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Southbound, And Loving It

After missing Key West Race Week in 2010, this Sailing World editor is keen to return to the North American Mecca for mid-winter sailing.

January 11, 2011

Last Sunday was, as someone else put it, a day of “true frostbiting” for Newport’s Laser Fleet 413. The temperature hovered around the freezing point, the westerly wind gusted up to 20 knots, and the newly fallen snow blanketed the harborside. But the sun shone brightly, the breeze abated slightly as the day progressed, and 21 sailors showed up to brush the snow from their boats and brave the conditions, which more than vindicated my decision (as one of the fleet captains) not to cancel in the face of a rather ominous forecast (20 to 25 with gusts over 30, was the prediction two days out).

I had a decidedly poor day. I kept dropping my mainsheet, flipped over a few times, missed most every shift, and then had a fist-sized hole punched in the starboard quarter of my boat (a windward-leeward incident) before the start of the fifth race. Nonetheless, the whole day put a smile on my face. Frostbiting always seems to have this effect, no matter the result. I was also smiling because I kept thinking how this coming weekend I’ll be in Key West, bashing through 75-degree water, complaining that 65 is a “little cool,” and worrying whether it’s time to re-apply the sunblock.

In the fall of 2009, I received an offer for a ride at last year’s Key West Race Week. I turned it down. My wife and I were due to have our second child sometime in December, and it was just too soon to be gone for 10 days. It was the right decision, but that didn’t make it any easier to spend the third week of January holed up in Newport while everyone else (or at least it seemed so) was bashing through the aquamarine waters off the Florida Keys. Needless to say, I’m excited to go reacquaint myself with the United States’ southern-most city.

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The regatta is significantly smaller than it was during it’s heyday five to 10 years ago. There are a few changes this year to reflect the more “compact” nature of the event. Most noticeably, the tent on Caroline Street is gone. The regatta (i.e. party) headquarters are now at Kelly’s Caribbean Bar and Grill on the corner of Whitehead and Caroline Streets. But it’s still a great place to sail—especially in January—the regatta still pulls in top talent like no other event in the United States, and the weeklong nature of the event allows you to settle into a rhythm and enjoy yourself in a way that just doesn’t happen at those three-day affairs.

We’ve got another year of spectacular coverage planned. Associate editor Michael Lovett will be joining me on site. Billy Black will provide us with daily images for the website, T2P.tv will be doing daily video wrap-ups, and we’ve got a panel of talented bloggers covering the fleet including two-time Olympic medalist Jonathan McKee (Melges 24) and former match-racing world champion Ian Williams (RC 44). They’ll be checking in on a daily basis to give us a rundown of how things went on in their respective fleets.

The regatta doesn’t start until Jan. 17. However, most teams will be on site by this Friday to get in a couple of days of precious practice (It’s looking breezy!). Plus there’s the feeder race (which I’ve pointed out in the past is actually older than KWRW itself) from Fort Lauderdale, which starts on Wednesday. A handful of 45 entries will also be racing at race week, making for an action-packed 12-day South Florida excursion. Nice work, if you can get it.

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By the way, it’s probably time to put to rest, or at least temper, Key West Race Week’s reputation as one of the United States’ most overpriced regattas. Late last week, Mike Lovett booked_ Sailing World_’s accommodations (Saturday to Saturday) for $1,500 for a two-bedroom apartment, with a pull-out couch, in the Truman Annex. That means that for less than $2,000 a crew of four or five (J/24 sailors, I’m looking at you!) can take care of housing, food (a $250 trip to the local supermarket will cover that), and drink tickets. I’m not sure how late Peter Craig and the team at Premiere Racing will take entries, but if you can get into the event, the housing is both available and affordable.

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