Le Tigre Stalks the Breeze

On Day 4 of Quantum Key West 2012, the team on Glenn Darden and Reese Hillard's J/80 Le Tigre won Boat of the Day honors after posting three bullets in an elusive breeze.

Sailing World

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The J/80 Le Tigre team (left to right, excluding Mt. Gay representative in red shirt): Karl Anderson, John Gluek, Reese Hillard, Glenn DardenMichael Lovett

The penultimate day of Quantum Key West 2012 presented racers with a new set of challenges compared to the the big breeze that kicked off the week. With a spotty breeze that varied in strength from 5 to 10-plus knots, it was a game of Chutes and Ladders in many classes.

In Thursday's conditions, the veteran team aboard Glenn Darden and Reese Hillard's J/80 Le Tigre—which won the class's North American Championship in Larchmont, N.Y., last October—put on a gear-changing, wind-hunting clinic. Le Tigre won all three races in the 18-boat division to earn Boat of the Day honors; the team holds an 18-point cushion over second place with two races remaining.

"What was the most fun today is that the conditions were up and down, shifting around," says tactician John Gluek, who is president of Dimension-Polyant. "It was all about staying calm and not panicking, deciding a side that's favorable and digging through the fleet to get there, and shifting gears. From five to ten to fifteen knots, there's a range of adjustments [we] make that is really the speed, that's the gas pedal."

Trimmer Karl Anderson is the team's gear-changer. "We try to keep the boat rolling, fully powered up," he says. "There's a lot of small adjustments you can make that are minor adjustments, but they all add up. The trick is to have it all in sync with the trim of the boat and the pressure on the sails. In that way, it's a little back to dinghy sailing. When the wind drops, we try to focus on making the boat go faster forward. We'll heel the boat to make it easier for the helmsman, and we try to keep everybody from freaking out! When everybody's working together, we're able to work through those lights spots."

Of course, skipper Glenn Darden prefers to avoid the light spots altogether. "What John [Gluek] did was keep us in the breeze," says Darden. "There were big breeze lanes—more than shifts, there were breeze lanes—and John kept us in these lanes. A couple of races, we didn't get off the line as well as we wanted, we were a little bit behind, and up the first beat we weren't looking great. John had the patience to work us into better lanes."

Gluek explains his wind-hunting method: "Today was what I call lake sailing, where you had to be patient. You couldn't hit a corner; you couldn't say it's right or left. You had to go with the velocity and move up the water, a little like skiing down a slalom course."

The Le Tigre team makes winning sound easy. Now, those of us who don't regularly string together first-place finishes like beads on a Key West party necklace know that winning is never easy, but Darden and company remind us that winning is a lot easier when you take an easygoing approach. "We're having a lot of fun on the boat," says Darden. "There's a great sense of camaraderie, which often translates into good performance."

_ Access SW's complete coverage of Quantum Key West 2012. _