Photo: Jen Edney /

Difficult day on the water

Bella Mente and ARGO consolidate at Quantum Key West Race Week

Tuesday January 20th 2015, Author: Bill Wagner / James Boyd, Location: United States

During 28 years of running a regatta off Key West, Premiere Racing has a remarkable record of getting in a complete series. Because of the consistent conditions off the Conch Republic, there have been very few lost race days.

But Tuesday at Quantum Key West Race Week brought dicey conditions that forced principal race officers to make numerous tough decisions.

Division 1 PRO Ken Legler was forced to abandon the first race of the day in the morning while all the boats were on the course while Division 3 PRO Wayne Bretsch had to recall the J/111 class back to the starting area after a significant shift made the course unfair.

Legler kept the four classes on Division 1 out a bit later in the afternoon completing two races in 8-12 knots. Minneapolis skipper Hap Fauth steered Bella Mente to victory in both races and now leads IRC 1 by four points over fellow 72-foot mini maxi Shockwave.

"It was a very tricky day, but our crew was very strong and managed to find the right gears," Fauth said. "We got great starts and just managed to keep the boat moving."

Dutch owner-driver Peter Vroon and his team aboard Tonnerre 4 enjoyed a terrific day, posting a first and second to take over the lead in IRC 1. Kevin George is serving as tactician aboard Tonnerre, a Ker 51, is doing its first regatta under Vroon's ownership and the crew has got up to speed quite quickly.

"We are using this regatta as a trial run for our season campaign," said Vroon, who will be heading to Antiqua and St. Barth's after Key West. "We are spending this week learning how to sail the boat. Of course, we came a long way to race here so it would be nice to win while we are at it."

Vroon is a two-time winner in Key West. Tonnerre 4 now also leads the High Performance Rule sub-class after also posting a first and second under that scoring system on Tuesday.

For the GC32 foiling catamarans, the 8-12 knot conditions meant flying a hull upwind, crews hiking and fully foiling downwind, at times hitting 20+ knots.

In the first race ARGO won the favoured pin as the other three GC32s started on port. After a long haul out to the left, Jason Carroll’s team was clearly ahead, picking up a nice line of pressure along the port layline and extended away from there with Flavio Marazzi’s ARMIN STROM Sailing Team picking up second.

Race two’s start was more or less a reverse of the first with ARGO carrying out a port tack start and the rest heading out to the left. According to ARGO’s Chad Corning, in retrospect their choice was a mistake. “You really wanted ideally to do one tack and we decided we liked the right side better and went out there. But the guys who started on starboard and went out to the left corner, that was a better tactical play.”

Eric Maris’ ZouLou came into its own in this race, winning the start and from there never looked back, the French team with past experience in both the Extreme 40s and D35s, scoring their first GC32 foiling catamaran bullet, in this their first regatta in the class.

Despite ARGO’s slow start, Carroll’s team managed to overhaul Alex Jackson’s Leenabarca on the second beat to claim second. “We had this steady pretty high mode upwind which we put to work,” explained Corning. This leaves the two time Melges 32 World Champions overall leader on six points, three points clear of ZouLou and ARMIN Strom Sailing Team.

“The second race today was as close as everyone has been. It tends to get stretched out and the rich get richer, but in that race everyone was right there, close together at the top mark, which was good,” concluded Corning.

Racing on the other courses took place in shifty winds that ranged from 5 to 7 knots. "We got two decent races and that's pretty remarkable considering what the race committee had to deal with," said Bennet Greenwald, skipper of the J/70 Perseverance. "Those guys were really on top of things. They did a very, very professional job."

J/70, largest class in the regatta with 54 boats, is sailing on the Division 2 course that is managed by Dave Brennan. A veteran PRO and Key West stalwart, Brennan was forced to delay several times in order to start races in stable winds.

"The breeze was very dodgy and moving through at 50° so the trick was picking the right radial to kick the race off," Brennan said. "We want the sailors to have a reasonably square line. Prior to Race 4, we had to postpone three times to reset the line."

Brennan got the Melges 24 fleet started with a heading of 150 degrees and by the time he went into sequence for the J/70 fleet the wind had shifted to 180. He credited an experienced team of race committee volunteers for reacting quickly with regard to moving upwind marks and posting flags.

"We made the racing as good as we could. Actually, we were very fortunate that it was quite good," Brennan said.

Veteran sailmaker Jud Smith was the daily winner in J/70 class, placing second in Race 3 then getting the gun in Race 4. That moved the Marblehead (Mass.) resident to the top of the standings with a low score of 30 points, just one ahead of the aforementioned Greenwald.

"We got out to the course early and had a nice tune-up session with another boat, which allowed us to get accustomed to the conditions," Smith said. "I would have been happy with two Top 10 finishes on a day like this so I'm ecstatic to get a first and a second. We were fortunate to be in the right spots and I thought the team did a good job of changing gears." continued Smith, who is head of Doyle One-Design, has his daughter Lindsay on the boat along with Marc Gauthier and Will Felder. The former Rolex Yachtsman of the Year says the entire crew participates in tactics and strategy.

Irish skipper Conor Clarke and his team aboard Embarr continue to set the pace in Melges 24 class, which has attracted 13 entries. Clarke stayed hot with a third bullet to begin Tuesday before cooling off and finishing seventh in Race 4.

"The core group of this team has been together a while now and is excellent," said Clarke, who placed third and fifth at the Melges 24 World Championship. "We made good tactical calls today and had an ability to change modes."

Clarke, who hails from Dublin, is competing off the Conch Republic for the first time. "This has been a bucket list item for me personally. I've always wished I could do this regatta. To win in Key West would be a great accomplishment."

Party Girl, sailed by Norway's Jens Altern Wathne, won the day in Melges 24 class with a fifth and a second - earning the Lewmar Boat of the Day Award. Jorgen Altern Wathne is calling tactics for his brother.

Bermuda skipper Alec Cutler steered Hedgehog to victory in Race 3 and a third place finish in Race 4 to extend his lead in Melges 32 class to three points.

After winning both races on Tuesday, New York skipper Iris Vogel tacked on a couple seconds on Tuesday to remain atop the standings in J/88 class. There is a new leader in the J/111 class after Florida skipper George Gamble posted a pair of bullets.

Quantum Sail Design Group pro Scott Nixon is calling tactics for Gamble on My Sharona, which holds a four-point lead over Rob Ruhlman's Spaceman Spiff.

"We got great starts and did not miss a wind shift all day," Gamble said. "The racing is amazingly tight. We won today's second race by about a boat length."

British skipper Joe Woods remained the leader in both PHRF 1 and the Farr 280 sub-class. Woods has steered Red to a solid score line of 1-1-2-2 so far and his low score of six is half as many as Decision, another Farr 280 skippered by Stephen Murray of New Orleans.

Tangent, a Cape Fear 38 owned by Gerry Taylor of Annapolis, is another boat that has led at the end of each day's racing. Chesapeake Sails professional Chuck O'Malley is tactician on Tangent, which has won three of four races and also counts a second.

The forecast is looking light for tomorrow and there is a possibility that the race committee will attempt to get what racing they can in during the morning. Better conditions are forecast for the end of the week.

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