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Monday, January 25
All’s Well That Ends Well
Well I missed the last two days of reporting primarily because I was flat-out tired. The days were hot and long and frankly some of the best days of racing that I think that I have experienced in Key West. Thursday greeted the fleet with a 13- to 18-knot southerly and Friday delivered a 7- to 11-knot southwesterly. Both directions proving to be tricky, but predominantly right hand favored. More importantly for us on the Barking Mad these days created opportunity to battle back onto the podium. Our disappointing day on Wednesday made winning our class quite difficult. The fleet inversion in Race 6, which saw us go from 1st to 7th, really was the difference maker and as we know sometimes those are the breaks.
Highlights: There was a lot of good that came from this event for the Barking Mad. From my perspective we were the fastest downwind with the Code 1 spinnakers and fastest upwind in the medium breezes that we had on Thursday. We also confirmed that we need to continue to work on our technique in the 12 to 15 knots downwind as we are still vulnerable. I know that we learn the most from our losses not our wins and so I am very optimistic about how we will continue to develop for the future and the Worlds in the Dominican Republic in April. I am also proud of the way the team responded in the last race of the event. We went into this race in a who-beat-who scenario with the Italian team Nerone. Jim did good work in getting us off the line 5 lengths clear of Nerone. As we covered them fairly tightly up the first beat I missed a right shear that allowed Nerone to slip around us. From here we went slightly backwards as some competitors took the opportunities to tack on us and send us further back. But good boat handling, great down wind speed, and a perfect leeward mark rounding allowed us to chip away at Nerone’s lead. When Nerone presented us the opportunity we were in position to pass and then defend. It was a great measure of the mental toughness of the Barking Mad team to have the lead, cough it up and then battle back.
Lowlights: There were not any. It was Key West in the middle of January so nothing to complain about. As I said above I think that this was potentially one of the best weeks of sailing in Key West that I have experienced in the last 20 years. I do not think I can compliment Peter Craig and his staff enough for the job that they do in hosting this event. I know the event is smaller then Peter would like but there is not a more professionally run operation. They recognize the sailors want good racing but to not spend all day on the water. On Division 1 Ken Legler and crew ran efficient races but got the crews back to the dock early to enjoy the shore side activities of Key West.
Final congratulations go to the Joe Fly team for winning the Farr 40 class and John Kilroy Jr’s Samba Pa Ti for winning the Melges 32 class and Boat of the week. The boat of the week award was a funny one in that I was sharing a mudslide with John at the local Tiki Hut at about 3 pm as he was waiting to go to the airport. As fate would have it his flight got canceled and he was back at the trophy presentation unaware that he was going to win boat of the week; I guess the wind gods knew John! Congrats for that Team Samba Pa Ti.
For now it is back to family life helping Shelley out with the kids and getting the troops to and from school. Key West always represents the beginning of the sailing schedule. If the season goes half as well as the last 5 days I know 2010 holds a lot of promise. Thanks to all of those that make it happen on and off the water.
Wednesday, January 20
Have You Seen My Mojo?
Another tricky day at the office and I must say it is getting frustrating. The Division 1 track is proving to be quite tricky and I am struggling to find the right spots. The day started out fairly well. We spoke this morning on Barking Mad about fine tuning some of the things that we were missing; opening up the groove slightly, sailing the end of the beats better and continue to be smooth in the corners.
In Race 1 all of these were going well, and then some, but then it got really tricky. We rounded the top mark second and managed our way through the leeward gates in the lead. By the leeward marks the breeze had shifted significantly left and while the RC tried to keep up they slightly missed it. We rounded the gates with a 030 true wind direction, and the top mark was laid at a course axis of 070, so needless to say there was not a lot of time on starboard. To get clear of the spinnakers and traffic, we extended for about 100 meters on starboard before our tack to port.
All seemed good and almost to the point that I thought that we had waited too long as Nanoq went left gate, looking downwind, and was already bow out. As the fleet trucked along everything was fairly in control until the last 25 percent of the leg. At this point we went light and the boats to the inside, led by Plenty, sheared off us and were gone. End of story our somewhat comfortable lead turned into a disappointing seventh. I guess some days you are the bug and some days the windshield. In this race we were definitely the bug! The biggest bummer of all was the fact that a lot of the competition-Nerone, Joe Fly, and Strunjte-were all deep early in the race. Of the three only Nerone stayed back. Joe Fly and Stunjte battled back with Plenty taking the win.
