Photos: Jen Edney /

Light airs continue

Race committee pulls the cat out of the bag at Quantum Key West Race Week

Thursday January 22nd 2015, Author: Bill Wagner / James Boyd, Location: United States

Based off early morning forecasts, it appeared a layday might be in the cards for competitors at Quantum Key West Race Week. Some sailors might have already been making plays to play tennis or go fishing during an hour-long dockside delay. However, small pockets of sailable conditions developed and the Race Committee sent the fleet out to the three race courses. by the end of the day, Division 1 had completed two races while Divisions 2 and 3 both got in one to keep the regatta moving along.

"We actually had pretty good pressure coming off the northerly beach," said Scott Nixon, tactician aboard the J/111 My Sharona. "It was about seven to eight knots from the northwest and we had a decent race."

Ken Legler, principal race officer on Division 1, had a building breeze on his course and decided to hold a second race. It proved a wise decision as the wind piped up later in the afternoon.

"We saw seven to 10 knots in the last race today, which was kind of surprising," said Alec Cutler, skipper of the Melges 32 Hedgehog.

In IRC 1, the dominance of Hap Fauth's Bella Mente came to an end when she suffered a grounding in the first race which resulted in her not finishing (see the video here). The navy blue Mini Maxi was back for the second race in which she finished third and this leaves her on 12 points, tied with the Gunther Buerman-chartered J-V 66 Numbers - which won both races today - and just a point ahead of Shockwave, with two days of racing to go.

The light conditions were not to the liking of the GC32 catamarans which were unable to get up on their foils, lowriding in 5 knots. Alex Jackson’s Leenabarca was laid up at the dock in Key West today while a problem was fixed on her bowsprit.

At the start of race one, Eric Maris’ French team on ZouLou set off on port, but ARMIN STROM Sailing Team, with ARGO to leeward of her, soon followed. Being furthest left going out to the right seemed to pay for Jason Carroll’s team with the breeze coming in from the left and ARGO managed to roll ARMIN STROM Sailing Team and then tacked in front of French to lead into the top mark. Despite the wind getting yet lighter still on the run, ARGO managed to hang on to their top spot, leaving ARMIN STROM Sailing Team and ZouLou to take second and third respectively.

In race two there was a fraction more wind, peaking at 7 knots, which was enough for the GC32s to get up on their foils from time to time in the puffs.

ARMIN STROM Sailing Team made the best of the first beat to lead around the top mark, but the wind died on the first downwind enabling ZouLou to catch up, Maris’ team rounding the leeward gate on the Swiss boat’s transom. The rest of the race remained a nip and tuck affair with ZouLou getting ahead after they tacked earlier for the top mark, only to lose the lead again on the third upwind when they put in two extra tacks. However the French team redeemed themselves, picking up a nice puff to take them into the line to win the race, finishing one boatlength ahead of ARMIN STROM Sailing Team, with ARGO coming home an uncharacteristic third.

At the close of play, with six races now sailed, there’s no change in the overall results from yesterday: ARGO continues to hold the top spot, three points clear of ARMIN STROM Sailing Team and ZouLou, both tied on 13 points.

Jason Carroll commented: "I just think we have a little bit more time in the boat than the other three teams. The light air has been a bit of a game-changer, but the boats are still fast and fun even in the conditions we've had so far."

Of the four GC32 teams competing at Quantum Key West Race, Marazzi has the most experience and is slightly disappointed with how they are doing: “I think we can do better. It is the first time we’ve all sailed here, but we are used to sailing in more breeze. We are not used to the light airs stuff. ARGO has more experience sailing here, but their boat set-up is really good too - they don’t seem to have a lack of speed.”

The forecast indicates that there will be more wind tomorrow, followed by possibly as much as the high teens on the last day of racing on Friday. If this comes to pass then the Swiss are likely to come into their own. However so far this week the weather predictions have proved unreliable.

Some of the best racing of the regatta has come in IRC 2, which includes the five boats competing in the High Performance Rule sub-class. Tonnerre 4, Piet Vroon's newly acquired Ker 51, continues to lead IRC 2 after posting a third and a sixth on Wednesday. However, Tonnerre is winning a tiebreaker with the Ker 43 Otra Vez, which also has 19 points.

