Key West Log: 15-20 Knots and 75 Degrees

Perfect racing conditions took the sting out of the occasional mistake

A good start always helps, or so I’ve heard. Today on our J/29 Cool Breeze, the lesson was relearned. In the first race, with a beautiful mid-line start, we were launched toward the left side of the course in control of all but a few boats in the fleet. We managed to squander some of what we had gained as the race progressed, but the start put us in good position to sail a competitive race in which we ended up sixth.

In the next race, we were forced to tack a few minutes after the start and were always fighting to get back into the race. It didn’t help that we avoided the favored left side on two of three beats, or that we had a little snafu at the last leeward mark rounding. Our final position was 12th in this 17-boat fleet.

It didn’t take too long to get over the initial sting of our double-digit finish. Wednesday’s racing was straight out of the brochure--milky green waters, white caps, and 15-20 knots of wind from the southeast. When the spray came on deck, nobody minded, because the water and the air temperatures are warm. Whatever your finish place, it was a perfect day to be racing in Key West.

“It was frustrating, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” said Jeff Bright, skipper of a J/29 called Wiley, which finished last in one of the races. He’s owned Wiley for a year racing out of Pensacola, Fla., and at this, his first Race Week, he was finding it hard to work the wide-bowed J/29 through the waves fast enough. He also learned at a post-race seminar that he didn’t have his rig set up as well as the leaders.

Two sailmakers in the class, Billy Liberty from our boat and Bear Hovey, from Hustler, gave tips to assembled sailors at a J/Boats tent in the Industry Partners area set up just outside of the main party tent. Brandon Flack, last year’s Key West winner, also joined the panel discussion, which was moderated by another sailmaker, Farley Fontenot. Subjects covered included everything from fine-tuning your headstay length and checkstay trim to the basics of sail trim and steering as the breeze built or eased off.

J/29 class members seem more than willing to share information on their go-fast settings. The rig measurements for the top boats in the class are already listed on the class website. The challenge, as usual, is to get the basic set-up right and then make the right adjustments for the conditions. “My headstay was too long today,” said class president Jay McArdle, afterwards. Although that realization didn’t change his poor finishes, it did give him some understanding of his speed problems.

Most of data doesn’t apply to our boat, Cool Breeze, because unlike all the other J/29s at Key West, our boat has a fractional rig, with a bigger main, smaller jib, and a wider but shorter spinnaker. As a result, the masthead boats give us a handicap of 3 seconds a mile, which always comes in handy as we get close to the finish of a 6- or 8-mile race and realize that with an 18- or 24-second adjustment ,we can beat any boats within a few boatlengths in front of us. In most racing, the finishes have been close enough for us to pass one or two boats this way.

For Thursday, we’ll try again to put together a couple of strong finishes. We’re in eighth place, within 5 points of Killshot, Fish, and Patriot, and a couple of good finishes might well move us up. The class leader, Hustler, has a 7-point lead after finishing 3-1 on Wednesday. Bijan Risadi’s Showdown, with a 2-2, moved up to second, a point ahead of Bruce Lockwood’s Tomahawk. and 4 points ahead of Leo Bonser’s Break Away, which won its second race of the series today.