Prepping For the Big Regatta

To prepare for their major European doublehanded events Jonathan McKee and teammate Alyosha Strum-Palerm check their boxes.
Racing on a Sunfast 3300
The author’s teammate, Alyosha Strum-Palerm, helms their Sunfast 3300 at France’s big Spi Ouest Regatta. Jonathan McKee

My current project is a ­partnership in a Sunfast 3300, a 33-foot doublehanded offshore boat. Our intention is to sail the best races in Europe over the next few years, and while there are clusters of similar doublehanded boats in England, Spain, Italy and Scandinavia, the cream of the crop is racing in France. 

The French have been playing this game for a long time, so we decided to enter the springtime Spi Ouest Regatta in La Trinite sur Mer. This is one of the biggest regattas in the world, with over 460 boats. The format is short coastal races in the Bay of Quiberon, a perfect opportunity for my doubles partner, Alyosha Strum-Palerm, and I to test our skills. Using this regatta, we figured we can see where we need to improve in advance of our big test this summer, the IRC Doublehanded European Championship in July.

Our goals for the regatta were to work on boatspeed, refine our sail crossovers, work on communication and division of responsibility, solidify our boathandling, and enjoy racing in an incredible event in France.


We did not practice starting, and during the event, that was our weakest area. We had three mediocre starts, one of which we were barely OCS, and one decent start. In retrospect, we should’ve practiced more, and started more in the center of the line. In tight inshore racing, with 58 ­similar-speed boats, the start is critical. With better starts, we could have won the regatta.

Upwind tactics

Our play calling was below average, especially early in each of the beats. The correct side was not obvious, and we would typically go the wrong way, then figure it out and gain some back at the top of each beat. But this is an area for improvement. In some instances, a little more current research could have informed us; in other cases, we should have taken a smaller early loss to stay in touch with the leaders. It was another good lesson.

Upwind speed

Our pace was decent in over 10 knots, but not so good in lighter air. We made some small changes to the rig tune before the event, which I think were positive. We learned to use the J1.5 jib higher into the range than we thought we could, say 14 knots true windspeed, with more halyard and lead pushed outboard for the upper range. We also had good success with the J2 in 15 to 20 TWS and learned the boat likes a pretty powerful jib. A heel angle of 18 to 20 degrees seemed to be a good target upwind and reaching. In light air, it’s hard to induce enough heel in this boat, so I learned to trim the main tighter in less than 10 TWS, which resulted in more heel and power.


Our ­handling was good, among the best in the fleet, which means our training back home in Seattle paid off. It was also an advantage at times to have an asymmetric spinnaker, while many boats had a symmetric. Alyosha also did a good job of predicting the correct sail for the next leg, which is not always easy with the random legs and strong current.

One area we need to improve is tacking. In stronger wind, we lost a lot versus the ­single-backstay boats because it took us a long time to get to full backstay tension. I started to dump the main fine-tune out of the tack instead of the traveler only, and I think that was an improvement. The challenge for us is that the jib sheet and the runner use the same winch, so now we want to try a slightly different jib-tacking technique: Cast off all wraps as the boat is turning, tail to hand tight through the self-tailer, then immediately go runner-up, then jib final trim.

Reaching and downwind tactics

This was a real strength for us. We picked the right side on the runs and played the shifts well, and we got clear air and stuck to the rhumbline on the reaches. It’s important for the helm to know the leg compass angle because you often could not see the next mark.

Reaching and downwind speed

We always passed boats reaching and running. It’s partly because our kites are bigger and our hull form is good for downwind sailing, but I think we have fast downwind sails, and we have a good feel for the right angles and trim.

Sail crossovers

We used the masthead code zero exclusively, using no tweaker most of the time. The A1.5 is good for 3 to 12 knots, and the A2 for 8 to 25 knots. The A2 was surprisingly good for tight reaching in moderate air, up to 105 TWA. We used the spinnaker staysail in 10-plus knots when running and 8-plus knots when reaching.

Weight placement

We went max forward with the sails and gear in less than 10 knots, then centered until about 15 knots, and put more in the stern above 15, especially reaching. In light air, if one tack is favored, it might be worth putting the weight to leeward rather than max forward to try to induce heel.

We ended up 14th of 58 with an OCS, 3, 4, 3. We would have been fourth in the first race, which would have been 4, 3, 4, 3, or 14 points. The winner had 12 points, so we are definitely in the game. The main areas to improve from this event are starting, early leg tactics and light air upwind. The areas we don’t know about yet are big-picture tactics and endurance and energy management.

It’s rewarding to look back on how many goals we were able to focus on with measured success. We raced bow to bow with good teams in a large competitive fleet of boats, made French friends, and soaked up the atmosphere of the largest multi­class regatta in France. We had a lot of fun, and we are excited about our future. It was definitely worth it, and we hope to return next year. Voila!