The Finkle Files

Getting to Key West from upstate New York is half the battle of race week. The other half is keeping it fun. For Don Finkle and his young charges, that shouldn't be a problem.
Sailing World

Quantum Key West: Don Finkle

Tim and Don Finkle (right). A dynamic father-son duo. Dave Reed/sailing World

Saturday, January 26

Now that the boat is packed up and the crew has flown out, Heather and I are enjoying a few moments of quiet on the balcony of our rented condo here in Key West, with some time to also reflect on a few final thoughts and suggestions as we look back on the experience, in no particular order.

This is a major event and a significant undertaking, especially for those of us coming from the frozen north. It deserves adequate time to practice prior to the event. One day at the absolute minimum, more would be better. We were clearly sailing better as the week went on. It is also a shame to fly in and fly out without spending any time here. I suggest leaving on Sunday so you have the final Saturday to chill out and enjoy some time in this beautiful place. It would be nice to have a mid-week lay day even, but I guess the event has been criticized in the past for being too long as it is.


We packed too much. This is not the first time; you’d think we’d learn. If you forget something you can buy it here. Too much stuff just adds to the stress of getting ready and packing to go home. Beside, you always end up buying some regatta clothing here anyway.

Saltwater is a mystery to those of us who sail on the Great Lakes. Nothing ever dries out. I can’t wait to get my boat back inside my shop in Youngstown and dry it all out. I washed my boat off today at Truman Annex, but it was not a good enough job for my taste.

It was most useful to have all the vendor trailers here. Despite being well prepared, and having sailed our boat for 6 months, we still made almost daily trips to one of the trailers or WEST Marine for one part or another. Ed Furry at SAIL22 was especially helpful. The folks at Quantum bailed me out when I brought the wrong sail, that won’t happen again, an expensive lesson.


There we five us us here, four sailing plus my wife who came for the vacation and to keep things together on the shore side. We rented a condo through VRBO (vacation rentals by owner), a tip we learned from friends who travel to regattas frequently. VRBO is a terrific way to go, better than a hotel in that you have a kitchen, laundry facilities, living and dining areas, etc., it works very well for a crew at an event like this, the longer the stay, the more we suggest it.

One of the few regrets I have about Quantum Key West this year was that we did not really have enough time to see as many people as we wanted to. By the time you get done racing, sail back to the dock, de-rig and wash down the boat, put it all away, come back and wash the salt off our bodies with a short shower, and then head to the tent party at Kelly’s, we were pretty well spent. A couple of drinks and it was time to go get some sleep so we could do it all over again the next day. Yesterday I came back to the condo with plans to swim in the pool before the party. I realized after two laps that my arms and shoulders felt like Jell-0 and I was feeling every one of my 65 years! Today I did 14 laps plus rode the bike so the recovery is beginning to take hold.

Dave [Reed] told me not to focus entirely on racing reports so we have tried to cover other aspects of the regatta. Hopefully they have given you some small idea of what this event is all about. It truly is a one of a kind experience due to the timing and location, and the wide appeal to sailors from all over. I like hearing the foreign languages being spoken on the dock and seeing boats from so may different home ports. Every sailor should do this at least once, but we forewarned that you might get hooked.



Friday, January 25

Quantum Key West is different from other regattas we do, most of which are 2-3 days. This is a marathon, not a sprint. On the way to the course today, my smart Alec son Tim (there is one in every family), said “Welcome to the last day of Quantum Key West Race month, lets make it a good one”. We sailed looser today, by that I mean temperament, not rig tune, and it helped. No matter how the regatta turns out it is always good to end on a high note, and we did that today. We moved up 4 places in the standings to finish in 16th out of 38, just a bit shy of my personal goal of top 15. In this fleet, and considering the trouble we had getting off the line, it was a successful event for us. The two primary goals, having fun and learning how to sail the J70, were at least partially accomplished. The fun part for sure, and we are quickly climbing up the learning curve of the new J70.


At the panel discussion the other day Dave Ullman said he practiced here for 6 days before this regatta and if you wanted to do well you needed to practice for at least 4 days. I think he was right, today was our 6th day and we are so much better now at boat handling and maneuvering that it is almost a shame to go home and not do this again for three months!

I love the J70. I am a convert to sportboat sailing. Planing downwind is intoxicating. When we dropped down to displacement mode when the wind went soft it was almost like daysailing. Today we all said that planing along at 12 knots of boatspeed has become very tame. At 14 it is more exciting, and the other day at 16 is was time to really pay attention to what you were doing! In the Fall Brawl in Annapolis we wiped out a few times because we just did not have the hang of how to do it, our weight placement was all wrong, too far forward. We also sailed here with 4 crew, we had only 3 in Annapolis, and for a big regatta I think 4 is the right number. That extra pair of hands is helpful at times. At home we’ll likely sail with 3 for the weeknight races, but when we travel I’ll try to do it with 4. But I emphasize that everybody is still figuring this out on the J70.

