Key West Wrap-Up

If you were lucky enough to be at this year's Key West Race Week, the memories should be enough to get you through the rest of the winter. The practice days before the event were breezy, so teams went from apres holiday somnolence straight into full-contact sailing. Teams worked out their kinks in a high-twenties breeze on Saturday, and even stronger pressure on Sunday. For the crew of the Swan 45 Plenty, owned by Alex Roepers of Stonington, Conn., the practice days were grueling, but worthwhile. After a crash jibe on Sunday in 32 knots, which resulted in a broken mainsail batten, we decided to protect our assets and head in. We were tired, but dry and warm by the time the Patriots/Colts game came on later that afternoon. Watching the Pats dismantle the vaunted Indianapolis offense left our mostly New England-based team pumped for the week of competition ahead. Even in the lee of a couple super-sized cruise ships you could see that it was still nuking on Monday, so there were few complaints when the Race Committee hung out the AP for a few hours. Racing began for all but the Mumm 30s, F-28s, and, surprisingly, the 30-something-foot sportboats in PHRF 3, at 1:30 that afternoon. We had a pretty average fourth-place finish that day, while Andrzej Rojek's Better Than, which would eventually win the Swan 45 class, took first. Also on our circle was the Farr 40 class, where the crew of Bambakou, owned by John Coumantaros, snatched their first first-place finish of the event. Later that afternoon, the rumor mill reported that Coumantaros would be taking possession of the TP 52 Esmeralda shortly after the Jamaica Race. In a not-too-surprising correlation, those who won their classes in Day One's big breeze did well for the week. In addition to Better Than in the Swan 45 class, Makoto Uematsu's Esmeralda in PHRF 1, George Gamble's Pretty Woman, a Beneteau First 47, in PHRF 2, The Muller's Pamlico, an Andrews 38, in PHRF 3, George Petrides' Avra in the J/120 class, Pegasus 575 in the Melges 24 class, the Esposito's Hustler, in the J/29 class, Amethyst, in PHRF 7, Bill Buckles and Liquor Box, in the Tartan 10 class, and Island Flyer, an S2 7.9 in PHRF 8, all continued on to win their respective classes. Monday's big breeze lay down only slightly for Tuesday's racing, and after a brief postponement, all classes were sent out to play. All four race circles got two races off, and everyone began settling down to the task at hand. Eventual winners that began showing their mettle that day were the new Melges 32 Star, sailed by Jeff Ecklund; Condor, a Corsair 28 R owned by Peter Freudenberg and Todd Hudgins came back from a DNF on day One to take two bullets; Hasso Plattner's Farr 40 Morning Glory took a 4,1. No matter how well or badly you went on Tuesday, everybody knew that, with a forecast for dying breeze for the end of the week, and a lighter breeze, but still strong on Wednesday, we'd be sailing three races. There are few feelings as good as the one you have once a three-race day is over, so everybody must have felt pretty terrific Wednesday night. A slightly lesser breeze than the day before was a godsend for crews who'd been pushing hard in big air for the past few days, but there was still plenty of grunt in the pressure. Having the most fun of their week on Wednesday was the crew of Tom Hill's R/P 75, who were finally able to put a speed bump in Esmeralda's path by notching three first-place finishes. "We had good starts, good roundings, and good tactics," said Hill to Race Week News' Bill Wagner. "We hit a lot of shifts." Things started looking up for the crew of Plenty as well, thanks to a 3-3-1 score for the day, we advanced to second overall behind Better Than. Our mark roundings were clean and our tactician, Geoff Ewenson, kept putting us in all the right spots. Although we were five points out of first, we still looked and felt a lot better than we had at the end of the day Tuesday. Eight out of the 21 classes had their winners crowned at the end of Thursday's racing. Hustler put it away with two firsts, as did Pamlico. Rick Shaefer's J/80 C'est Nasty took a 1-8 to seal the deal, and the tactician on the Mumm 30 turbo duck conceded to a Race Week News reporter that while it was still mathematically possible for them to win, it was more likely that Deneen Demourkas and her crew on Groovederci would continue to take top-two finishes and win the class. "We would have to win and they would have to tank, which isn't likely," said Nick von der Wense, reigning Mumm 30 Class Champion. Friday was forecast to be light to the point of cancellation, but the weather guessers were thankfully wrong. On our race circle, we saw between 10 and 14 knots, which had us hanging on the edge between our asymmetric and symmetric spinnakers. In the end, we used both during the 5-leg final race. We went in to the race day five points behind first-place Better Than, and two behind second-place Vim. We couldn't place lower than third even if we were disqualified, but we could, perhaps, climb a rung or two if everything went our way. It didn't. Vim was launched and quickly sailed away from the rest of the fleet, while Better Than looked deep. We counted scores in our heads and saw that if better Than finished in fifth or sixth, they'd lose first place to Vim. Knowing this, the crew on Better Than sucked it up and started gaining places, by the end of the 9.8-mile race, they managed to claw their way to fourth, just ahead of Devocean. The happy yells from Better Than's crew echoed across the water to where the crew of Vim sat, waiting to see if they'd pulled out the win. Surprisingly, the most protests per capita (5) came from the six-boat Swan 45 class; the second most (4) came from the 58-boat Melges 24 fleet. Close racing with boats that have similar speeds up- and downwind saw many tight mark roundings and finishes in the Swan class, and tossing pro match racer Chris Law (sailing aboard Alice Martin's chartered Painkiller 3-Goombay Smash in a new, light-blue paint job) into the mix as tactician, led to some fireworks. Two DSQs made it tough for the otherwise quick and well-sailed Painkiller to break into the top three spots on the podium. Showing that his talents work as well on a Farr 40 as on an America's Cup boat was Russell Coutts, who sailed as tactician aboard Hasso Plattner's Morning Glory. In the end it was the German boat that clinched top spot in the 18-boat class, despite stellar performances from Jim Richardson's Barking Mad, and Peter De Ridder's Mean Machine, which took second and third respectively. According to Plattner, it was his first win at a major Farr 40 event. To see the complete results, as well as images and stories from the 2005 Key West Race Week, sponsored by Nautica, go to www.premiere-racing.com.