Race 2 on the day was another tricky, tricky race. I think if they gave an award for boats most passed we would be leading; we had another shocking first beat. We were DFL at the first mark, but as I am learning from these experiences there is only one way to go and you have clean air on the runs and we maximized it. I have unfortunately started employing the tactic where I go against my instinct, as what I’m seeing is not making sense. Oddly enough the percentage of being right is slightly higher. Of all the runs in this regatta, I would say that we sailed our best one to date on the first run of Race 2. Jim and Zach were in phase and the boat was going well. Not only did we sail back up to about 6th at the bottom we gained A LOT of distance. A quick tack around the bottom mark saw us exit the bottom quickly and set us up for a good beat in which we were able to slide up to fourth by the final windward mark.
With a beat and run remaining-feeling a little more confient about some of the decisions-we started sailing more aggressively. This bit us a little as we lost Plenty on the run but managed to hang on for a fifth. But it was nice to have the boat in a position to gain and gain. Nerone eventually won the race, with Joe Fly second. Joe Fly continued its consistent streak and now leads the event by 5 points. Currently we sit fifth, 10 points off the lead with four races to go. The first to seventh today is going to make winning this event tough. But there’s no quit in this team and we will continue to fight through Friday. It will not take much to turn it around.
Tuesday, January 19
A Legend-ary Start to a Less-than-so Day
This morning I walked down the dock and had a brief chat with a sailing legend, Buddy Melges. When I was a kid, I could not get enough of sailing. I grew up reading in magazines about the Olympics and America’s Cup and I always had two heroes: Buddy and Gary Jobson. My relationship with Gary has been one of mentor and advisor; every big decision I make seems to pass through Gary’s office for clearance. In the days before the 32nd America’s Cup, where I was the tactician for Emirates Team New Zealand, Gary took the time to send me a quite lengthy email about what he had seen and offered some advice, tactician-to-tactician; it was very cool knowing he had taken a lot of time to put his thoughts down.
When I saw Buddy on the dock this morning I could not help but think: “Man that guy is a legend!” When Barking Mad spinnaker trimmer Zach Hurst went by I hollered down the dock: “You better bow, Zach, you are amongst greatness.” He had no idea what I was talking about; when he got back to the boat I explained.
It was great to have a chat with somebody who was, for the longest time, at the pointy end of our sport leading the way. I only wish when we shook hands that some of his genius had rubbed off as I had somewhat of a tactical shocker today. The conversation ended with: “Buddy if you ever need any crew please do not hesitate I will be on the first plane to Zenda.” Hopefully that will work out, as I could use a little tune up after today.
As I said above it was a tough day today on board the Barking Mad. But it’s really hard to put my finger on any one particular thing. Jim nailed the start for the first race and in the first 300 meters I thought: “This is going to be good.” We lifted off the guys to leeward and got rid of the guys to windward. It was textbook. Then I had to think, and that is where it went pear-shaped. In fairness it was dicey and I did not put my best foot forward. It was one of those races where twice I said to myself: “Hit the reset button.” Translation: “It’s time to stop the bleeding; it’s not the first mistake that will get us, it’s going to be the next one that will get us.” Needless to say we battled all the way around the track and worked our way backwards to a disappointing eighth. Ouch!
Race 2 on the day was a little bit of the same; although this one ended on a higher note. As I said in yesterday’s posting it is not how you start, but how you finish. We were DFL around the first top mark and slowly chipped our way back up through the fleet to finish in fifth. It was a very rewarding fifth, as one competitor in particular decided to whack us a couple of times and in the end we prevailed. It is always nice when another team gives you motivation and you are able to pass. As it sits right now I believe we have slid back to fourth so the fight will continue. I don’t feel like a lot has gone right yet and we are still in the hunt so we need to continue to be patient and let it continue to evolve.
Tomorrow is a new day and I am optimistic.
Monday, January 18
Doing Good Work
Day 1 at Key West was a glamor. As predicted we were greeted to a 7 to 11 knot NNE breeze that proved to be quite tricky. On board the Barking Mad we had a mixed day with a 2, 5. Both results were well earned as we came back in race two after an OCS at the start. Needless to say we feel very fortunate as we know you don’t win this regatta on day 1 but you can certainly lose it. Right now we are sitting tied with Strunjte Light and Joe Fly on 7 points with Alex Roepers onboard Plenty another 2 points behind.