Skipper William Coates steered Otra Vez to a second and a fourth erase a three-point deficit to Tonnerre 4 and earn Mount Gay Rum Boat of the Day honours. True, Leo van den Thillart's Kernan 47 and Steve Benjamin's Carkeek 40 Spookie have also sailed well and are trail the leaders by just four and six points, respectively.

"We've been having some wonderful racing out there with both classes. There are a lot of good boats on the course," Benjamin said. "I, for one, like that we are being dual-scored. I think it shows that both systems are working."

Tonnerre 4 is winning the HPR sub-class with a low score of 15 points, just one better than Otra Vez and Spookie. Benjamin, who helped develop the HPR rule, said conditions make a big impact on the results as all the boats perform differently in various wind ranges.

There are three Swan 42-footers in IRC 2 and those boats also comprise a sub-class. Impetuous, owned by Paul Zabetakis, is tied with John Halbert and his team on Vitesse. All five boats in the Melges 32 class have proven to be well-sailed and things are tight after three days with skipper Alec Cutler and his crew on Hedgehog leading the father-son tandem of Dalton and Doug DeVos by two and three points, respectively. Dalton DeVos is skippering Delta, which is currently in second place by one point over his father on Volpe.

"We have a small fleet, but everyone is either a world champ or a national champ or the College Sailor of the Year," said Cutler, the latter title being held by Argo skipper and Yale All-American Graham Landy. "I don't think there has been more than 30 seconds between the first and last boats in any race so far."

Canadian professional Richard Clarke is calling tactics for Cutler, the defending Key West champ who has not finished lower than third in any of the six races. "We've gone from first to third a couple times and we've gone from fifth to third a couple times. It's real easy to gain or lose in a hurry. Today, it all came down to who was able to get into that little vein of wind."

Irish skipper Conor Clarke and his crew on Embarr continue to increase their lead in Melges 24 class. Stuart McNay and Dave Hughes, who are mounting an Olympic campaign together, are serving as helmsman and tactician aboard Embarr, which won Wednesday's lone race and now counts four bullets.

Jud Smith remained the leader in J/70 class for the second straight day, sailing Africa to sixth and adding two points to his advantage over Bennet Greenwald and Perseverance. Trey Sheehan steered Hooligan to third today and is now tied with Perseverance on points.

"Everybody is working together very nicely and the boat is moving real well," said Michael Sheehan, who is crewing for his brother. "We were saying on the way back into the dock that we are not going to change anything. We are just going to keep doing what we've been doing."

Brad Boston is tactician on Hooligan, sailing with a team comprising close friends, who grew up together in the greater Cleveland area. Hooligan is part of the Flat Stanley Racing program, which also includes a Melges 32.

"We've been able to get off the line clean and we haven't taken any flyers," Sheehan said. "Brad is really sharp about looking up the course and seeing what we've got coming."

Skipper Iris Vogel and her team on Deviation along with skipper George Gamble and his crew aboard My Sharona have been leaders of the J/88 and J/111 one-design classes at the end of each day's racing.

Veteran Quantum professional Kerry Klingler is calling tactics for Vogel, who has finished first in three races and second in the two others. This is the first one-design regatta for any of the J/88s competing here in Key West and Vogel said she's somewhat surprised to be the pace-setter.

"We've only being doing PHRF racing so we really don't know how we good we were," Vogel said. "It's exciting to be here competing against other J/88s and finally finding out if we're fast or slow."

Nixon, an Annapolis-based Quantum professional, said the My Sharona team put in a lot of time practicing prior to the regatta and that effort is paying off. "We've been pretty fast in all conditions," he said.

Rob Ruhlman, skipper of second place Spaceman Spiff, has been impressed with My Sharona. "My Sharona is killing it off the line. Today they got out there with clean air and just launched on the whole fleet. We have to do a better job of starting if we want to have any chance of beating them," Ruhlman said.

Tangent has been the dominant boat in PHRF 1, which is somewhat surprising since the Cape Fear 38 is a heavy displacement boat that doesn't normally perform well in light air. However, skipper Gerry Taylor and tactician Chuck O'Malley have handled the conditions well.

"I give all the credit to Chuck and the crew. They are accustomed to sailing in light wind on the Chesapeake Bay and that experience has helped us here so far this week," Taylor said. "We're very happy to be in this position and are looking forward to Thursday and Friday when the wind is supposed to be about 15 knots or more, which is right in our sweet spot."


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