I said in my introductory blog that we would have to perform very well to beat any of the top 3 boats in our class. As it turned out, we started the week a long way off the pace relative to those top 3 boats and after the first day we decided to focus specifically on trying to reduce the speed deficit. A lot of early mornings ensued, and we made some huge changes to our rig tuning over the week. We made big strides forward in our set-up but certainly the huge focus on boat speed pulled our focus away from racing and everybody on the boat made some basic racing errors that we would normally not make. So it was a huge relief that when we went out on Friday for 3 races determined to race hard that we found ourselves very much in the racing: 3,2,4 for the day represents the same points as Aqua and one more point than Mascalzone Latino and Oracle. As is too often the case, we ended the regatta ready to start it. But hopefully we can take forward the learning points from Key West into the RC44 2011 season opener in San Diego and forward from there for a successful season.
Although it was quite a tedious week for us from a results perspective, it was hugely valuable in terms of getting our heads around the slightly unusual rig on the RC44. We are now so used to sailing boats with non-overlapping jibs and swept back spreaders which all set up in a similar fashion; where you either wind on the headstay, caps and diagonals or increase the jack pressure as the breeze increases and then use the backstay to tighten the headstay against the tighter rig. Unusually, the RC44’s shrouds are only very slightly swept back, so the diagonals are used primarily to control sideways bend. The runners are led close to the hounds, so fore-and-aft bend is controlled primarily by rake – effectively bending the rig around the partners – and also by the check-stays, which also effect the sideways bend. So getting our heads around the different way that these rigs set up has been a challenging but ultimately rewarding process.
The regatta was won by Mascalzone Latino on 22 points, tied on points with Aqua but winning by virtue of having more firsts. In 3rd place was Oracle, just 1 point behind. That 1 point can separate the first 3 places after 10 races is testament to just how close the racing in the RC44 fleet. The boat is a real racing machine and in the generally light breezes really showed how beautifully efficient it is. In the lighter races the lead RC44 was beating the back marker TP52, despite starting 5 minutes behind. It really is a hugely rewarding boat to sail, with all the grace of an America’s Cup Class boat upwind, and the speed of a TP52 downwind. The one negative for a regatta like Key West is that the boats are hard work to hike out for a 1.8 mile beat, particularly when as a tactician your goal is to do only 4 tacks in the beat because the corners are so strong in Key West. However, on the much shorter courses we have on the circuit, they are actually more comfortable to hike out than a boat with lifelines.
So all in all, a tough week but I am confident that the hard yards now will bring benefits later in the season. Bring on San Diego!