The keys to today were to understand that it was not necessarily about getting the first one right, but always trying to play the percentages, maintain solid boat speed, and keep in the hunt. Our strengths today would be our downwind boat speed and the gear shifting through the changes in pressure and solid boat handling. Skip Baxter (mainsail trimmer) and Jim did really good work upwind to battle through the dynamic conditions and keep the Barking Mad going fast. That’s not easy as they have me chirping in there ears the entire time pushing to get every ounce of boat speed. The other positive on the day was the way the group responded in the OCS race. No panic; we stuck with our game plan and chipped our way back into it. We were fortunate as it was a five legged course and the last upwind to the finish saw us pick off three boats. But we are also fortunate that we have a good team dynamic and everybody works well together regardless of the position of the moment.
A long way to go. Tomorrow is 7 to 10 knots out of the NNE again and so it will be another tricky day. We need to continue to look for good average finishes and not got bogged down with the things that we cannot control but do the things onboard well. Standing by 9:30 p.m. Truman Annex.
Sunday, January 17
Ready Or Not, Racing Starts Tomorrow
On the eve of Key West and like most the team is sitting in front of the tube watching the Jets and the Chargers play. The last couple of days have been good minus the fact that [skipper] Jim [Richardson] has gone man down with the flu. That does not make the training ideal as inevitably we miss a lot of the little things. But we have done the best we can and have focused hard on the priority of getting Jim healthy for Monday knowing Thursday and Friday are the days that you win this event. The beginning of the week is looking to be light and will be shifty, the initial read from Commanders is that we need to race early tomorrow. From a Barking Mad perspective I know we have a lot of work to do. As always the boat is impeccably prepared by Brad and the new recruits (Nate Reynolds and Michael Bradley) are doing good work. I worry about getting the percentages right and starting well enough to execute the plan. Standing by in Key West Jets 10 Chargers 7….11:00 minutes to go in the 4th.
Tuesday, January 12
Getting a Strong Start is All About the Routine
Paul Todd **| |Terry Hutchinson, seen here at Louis Vuitton Trophy Nice, will be calling tactics on the Farr 40 Barking Mad for Key West 2010.**|
Well, it’s the day before the day before I go to Key West. Looking outside my office in Harwood, Md., there’s a dusting of snow on the ground and my mind is racing to make sure I cover the last-minute details. Don’t forget the hand-bearing compass, Sharpie, sunscreen (optimistic), rule book, SIs, NOR, warm clothes-especially this year. A majority of the work has already been done. An 0830 phone call to captain Brad Magosky confirmed that the boat was safely in Key West and a mid-morning conversation with mainsail trimmer Skip Baxter confirmed the sail plan for Thursday’s first sail. Thursday will see us cycling through four mainsails, two of which are brand new and will be our mainsails for the 2010 season, one of which is a practice sail, and the final is the one we will use in Race Week.
This will be my 17th Key West Race Week and my 7th with Jim Richardson and the Barking Mad Farr 40. Key West for Barking Mad is more about setting the tone for the coming year and getting a good start of the season. The Farr 40 World Championship is only three months away, and Barking Mad will be using Key West as an opportunity to fine tune sails, equipment, and the team. We have a fairly routine schedule for Key West that involves a sail, rig, and instrument check on Thursday, seven-hour crew training on Friday and Saturday, and a light sail on Sunday, fine tuning race sails and any last-minute items. It’s a routine that has worked for the last 10 years, and I figure if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. This approach is also done to help shake off the cobwebs. As a team, we haven’t been in the boat together since July, so there will be a lot to cover in three days.
Expectations. Barking Mad has high expectations. The Farr 40 class is notorious for whoever works the hardest wins. This year will be no different, and I know that we will have our hands full. On top of reigning North American champion Helmut Jahn and Flash Gordon, there is a strong Italian contingent that includes 2009 European champion Nerone and 2009 runner-up at the world championship Joe Fly. These teams are solid; for Barking Mad to be successful, we have to focus on the details and fine tune our boat speed. It’s always a great challenge!
Back to the details. I am off to organize Commanders weather for the week and check in with Captain Brad one more time before the end of the day. Oh, and I have to take my son to tutoring and pick up Katherine at drama…..Key West is looking good!