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Pulling Victory from the Jaws of Defeat

After ceding the lead in today's first race, we had our work cut out for us going into the final race of Key West 2011.

January 22, 2011
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Nick Turney

I’d rather be lucky than good! Today was a tough mental day on the PHRF 1 racecourse here in Key West. You have the pressure of remembering the scores, keeping tabs on the time between you and your competition, and sailing the boat fast, in the right direction, in a shifty, southerly breeze.

We went into the day only 2 points ahead of the J/109 Rush and 7 points ahead of Galilee and Wicked. No pressure, just sail our own race and things will work out.

Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. We had a slow start after setting up in a lull halfway down the line. We had Rush on our windward hip and Wicked tight to leeward—tough spot. We didn’t have the freedom to put the bow down and sail fast, and Rush was motoring above us. Luckily, they tacked away to the right and we followed suit.

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Rush is a very well sailed boat; my compliments to the team. Our strategy was to cover them the whole race, try to leg out on them, and force them into a bad shift. Well, they were too fast, beating us in that first race by about a minute.

Going into the final race, we were tied with Rush, with the tiebreaker going their way. It all came down to the last race, and our J/111 team stayed very calm about the whole situation. We needed to sail our own race—imagine that! We got off to a great start, with Rush just to weather and sailing slow. We flicked them out to the right and continued toward the left, figuring we’d nail some shifts and beat them in a tactical game.

Things were looking great until—BAM!—we snagged a crab pot and stopped dead in the water. The team reacted quickly, executing some great boathandling to back off the crab pot and get the boat sailing again. At this point, things were looking grim as we watched Rush sail away on a great starboard lift.

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But we didn’t quit. You never give up on the race, and the teams that get upset rarely recover. We hit a few shifts and back to Rush by the top mark, ducking them on the layline. Rush was slightly low and tried to tack above us to pin us out. As soon as we saw them tacking, we immediately tacked onto starboard and forced them into two very slow tacks. We rolled them, then gassed them all the way into the mark, forcing them to do more tacks to avoid hitting the mark.

We were starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We sailed hard and fast the rest of the race to wind up second, while Rush finished fifth, giving us the overall victory by 3 points.

For all the support they’ve given our J/111 team, I’d like to thank the team at Sail magazine, J Boats, North Sails, Harken, US SAILING, and Petit Paints. Our team, based around the J/105 it from Cleveland, included Jim Smincheck, Harriot Uhlir, Jeff Hass, Connie Sackett, Jodie Hass, and me. We sailed a strong series and showed that the J/111 has some game and can compete at the grand prix level. And, of course, hats off to the team on Rush.

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Complete coverage of 2011 Key West Race Week.

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