A Spookie Ride
On the final day of racing at Quantum Key West, I hitched a ride with the team on Steve and Heidi Benjamin’s Spookie. We headed out to the racecourse, the wind reading 18 to 24 knots, and popped the chute on the Carkeek 40 when we neared the course. We instantly took off, the boat humming and the spray flying.
“Let’s have some fun” was the word on the boat before the start of Friday’s one race.
And that’s exactly what we got: two smooth and speedy downwinds (we hit nearly 20 knots) and three upwinds averaging around 8.8 knots, keeping it fast in the chop and minimizing tacks. Plus a win in the race, and an overall win in the four-boat HPR class. Take a look:
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**Press Release from HPR Class:
**HPR CLASS ENJOYS CLOSEST-EVER RACING AT 2014 QUANTUM KEY WEST
Tight corrected time differences show high levels of competitiveness and effectiveness of new V4H version of HPR Rule
Last week’s five days of racing at the 2014 Quantum Key West regatta was the third appearance for the HPR class at this annual event, and the ninth to offer trophies in HPR scoring since the rule was first introduced two years ago. But of all of these previous regattas this was the most competitive in terms of producing extremely close racing among the contenders, and the margins of victory in corrected time were the tightest seen yet.
Except for three races in the ten-race series where there were significant windshifts and other factors that skewed the results, in the remaining seven races the average margin of victory was only 17 seconds in corrected time – or less than 0.5% in an hour of racing. The average margin between 2nd and 3rd place was more – 41 seconds – but this too was only 1.1% in an hour of racing.
Race conditions over the week varied widely from light air on the first day of racing to a blustery 20-25 knots on the last day, yet the corrected time margins remained close regardless of wind speed. And there was no strong design bias in the results, since all boats in the class – Bernie Girod’s Farr 400 ROCK & ROLL, Marc Ewing’s MC 38 RIOT, Stephen Murray’s Carkeek 40 DECISION, and the class winner, Steve & Heidi Benjamin’s Carkeek 40 SPOOKIE – had won at least one race in the series.
All boats but RIOT had undergone modifications in recent months: SPOOKIE had a new keel fitted last June, but has already raced in several regattas since this installation; ROCK & ROLL added internal ballast to enhance her upwind performance last month; and DECISION just a week prior to racing had a new heavier keel fitted and interior modifications to reduce weight.
“These small margins are the closest yet seen in HPR competition,” says Bill Lee, author of the HPR rule and Chairman of the Offshore Big Boat Management Committee at US Sailing. “We have been working hard on refining the ratings and the measurement methods, and still have some way to go, but these results are a great validation for our process. When top teams sail well against each other in a variety of conditions, it really puts a rating rule to the test, and so these close results from Key West last week are encouraging to us.”
“It was a very tough week of racing,” said Steve Benjamin, so-owner helmsman of SPOOKIE. “I think our team did well simply because we had raced together for many months now and had more time in the boat than anyone else, so we just made fewer mistakes. On nearly every race anyone could win, so we were all pushed hard.”
For more information about Quantum Key West, visit www.premiere-racing.com, and for more information about the HPR Rule and HPR racing, visit www.hprsailing.org.
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With three races on the Division 1 circle, the third day at Quantum Key West was moving day, according to Tom Lihan, from Spookie, as he watched his team finish far enough ahead of the competition in the third race of the day to take the lead in the HPR fleet.
Every seconds counts here, literally. Dobbs Davis, HPR communications, exclaimed to me in an email, “Race 5 was decided by one second!”
I sat down with Spookie’s Heidi Benjamin and Tom Lihan to catch up.
Heidi, you call Tom your “coach”—what’s he coaching you on?
HB: Well Tom has always been my hero. He’s a good teacher, he knows the local knowledge. But there’s no “I” in team. The whole crew gives us input, we just try to keep it simple—go for the pressure and then deal with the shifts, take into account the current.
