Easing into the Opener

Steve Hunt, tactician with Joel Ronning's Catapult, checks in with a little pre-race insight on working on light-air speed, and getting sorted before the first race.

Sailing World

Steve Hunt: Quantum Key West

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

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