Key West Log: Practice Always Pays Off

You never know what you’ll learn--or fix--on a practice day.

You never know why you arrive early to a regatta. But it’s almost always a good idea. Sometimes it’s to get over jet lag. Sometimes to work on boatspeed, maneuvers, or local knowledge. Today, with 6 to 8 knots of afternoon breeze out in the racing area, we learned that we’d come early so we could get the outboard engine fixed. If the wind stays from the southeast tomorrow, it’ll come in handy as we find our way out the narrow channel from Stock Island to the racecourse.

Today we settled for getting to the airport and picking up Bud, our remaining missing crew, who’d been stranded in snowbound D.C. It also gave us plenty of time to spend buying more boat stuff at West Marine.

It was hot like yesterday; plenty of sweaty t-shirts milling around our J/29, getting it rigged. The new tiller from Karl’s Boat Shop was installed, and the other halyard winch cleaned out. Billy tuned the rig again, Ben wiped down the bottom, and Paul and Jan handled the all-important job of sticking the Terra Nova Trading/Yachting Key West Race Week stickers on either side of the bow.

While we drank Gatorade in the shade and waited in vain for an alternative source of power, Bud and I spent some time visualizing our tacking technique. We realized that we’d raced against each other in the Farr 40 class at Block Island last summer, and we compared notes on cockpit configurations and the relatively larger amount of sheet on a J/29 genoa.

That was about it for our grueling practice session. At least it gave us time to go buy more boat stuff at West Marine, stop in and visit the folks at the Harken trailer, and get sidetracked to go watch the Packers game at the Hogs Breath on Duval Street.

There I hung out with J/29 class president Jay McArdle, who’s been a class cheerleader for several years. He’s been instrumental in strengthening the class at this and other regattas, encouraging attendance relentlessly. His philosophy of class promotion includes a willingness to personally drive other owners’ boats to regattas, just to make sure they show up, and he delighted in describing to me how the new computer chip in his big Ford turbocharged diesel that now allows him to maintain 70 mph on cruise control, even going uphills.

McArdle admits that the class is an imperfect one-design--some boats have inboards, most have outboards; most have masthead rigs, some (like ours) have fractional rigs. But he believes in the boat--which is a bargain for a boat with a bigger-boat feel--and he continues to win converts with his passionate, colorful style.

As I already knew, the J/29 class has its share of characters. I met a few of the others at the tent party, which officially opened race week, and I’m sure I’ll meet many more in our 17-boat class as the week progresses. Tomorrow, we’ll meet them all on the starting line. Hopefully we’ll get out on the water early and practice whatever tacks, set, jibes, and takedowns we have time for. Then it’ll be time for a starting sequence, and practice or no practice, I’ll be ready for a race.

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