TL: I’ve sailed this regatta a lot of times and memorized all the different wind directions, and if the tides going in, going out, if it’s going to be shifty or oscillating, or breeze going right with gradient. I help Heidi with what’s happened in the past and what works. Is there less relief on the left for current? Or do we see more puff on the right or the left? I give her that input, and she goes from there.
HB: Basically Tom tells me northerlies oscillate, southerlies phase. It all just works out. I have to do well otherwise my husband gets mad at me.
TL: It did happen once today. We did a little split—and I probably would have done the same thing—but it was glaringly wrong later. The breeze got really up and down velocity-wise, we split, and they had more velocity than us. Velocity makes you a hero. That sounded like the right idea to minimize jibes but it didn’t work out too well for us.
HB: If I had to give one piece of advice I’d say never tack or jibe in lulls.
Did you have any specific goals going into today?
HB: Everybody wants to win every race, but we were pretty happy with our performance today—a second and two firsts.
TL: Those guys are tough.
HB: The class is close—it’s within seconds. These guys we’re sailing against in the HPR class are no slouches. They know how to sail. We never ever think we’re better. Never. It’s always a fight.
TL: We lost the first race by a couple seconds, right?
HB: Ten seconds. But we lost another race by less than five seconds. It’s very, very close racing.
Anything fun your team is doing while you’re here in Key West??HB: We like to tell a lot of sea stories and a lot of jokes.
TL: It’s nice to have everybody at one house. We have a cook, and you don’t have to go anywhere.
HB: We have dinner early and go to bed—we’re going to save Friday night for hitting the bars.
What’s for dinner tonight?
TL: Polynesian night tonight—on the grill. It’ll be good.
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Press Release from HPR Sailing:
After 3 races in a perfect Day 3 of Quantum Key West, SPOOKIE has emerged as the new leader on the strength of a 2-1-1 scoreline in wind conditions that were near-perfect, ranging from 11 to 16 knots. The seasoned team managed to avoid some pitfalls which struck the other teams, including hitting lobster pots, buoys, and imperfect spinnaker drops.
RIOT had the second-best day, with a 3-2-2 scoreline.
Nonetheless, the racing has been the closest-ever in HPR sailing: the margins of victory have been 20, 19 and 14 seconds, respectively, in Races 4, 5, and 6 of the series.
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A Spookie Win
With four sleek raceboats and an evolving rating rule, the High Performance Rule (HPR) class at Quantum Key West 2014 is a close battle from start to finish.
In the one and only race in the HPR class on Day 2–a squally, shifty, rainy one–Steve and Heidi Benjamin and their team on the Carkeek 40 Spookie won the pin, legged out left, and held on for a corrected-time win. We caught up with Steve Benjamin afterward to hear his thoughts on Key West and the HPR fleet.
The point spread in the HPR fleet is really close (four points as of today).
Real close, yeah, and with only four boats any boat can win.
When you get out in front, how do you continue pushing to keep the advantage?
We didn’t do it so well yesterday. We got into the lead in both races but weren’t able to hang on to it. Yesterday in the light air was real shifty, and we maneuvered ourselves into a couple of holes and adverse windshifts so we got caught up a bit in that. Today, Heidi, my wife and tactician, did a great job looking for a left shift off the starting line and asked me to start at the pin end. So we got a good start at the pin, clear air going left, the other three boats tacked to the right, we went a little farther and tacked onto port up to windward of them and then the wind proceeded to shift 20 or 30 degrees to the left so she had us in the right place.
What’s it like sailing with your wife?
It’s terrific. We usually get along great and sail pretty well together.
Who else is on your crew?
Our crew’s been evolving. We’ve had Matt Reynolds trimming main since the beginning. Our captain Ben Quatromoni joined the team last spring. Bora Gulari joined us as navigator in November. Chris Williams has been doing the sail design—he works with North Sails with me. He’s been there all the way through, he helped with the setup of the boat initially. Robbie Cane’s been there since the beginning. Doug Carey has been doing the grinding and spinnaker setup. And Sam Hallowell has been in and out—he’s going back to school at this regatta.
I know there’s an HPR meeting coming up here in Key West; what’s going to be talked about there?