This has been a terrific event. I thank Quantum for sponsoring, the organizers, volunteers, race committee staff, the rest of the sponsors, my wife for her tolerance and especially my crew. Off to the party!**

Thursday, January 24

There’s a lot to like about Key West aside from the racing, which is certainly part of the reason people come here each winter. Yesterday, for example, I got my first up close and personal view of a manatee. One of the guys on an Italian Melges 32 was washing off the boat after the day’s racing when I noticed a crowd on the dock. A manatee was attracted to the fresh water and was slurping it up like crazy. He handed me the hose and the beast sucked on the end of it with an insatiable thirst. Manatees are very strange looking critters, large, bulbous, slow, with tiny eyes and a whiskered snout, barnacles and seaweed growing on their backs. Fortunately, this one had no propeller scars that I could see. I was having a great time feeding him (or her) the fresh water until someone told me you can be ticketed for doing so as they don’t want the manatees to be attracted to a dangerous place like a marina.

Today, I watched one of the charter fishing captains cleaning his fish, wahoo, kings, dorado and skipjack tuna (I asked). Every once in awhile he’d toss a chunk to the huge tarpon floating below the back of the boat. A smaller bit went to the cat on the dock.

We’ve had good meals here each day after the regatta party, and Key West has plenty of good restaurants. There is something for everyone in this town, so the racers need not worry about the shore crew.

I’m whipped, though, and for the first night, I couldn’t muster up the energy to make it to the party. After four days of racing, one day of practice, a day and a half to rig, launch and move the boat to the marina, and three days and a bit of travel from Western New York, it has all caught up to me.

One more day of sailing tomorrow, and then we get to reverse the process. Has it all been worth it? So far the answer is, “Absolutely.” The racing has been great, superb RC work as you would expect, terrific sailing conditions that Quantum Key West is noted for, and in our J/70 fleet excellent competition. We are learning more about how to sail the boat every day, which was our main goal in coming here. Now it’s off to bed and see if we can figure out how to get off the starting line better, which has been our Achilles heel so far.** **

Wednesday, January 23

Today was a perfect example of why people come to Quantum Key West: sun and plenty of breeze. The sailing conditions were awesome. There was enough chop to challenge upwind and to make for some wild rides downhill. Whenever we had the spinnaker up we were on a full plane about 95 percent of the time. The uphill legs seemed to take forever and the downwind rides were over way too quick.

Joey, our tactician, is a Melges 20 and 32 sailor and has plenty of experience with sprit boats in breeze where we do not. He added a ton to our good day because he taught us how to work the boat in this big breeze. When we sailed in Annapolis in November we tripped over ourselves a couple of times downwind when the breeze got up because we just didn’t have the hang of it. Joey had us ripping downhill here. He schooled Morgan on steering in these conditions and we smoked off the wind.

Joey stood all the way aft in the boat and played the main and talked us through the maneuvers. Tim did a super job working the kite and his hands show the effects; they’re pretty shredded. Sailing gloves don’t save you in these conditions, they get wet and the skin comes off inside the gloves. Ouch.
My job was to hold the jib sheet in one hand (the jib is always unrolled when you are on a plane) and the vang in the other, keeping my weight as far back as possible. Upwind speed in even the largest and fastest monohulls is usually in single digits. There is something really exhilarating about going downhill in the mid-teens in a 22-foot boat. Morgan saw 16 on the Velocitek before we caught it on the spin halyard and broke it. Fortunately Joey has a spare in his car so we’ll be good to go for tomorrow.

Off to the party (again)!

Tuesday, January 22

****We sailed three races in perfect conditions with sun and wind in the mid-teens. Three things stick in my memory today after a fun, exciting but long day on the water. First, do not forget the sun block. We were so amped up this morning getting the boat tuned and ready that we all forgot to apply. On the sail back in I looked at the other guys aboard and realized they were burned, which reminded me that I forgot too. Stupid and uncomfortable.

Second, this day was about the start for us. In Race One we got a great start and were fifth at the first weather mark, not bad in a 38-boat fleet. In Race 2 we got off the line in good shape again and were sixth at the first weather mark. In the third race we pushed it a bit too hard and were over early, which resulted in a claw back to a 25. That is two over-earlies in five races, not a good strategy for success. But this is a very tough fleet and all the boats are up on the line, and boats have been over in every race so far.

The third, and actually most frustrating remembrance of Day Two is the harassment we got when we were yelled at for being within 200 feet of a Navy vessel when we were taking our sails down before entering the harbor. We are not talking about a sub or an aircraft carrier here. It could pass for a gray fishing boat tied to the dock with no activity in sight. Then we get an email tonight from the event organizers saying we can’t raise our sails in the Key West Bight near the Coast Guard dock. I am sorry, but if you were here to see the area we are talking about you would see how ridiculous all of this is. Tomorrow is forecast to be another breezy day and more good sailing to be expected.

Monday, January 21

I am pretty sure more boats finished ahead of us in each race than behind today. Nevertheless it was a successful day, and we all came back in feeling good about the sailing we had done. The breeze was a bit better than we were afraid we might see, and we had a good opportunity to see how we would perform as a heavy crew (a bit over 700 pounds) in the light stuff. Speed was not our problem: starts and going the wrong way were. But I’m not going to rehash the racing. Instead, I’ll share why we felt it was a good day on the water.

