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Key West 2010 Blog: Jonathan McKee

Jonathan McKee is calling tactics for the Melges 24 Uka Uka at Key West 2010 presented by Nautica.

January 19, 2010
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January 22, 2010

Good Bar-Karate Fodder

Wow, what a day! The promised good breeze did not materialize, and we started the first race in about 5 knots with a nasty chop. We had a 3-point lead starting the day, not much in those conditions, especially against a very strong team like that of Blu Moon. They had a great start at the pin and were soon able to tack and cross. We held on in tough conditions to round the first lap in third. We managed to sneak by Alan Field’s WTF team after the leeward gate, gaining a crucial point back.

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So now we were 2 points ahead with one more crapshoot race to go, but effectively only 1 point ahead because Blu Moon would win the tiebreak. They nailed the pin-end start with us safely to weather, and again, they worked into a position to be able to tack, and we tacked to leeward. On the long, light port tack we gradually gained back to almost an even position, with WTF just behind and to leeward. They tacked well short of the layline, while we kept going, hoping to somehow get around Blu Moon. But we didn’t quite get there, and they hammered us on the approach to the mark, letting WTF in between. Good work by Blu Moon; now they were winning.

Rounding the leeward gate, it was Blu Moon followed by WTF at the left mark, while we took our chances with the right. They both tacked after the mark to cover us, but we got a little less dirt from the downwind spinnakers, got a little header, and tacked to converge.
We crossed WTF but still just behind Blu Moon. They tacked on us, we tacked away, and then we tacked on WTF. This repeated about five more times, with the rest of the fleet catching right up. Blu Moon had to put a boat between us to win the regatta, and they were doing their utmost to achieve that. Finally we got clear to leeward, as Blu Moon made one tack too many, and we just crossed them at the layline, with WTF just behind. We jibe set because the current was running hard across the course, and the right shift made it nearly a lay. The other two carried on a few lengths before jibing and kept more wind. Gradually, Blu Moon worked through our lee to retake the lead, but we were still ahead of WTF. It was a long, painfully light way to the finish, but the status quo remained unchanged, and Blu Moon had to do something to get WTF ahead of us.
So they set the trap; going low and slow to let us catch up. We did the same, but did not have much margin on the boat behind. Finally we went for the pass to windward. This was the critical moment, with the whole regatta in the balance. Our helmsman Rufo did a great job of keeping speed and responding to their luff, and we got around without fouling. We went on to win the race and the regatta.
Hats off to all three top teams. It was an incredible battle all week, and we are all better for it. It is great to win, but even if we had not, it was a fantastic regatta with many fascinating tactical situations, and I will remember KWRW for a long time. Thanks for the chance to let me share my thoughts with you this week.

January 21, 2010

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Fast-Paced, Fast Points On the Line

The breeze finally arrived today, with 15 knots from the southeast and nice surfable waves. On the Melges 24 course it was a back and forth battle among the three leaders in the first race. Flavio Favini on Blu Moon got a great start at the pin, as did Alan Field on WTF. On Uka Uka we were just to windward of those two and struggled to stay clear of Favini’s bad air. They were able to tack and cross, and controlled the beat from there. WTF overstood a bit so we were able to sneak around the top mark in second. We tried an early jibe, and lost hugely, moving well behind WTF. But we gained most it back by approaching the gate on port. Blu Moon extended their lead to win comfortably, and we got back in front of WTF to score a second. Our 2 point lead at the start of the day was now down to 1 point.

The second race was very exciting. Nearly half the fleet was over early at the start, including all the top 3! Blu Moon was closest to the pin, and thus the first to restart, with Uka Uka one length behind. WTF was called later and was more to windward, so they were the last to return, and that was pretty much the race for them. The boats that were not over had a good jump on the fleet, but we were determined to fight back. Equally important was to somehow pass Favini and the Blu Moon team, to try to maintain our series lead.

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We hit a couple of shifts, and were going very well in the choppy conditions. We crossed just astern of Blu Moon halfway up the beat, and the next time we converged they could not cross. We tacked away and sailed to the layline. By the top mark there was only one boat ahead, and we had a four-length lead on Blu Moon, and WTF still deep. We rolled over the leader just after the windward mark, and not much changed until the next beat. We made a couple of well positioned tacks on Blu Moon, and managed to put the hard charging Norwegians on Bagdad ahead of the Swiss. We held on for the win, with Bagdad second and Blu Moon third. Up to a 3-point lead now, with two races to go tomorrow. It will be all on.

January 20, 2010

Time to Look Outside the Boat

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It was a lovely warm and sunny day today in Key West. Sorry to all of you stuck in colder climes, I am not trying to gloat, really. But at this mid-point in the regatta, it’s time to take a step back and talk about the other half of Race Week…the town.

Richard Langdon/Ocean Images| |Key West Race Week. Great venue, even better racing for Melges 24 teams. | KWRW is an incredible institution in the sailing world. I don’t know exactly how long it has been running, but for as long as I can remember it has been the best sailing week in America, perhaps anywhere. I first raced here in 1983, and I come back any chance I get. It is special for a number of reasons:

  1. The water is an incredible aqua blue color. It just looks tropical! It is a little cold this year, but compared to Puget Sound it is a very welcome change.