We’ve been working real hard on the rule and trying to tweak it to make it as fair as possible. It’s a completely transparent, published rule—it’s an excel spreadsheet. As long as everyone has their boats measured according to the parameters it seems to yield pretty fair ratings. So we’re going to be explaining a little bit about the refinement process that’s been going on to get us to version 4H, which is the version in use right now. And then talk about improvements possibly for version 5, which may be a month or two away.
Congrats on winning the Ft. Lauderdale to Key West—tell me a bit about the feeder race.
That was a good race. We were around 19 hours on the race, 163 miles. We were pretty worried about Privateer, a canting keel Cookson 50. We thought there were going to be pretty heavy conditions at the end and they were going to be able to use their canting keel to their advantage and leg out on us. But we had a strategy of staying close to the reef and it turned out that we were able to be only about half an hour behind them, so we corrected by about half an hour on them. We were also real worried about Tonnerre, which is a really well-sailed Ker 46, so we had our eyes on them the whole time. They’d been nipping at our heels, we were basically boat for boat with them on rating, so we wanted to make sure we stayed ahead of them. They were tough, but it was fun.
What’s it like to be racing at Key West?
I think it’s great to be in this venue racing at Key West. It’s one of my favorite places to sail and favorite regattas, and I sure hope we get some more HPR boats here to sail next year because it’s just really fun racing.
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Press Release from HPR Sailing:
Spookie Wins Day 2, Decision Still in the Lead
It was a dramatic day of delays, squalls, and wild wind shifts, yielding only one 5-leg course for the day. Crew work was at the premium, giving the more seasoned teams the chance to shine.
Congrats to SPOOKIE on their victory in the only race on Day Two of Quantum Key West. DECISION got second in this race and still has the lead in the HPR class.
“We didn’t do it so well yesterday,” said SPOOKIE co-owner Steve Benjamin. “We got into the lead in both races but weren’t able to hang on to it. Yesterday in the light air was real shifty, and we maneuvered ourselves into a couple of holes and adverse windshifts so we got caught up a bit in that.
“Today, Heidi, my wife and tactician, did a great job looking for a left shift off the starting line and asked me to start at the pin end. So we got a good start at the pin, clear air going left, the other three boats tacked to the right, we went a little farther and tacked onto port up to windward of them and then the wind proceeded to shift 20 or 30 degrees to the left so she had us in the right place.”
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**Press Release from HPR Sailing:
DECISION TAKES EARLY LEAD AT QUANTUM KEY WEST
Two races held in light shifty conditions, but whole HPR class within only two points
Key West, FL – Stephen Murray’s Carkeek HPR 40 DECISION has taken the early HPR Class lead after two races held in today’s light and shifty winds of the first day of racing at Quantum Key West. The New Orleans-based team’s 3-1 score puts them ahead of runner-up ROCK & ROLL, Bernie Girod’s Farr 400, by only a point, while Marc Ewing’s MC 38 RIOT and Steve & Heidi Benjamin’s Carkeek HPR 40 SPOOKIE are on 5 and 6 points, respectively.
“The racing today was extremely close,” said Murray, “and I think a testament to the recent progress made on the HPR rule.”
Indeed, the first race’s winner, ROCK & ROLL, did so by only a 15 second margin over runner-up RIOT in corrected time after 1 hour and 42 minutes of racing on the 4-lap windward-leeward course – a difference of 0.25%. The corrected time margin from first to last in the class was only 1:19, a difference of 1.3%, a remarkably close result given the long race and light conditions.
In Race 2, it was DECISION’s turn to take the win, but also by only a 15 second margin over runner-up SPOOKIE in a 1 hour 17 minute race.
“This class is closer and even more competitive than what we had last year,” said Murray, “and I think anyone can win it. This will be a tough week ahead.” Decision is the reigning HPR Class champion here at Key West.
Racing resumes tomorrow at Quantum Key West with the first start scheduled for 11:30 local time, and a more favorable 10-20 knot breeze in the forecast which is sure to bring more close racing to this class.