Our primary goal for Quantum Key West was to learn as much as we could about sailing the J/70, a new design that everybody is still trying to figure out. It is an easy boat to sail, but like any new boat, it will take time before all the tricks are discovered.

We have a full schedule of J/70 one-design events this year, and the sooner we learn how to sail the boat best, the more fun it will be. So every race we get better and a bit more comfortable with the handling, maneuvering, weight placement, etc. This is certainly easier when you are always near other boats in a big fleet like ours where you have a constant partner to gauge against. With more wind forecast for the rest of the week, there may not be an immediate carry-over for this regatta, but what we learned in today’s light conditions will help us down the road.

I don’t fully believe racing sailors who say they don’t care how they finish; after all we keep score, don’t we? But I had a great time today watching the three 30-year-olds on our boat working together, sharing feedback, and coming together as a team. I did not mind the time I spent sitting on the cockpit sole, and I think they were rather kind to me when I royally screwed up one windward chute set that cost us four boats all at once. That is not a maneuver I am used to, although we did practice it once yesterday.

The takeaway is that I didn’t think the maneuver through in advance of the rounding because I had my head out of the boat and did not realize which side all the spaghetti was on. My job at that point was to have my head inside the boat, but since most of my sailing for the last 10 years has been as a driver, I acquired some Poona crewing habits.

Off to the party.

Sunday, January 19

When the editor asked me to write a blog for Quantum Key West Race Week, he failed to tell me that the other storytellers he chose were Jonathan McKee and Steve Hunt. I’m not sure I would have agreed to do this if I knew I was in such accomplished company. But even ham-and-eggers like me have stories, so here we go.

Quantum Key West 2013 started for Team Junior last Monday as my wife Heather and I pulled out of Youngstown, N.Y. (near Niagara Falls) with our J/70 in tow. So began a three-day drive, which was enjoyable for me but less so for her. The fog in the mountains of the Appalachians made for some hairy driving conditions. Plus, I had no idea there were so many 18-wheelers on the roads. We passed a couple of them in the ditch, which was even less reassuring to Heather.

Day One was uneventful, but on the morning of the second day we had our first adventure. I managed to catch the port tail end of the trailer pulling out of a tight spot and knocked off the light and metal license plate bracket. Fortunately, a nice woman in a big pick-up truck (everybody in West Virginia has a big pick-up truck) pulled up next to me and told me about my dangling parts, as we did not feel a thing in the cab when it had happened.

After sizing up the situation, I called Mike Orro, of Triad Trailers, who had built my trailer, and he said to head to his shop in Raleigh N.C., and he’d fix me up. Fortunately, I had a big roll of duct tape to secure my dangling bits, and off we went to see Mike, a slight detour as it turned out. In an hour’s time he had us welded up and back on the road, good as new.

One of the reasons for my downsizing from my 36-footer to the J/70 was the ability to travel more easily. My favorite part of sailing is doing travel regattas. To that end I wanted to tow down and back myself for the experience. We had already done that in November to Annapolis for the Fall Brawl Regatta, but that was only a one-day trip. Key West is a much bigger deal, but so far, it’s been well worth the trip.

I believe in exposing my mistakes so that others may learn from them—no sense suffering alone. Yesterday (Sunday) was one such example. As we readied for the start of the practice race, my crew realized that the sail they pulled out of the bag was not what was labeled on the bag. It turns out my mainsail was safe and warm back inside my shop in Youngstown, instead of on the boat where it should have been. After a moment of panic I zipped over to the Quantum loft, conveniently located near our dock at The Galleon, and sheepishly bought a new mainsail. Now I have a spare. We were late to the start of practice, but things fell into place quickly, and we came in off the water feeling good about where we are heading into the regatta.

Another reason I moved into the J/70 was so that I could sail with younger people, especially my family, who frankly have more fun on a sportboat. I’m 65 years old, and I’ve always sailed with multiple generations on our boats. I find sailing with younger people gives me energy. I’m clearly the weak link on our crew this week, but that is OK, the boys seem happy to put up with me … at least so far.

Our youngest son Tim is the trimmer. His long-time friend Morgan Paxhia, who is family to us, is our driver. These two started sailing against each other in the Youngstown YC junior sailing program when they were about 10 years old and have been school classmates, buddies, and sailing friends for 20 years.

Morgan went off to sail in college at the University of Rhode Island, and Tim went to Connecticut College where he played hockey and lacrosse. The three of us sailed together on the J/70 in Annapolis in November and had a ball, but figured we’d be light for Quantum Key West so Morgan tabbed his former teammate from URI, Joey Mello, to be our fourth. Joey has been heavily involved in the Ninkasi Melges 20 and Melges 32 programs. He’s our tactician, and that leaves me with the all-important tasks of passing up water and sandwiches, helping on the hoist and douse, making sure the Velocitek has batteries, and so forth. It all worked well on the practice day, now we get to see how we do when the fur starts to fly in earnest!