Pale skin, huge smiles, and rusty crew work; it must be the day before Key West Race Week. The docks are covered with sails being flaked, rigs and other gear are getting last-minute maintenance, and the waters of Key West are crowded with sweaty crews practicing mark roundings, jibe sets, and any other evolutions that need a little sharpening after a few weeks or months off the water.
Tomorrow, Monday morning, whether or not practice went well, 324 boats ranging from a J/24 to a turbo-charged Santa Cruz 70 will head out of the harbor and begin this five-day regatta that many in the U.S. regard as the best event in sailing, period.
The reasons for attending this yearly tribal meeting are as various as the boats themselves. There are crews whose sole intent is to win the party and there are crews whose very livelihood depends upon the final tabulation on Friday. There are owners who have packed up the family SUV and trailered their boat down from the wintry steppes of Michigan and there are owners who wing in late Sunday in corporate jets, fresh from a weekend at Aspen.
Sunday evening is nerves time. Everybodys having fun but nobodys really relaxed. The eight or ten races thatll make or break the week are in the impenetrable future and whether or not the boat wins could come down to YOU. Conversations at the dinner table will be relatively sober discussions about weather and boathandling. Sure, the diehards will stagger home to the tune of a roosters crow but most will be in bed early, hoping that a little extra sleep and a little less debauchery will do the trick and help them play the game at the highest level.
Tonight, everybodys a winner and every person on every boat can cherish the hope that this year will be the year that they walk up to the podium and get the silver.