the line with speed at the gun, and differences in speed are minimal all the way around the course. Each weather mark was crowded with all boats arriving within 15 seconds. The racing comes down to inches, which can make it frustrating at times, and also very fun and rewarding. To make the podium we will have to bring our A game!

As always Key West is sunny and warm and this year, more so than the past, the streets are packed. I can’t help but think the economy is doing better and people are traveling more. Duval Street has had a crowded Bourbon Street feel for the past two nights, which adds to the excitement of being in Key West and also to our anticipation as we look forward to a great week of sailing. Here’s the team for the week:

Melges 32 Team Catapult

Joel Ronning – Skipper

Ed Adams – Strategist

Steve Hunt – Main and Tactics

Jeff Reynolds – Jib and Kite

Luke Lawrence – Offside Trimmer

Stephanie Roble – Pit

Pete Largess – Mast

Doug McLean -Bow

Bill Hardesty – Coach