Thrills, Chills, and Spills at Terra Nova Key West Race Week

Sailing World’s Report From Key West

Tony Bessinger

Boat collisions occur at speeds that connoisseurs of carnage would find comically slow, but when you're involved in one, especially on the first start of the first day of a major regatta, it seems like the end of the world. While I can't speak for the rest of the crew of the IMS-50 Idler, when we were holed by the fellow 50 Javelin right before our first start of Key West Race Week 2003--losing our helmsman, Ken Read, over the side in the process--I thought we were done for the week. Luckily, Kenny was quickly recovered and the hole in our starboard quarter was neither structurally threatening nor flood inducing. In what seemed like many minutes, but was actually only a few seconds, we were on our way upwind. We pushed hard and clawed back, and won the 4-boat IMS class by one second over the Farr 49 Canvasback We're racing in the 4-boat IMS class but are also being scored in PHRF 2. Unfortunately, our PHRF finish was a little deeper, sixth-place.

Between races we covered our damage with a large piece of stickyback sailcloth and bailed about a gallon of water out of the stern of the boat. We sailed the second race of the day fast and clean, and ended up first in PHRF 2 and the IMS class. Our first victory of the day, however, wasn’t written in stone, we still had a protest hearing with Javelin to deal with.

After the final race that afternoon, Bill Newkirk, the captain of Idler, and his mate Dustin Burrell, waved our tender over and headed back to shore at 40 knots to ready tools and materials to repair the hole. When we arrived, we angled Idler in the slip in order to allow Bill and Dustin easy access to the damaged starboard quarter. In short order the starboard stern pulpit was off and Bill was ripping chunks of balsa core and Kevlar skin away from the hole. Shortly thereafter, while a die grinder wailed and Kevlar dust flew, the rest of the crew, realizing that staying out of the way was the best help we could offer, hit the road.

While the rest of us were variously occupied with the protest room, bar karate demonstrations, and dinner at different Key West hotspots, Billy and Dustin repaired the hole. They first explored how far the damage extended, and with a jigsaw, cut away the bad bits. The resulting hole would send any amateur boatbuilder running for the hills screaming. The damage wrapped around from the hull to the deck, and while there was no damage to any bulkheads, the patch still needed to be strong enough to deal with the stresses of sailing. During the repair process, his gloved hands sticky with epoxy resin, Billy was called by virtually every member of the crew and told that we’d won the protest.

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| Tony Bessinger|

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| The repair was vacuum-bagged for several hours early Tuesday morning.* * *|

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| By 6:15 the next morning, the hole was patched with foam and 5 layers of carbon, three on top and two applied from inside the boat. Bill and Dustin enjoyed an hour or so of sleep before the rest of the crew arrived and began putting the boat back together. We were the last boat off the dock, but we made it to the starting area in plenty of time to tune up and practice a bit before our start. We placed second in the first race, behind Javelin, which had hooked up on a nice lift and good breeze on the left side on the final upwind leg of a 4-leg windward/leeward. On the second race of the day, a 5-legger with 2.3-mile legs we had a good start and extended to win both the PHRF and IMS classes.

There are a couple of memories from the first two days of this Race Week that will probably last me a long time. The first was the gleam in Bill Newkirk's eyes when he saw the extent of the project before him. He almost looked as if he welcomed this test of his skills and the boat's strength. Having been involved with Idler since its birth at Goetz Custom Boats, and having repaired and rebuilt the boat after a disastrous outing at the '99 Admiral's Cup, Bill was on top of the situation from the moment it occurred. He knew what he needed to do, and how to do it. He wasted no time and had the job done in plenty of time for the next day's racing. As one knowledgeable observer noted: "If that had happened to most of the other boats here, they'd be out of the event." Thanks to Bill, we weren't.

Another great memory is the outpouring of support offered to Bill by his fellow boat captains, crews from other yachts, and boatowners. The sincere offers of their time, equipment, and repair materials was a great reflection on the sport.

On Wednesday, we squeaked out three legs of a five-legger before the wind died and the race was abandoned. On the way back to the dock, Captain Newkirk was figuring out if he had time to laminate a few more layers on to the patch and maybe even spray a little paint before Thursday morning.