  2. The town has a really cool vibe. Yes there are loads of tourists, and too many drunken types for my taste, but it has some real history (especially the pirate part), and the locals are very genuine. It is one of the most tolerant places in America. As long as you don’t bother anyone else, you can pretty much be who you are and do what you want.

  3. The racing is always of a very high caliber. People that make the trip to KWRW are generally well prepared and bring their A game. The races are extremely well run, and the shoreside activities are first rate. While attendance may be down a bit, the boats that show up are not disappointed.

  4. There is wind! I can remember very few days with too much or too little wind, and a lot of days of 15 to 20 knots and great waves.

  5. There is a fantastic live music scene here. Walking down Duval Street, you here all kinds of great music coming from at you from all directions. The hardest part is choosing who to watch!

  6. The indigenous architecture is really interesting. I love all the porches and balconies, surrounded by tropical foliage. It has a casual, slightly dilapidated feel, and fits the tropical setting perfectly.

  7. There is a lot of love around, much of it genuine.8. The ocean is filled with dolphins. They seem to like it here too.

January 19, 2010
Back and Forth, But Hanging On

It was another challeging day of racing today, with a light-ish first race and a bit better breeze for the second. The northeast breeze off the land was still plenty challenging for all the crews, and in the Melges 24 fleet some new teams saw success.

The first race started off looking like a typical NE racecourse, with the left generally favored. However the right began to pay big in the top half of the beat, and only three boats figured that out: WTF, Hoodlum Racing from Detroit, and Bruce Ayers and the Monsoon team. So that group sailed the first lap with a nice lead. The second beat was more back and forth, and we (Uka Uka) managed to insert ourselves into the top group, just nipping Monsoon for second at the finish, with WTF winning easily and the Hoodlums in fourth.

A big left shift with more pressure filled in during the next starting sequence. The RC shifted the mark, but not nearly enough, so it was almost all port tack for the first beat. Again Hoodlum had a great start, and they played the top of the course very nicely to round in the lead, with the Swiss/Italian team on Blu Moon second. We should have been about sixth, but had a bit of a snafu at the mark and had to spin a donut. So that put us pretty far behind!

The rest of the race was quite tricky. It was not at all clear if the wind would continue backing left, or would swing back to it’s original direction. Of course, it did some of each at various times, so staying in phase was key (as it often is). At the top of the fleet, the Blu Moon team pressed hard all the way, but the Hoodlums held their nerve and sailed to a well-earned victory. The Gul Code 0 team from the United Kingdom also had a great race going; Blu Moon just nipped them for second. WTF had a solid fourth, and we rallied back to fifth to stay tied with WTF for the lead. The Convexity team from Chicago also had a great day with a 6-6, and the French team on Zig Zag 18 had a very respectable 5-7.

One last note: there are tons of small dead fish in the water from the cold spell last week. Apparently the normally warm waters in the Gulf of Florida got so cold that many of the fish died. It is very sad to see.

-Jonathan McKee

January 18, 2010: Comeback to the Comeback

****| |Jonathan McKee is calling tactics for the Melges 24 Uka Uka at Key West 2010 presented by Nautica.| It was a lovely day in Key West; not a lot of wind but enough for two decent races. I am sailing this week on Uka Uka, a Melges 24 from Italy. We had a good start in the first race and went pretty far to the left corner, which is pretty standard fare on a northerly. We rounded first, but the Blu Moon team from Switzerland did a great job on the first downwind, jibing early to take the lead. Already the wind was getting a bit weird… I messed up the second beat, getting a bit out of phase and too far right, and three boats passed us. Ouch! Luckily we did a nice job staying in the wind on the final run. Four boats finished within 10 seconds, but we snuck across in second. Whew!

The Division 2 Race Committee could see that the breeze was dying, so they immediately started the second race. We had a terrible start but luckily nobody else went too far, except the WTF team which took the pin and tacked into a commanding position. The wind shifted 20 degrees to the left, so we spent most of the beat on port, digging back to the left when headed. We rounded fifth, but still in touch with four fluky legs to go. The RC posted a course change for the run, but the mark boat did not set the buoys until the very last second, causing some confusion about where we were racing to, at least on our boat. . .

WTF held the lead and we rounded just outside Blu Moon. They tacked and we carried on for a bit, which worked out well for us. Nobody really knew which way to go. Would the wind continue to back, or would it veer to the original range? In the end it did a bit of both at various times. We stayed within range of WTF, with the Norwegian crew sneaking into third. On the second downwind our forestay pin fell out, so that caused some anxious moments! The final beat was even more uncertain. We played the middle and managed to sneak past WTF halfway up the beat. But the guys behind were closing on us, and it was not easy conditions to cover. In the end we held on for the win, with WTF second, the Norwegians third and Blu Moon fourth.

I was thinking of Martin Luther King today. How much courage and strength of conviction he had, working against long odds, to help make our country what it is today, where people of all race and background can succeed and thrive. He is one of those people that make you proud to be American.

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