Don Wilson does a lot of sailing. He runs the Chicago Match Race Center, and he won the Canada’s Cup last summer racing the Farr 40 Convexity. But he’d never seen—let alone raced—an RC 44 before last Saturday, when he showed up in Key West to serve as Team Aqua’s helmsman for the week. Six days later, he’s sitting atop the RC 44 class, 1 point ahead of Vincenzo Onorato’s Mascalzone Latino and 2 points ahead of Russell Coutts’ Oracle Racing.
“This has been a ton of fun,” says Wilson, who won Boat of the Day honors today. “The opportunity to jump into a boat that’s completely new to me, with two days of match-race practice and then right into the fleet racing, it’s just been a blast.
“The RC 44 is an extremely sensitive boat to drive,” he continues. “If you go a couple of degrees too high or too low, the boat really slows down. You lose a lot of VMG.”
While Wilson is new to the RC 44, his crew isn’t, and that’s makes all the difference. “Most of the guys on the boat are the regular Team Aqua crew,” he says. “Obviously, you couldn’t jump on with a team that’s entirely new to the boat and hope to fare so well.”
Tactician Cameron Appleton made the call of the day on the final beat of the second race, sending Wilson to the right side of the course. “That was a tough call to hang right, especially since since the right hadn’t worked for us earlier in the day,” says Wilson of the strategic decision that launched his team from fourth to second place in the race.
This is the sixth time Wilson has competed at Key West Race Week, and he remembers the years when there would be 300 crews crowding the big tent. “The tent was very large and the sound—the acoustics weren’t great, I’ll say that. [Having regatta headquarters at Kelly’s Caribbean Bar, Grill & Brewery] is nice. It’s a little more intimate, a little more open,” says Wilson. “Obviously more boats is better, but if there were 300 boats and only five in the RC 44 class, it wouldn’t make any difference to me. It’s a matter of how many competitive boats there are in your class.”