Key West Is Always a Rush

Bill Sweetser and the crew of the J/109 Rush have become a permanent fixture at Key West Race Week; today they won Boat of the Day.

Sailing World

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In Tuesday's moderate breeze, the crew of Bill Sweetser's J/109 Rush was able to keep pace with the faster boats in PHRF 1.Ingrid Abery

I'm making a point to interview each of the Boat of the Day winners here at Quantum Key West 2012. As Race Week approached, I figured it was only a matter of time before I'd find myself in a slightly less noisy corner of Kelly's Rooftop Bar & Grill, firing questions at Bill Sweetser.

Each year since 2004, Sweetser and the crew of his J/109 Rush have come to Key West ready to compete. The team typically rises to the top of its division, as was the case today, when Rush posted a 1-2-1 scoreline in PHRF 1 and earned Boat of the Day honors. Rush sits in third place in the 10-boat division; Robin Team's J/122 Teamwork is in first.

Of course, winning Boat of the Day was never a foregone conclusion for Sweetser and company, especially after the team struggled in the big breeze on Monday. "Several things hurt us yesterday," says Sweetser. "The big thing was we couldn't fly our big jib. We have one less person onboard this year, so we're a little light. We get penalized in our rating for having a big jib, so we pay for it even if we can't use it, as was the case yesterday."

Rush is the slowest boat in a division that includes several J/111s and 1D35s. In yesterday's conditions, it didn't take long for the other PHRF 1 boats to leave Rush in the rearview mirror. "By the end of the second leg, we couldn't even see the other boats. We finished all by ourselves," says Sweetser. "I was thinking, 'Oh man, if it blows like this all week, this isn't going to be much fun.'"
As the breeze lied down a bit today, the fun factor aboard Rush increased dramatically. "Today, the wind was lighter, and we were able to use the big jib," says the Annapolis native. "Plus, Tomasso made some wonderful calls."

Tom "Tomasso" Babel is the team's tactician, and today he constantly put Rush in the right place at the right time. "Honestly, I can't tell you what those calls were," says Sweetser. "When I drive, I'm focused so much on driving that I get very little information—I want very little information—about whether we should go left or right and so forth. Still, I can recall several times today when the crew would say, 'Tom, you really got us in a good place here.'"

As a Key West veteran, Sweetser has seen Race Week through its ups and downs, and he's committed to seeing his cherished regatta overcome the recent downturn. "I'm enjoying myself, as always," he says. "I'd rather have six or seven J/109s to race against, or a tight ratings band—we have a huge band in our class this year—but we're having a good time just the same.

"We've got to get more boats down here," continues Sweetser. "Peter [Craig] is doing everything a man can do to make it successful, but we've got to get more boats. Cutting the entry fee and not having to pay for tent tickets is great, but that's not going to make people come who wouldn't otherwise come. I'll tell you, I'm thinking about making some plugs to the people I know who aren't here, telling them about the importance of being here, and seeing if we can get a few more J/109s next year.

"You know, we have 119 boats here. All we need is 21 more boats to hit that critical mass that Peter so desperately needs. If only one out of every five boats here were able to recruit one more boat to come down, you've got 21 more boats right there. That's how you do it. It's about getting your peers to come down, and having a good time racing against your peers. That's what makes this regatta so much fun."

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