After a day off due to lack of wind, the fleet will be heading out again in about an hour to do battle in what looks to be a nice day of sailing. The forecast calls for northerly winds in the moderate range, fading later, and the race committee is hoping to get three races off so they can hit their 10-race target for the week. Ken Legler, the PRO on our course, was recounting yesterday how Key West Race Week has gone from being a five-race series to its present format. “We try to make our clientele happy, and they wanted more racing,” he said.
Sailing a 72-footer with 21 crew in the multi-race, short-course format of Key West is challenging, especially in the big breeze. And there’s no way you could do it without a great crew and some significant discipline and organization before the start. On SHOCKWAVE, we have a timeline that we try to keep strictly to leading up to the first start so that we’re ready to go. I set my countdown timer—luckily Ken and his race management team are using GPS time—in the morning when we leave the dock, an hour and forty minutes before start time. The main goes up immediately, and then we motorsail down to the starting area. During those thirty minutes, we have a short team meeting, finish up the rigging of the sheets and boat interior, and discuss the first sail call. We get down to the starting area and do a rough “ping” of the committee boat’s position before hoisting the jib.
We’ll try to hook up with RAN for a 15-minute beat upwind. Although for instrument tuning we’d like to do a lot of tacks, it’s more important to get the sails and the speed team really grooving well, and you need about 7 minutes alongside another boat on the same tack to really get any sort of good feedback on performance and mode changes. And that makes it easier to watch the phasing of the wind, since the instruments are not so accurate immediately after a tack. So we normally do two long tacks—the down side is that we only explore one side of the course—then create an imaginary mark and do a spinnaker set, where, once again, we work on mode and trim on two long boards. We try to end upwind of the starting line about 25 minutes before the start and do a “cruising” takedown and let the foredeck team get everything tidied up. At this point, the RC boat is usually fixed in position at anchor—we assume they are if they have all their flags including the line flag flying—so we’ll do a slow, accurate ping of the committee boat. Here in KW, they normally wait until about 8 minutes before the start to confirm the port end of the line position, so with 20 minutes to go, we usually hoist the alternate jib. I find that if you’re undecided about which jib to put up, it’s best if you put up both and see for yourself, rather than just stress and talk about it. But we have to balance out the benefit of seeing the alternate jib with the distraction and effort it creates on the bow.
By 12 minutes before the start, we usually are bareheaded again, looking at the wind, discussing strategy. We’re watching the pin-end boat for the sign that they’re in position—orange line flag hoisted—and then we get in line for our turn at the ping. By 8 minutes, we will have our selected race jib, gone up for a short, one-tack ‘look’ upwind, confirming final settings and looking at the instruments, which are most accurate when sailing upwind. We try to sail away from the line on that tack, so the sail back to the line is a reach and not a run. Then it’s time to get into prestart mode. Should be fun!! Now it’s time to do it.
_ Access SW‘s complete coverage of Quantum Key West 2012. _