Monday, January 20, 2014

Another Epic Key West Sailing Forecast!

J/70 sailing Key West (Key West, FL)- This year’s Quantum Key West Race Week is gearing up for its trademark week of racing on the aquamarine waters off the coast of the Conch Republic. As the sailors make their way down the Florida Keys by air, water and land over the weekend, it looks like they will be greeted by either the tail feathers of another “polar vortex” spinning madly across America or they’ll be hammered by a “clipper system” ripping SSE across the continent spinning up all kinds of winds.  By Monday, the “good word” from the colorful Key West Chamber of Commerce is that sunny, benign weather will caress the fleet with near-perfect Caribbean-like conditions all week— some forecast!  Realistically, various weather forecast models (GFS, NAM, ECUWF) show 8-12 kts from NW to NE quadrants for Monday, Tuesday followed by increasing winds from the NW to NE in the 10 to 20 kts plus range from Wednesday to Friday’s closing day.

There will be nearly 130 boats sailing, but what’s different, like a lot different, about this year’s Key West is that J/Teams comprise two-thirds (66.0%) of the fleet with 85 J’s sailing.  In other words, Key West is now the de-facto “Winter J/Fest”!  That’s a good thing since the new regatta HQ at Kelly’s Caribbean Bar & Grill, situated on Caroline St between Whitehead St and the infamous Duval St will be over-run by members of the J/Tribe sailing J/70s, J/80s, J/88, J/109s, J/111s, J/122s, and J/125!

J/122 Teamwork sailing off Key WestThe PHRF fleets 1 & 2 will be sailing with a variation of Rod Johnstone’s J/PHRF ratings, meaning all J’s will be rated quite fairly against one another.  Robin Team (Lexington, N.C.) and the boys aboard the J/122 TEAMWORK will look to repeat in PHRF 1 while going against another J/122 and four J/111 designs in this incredibly competitive eight boat class.  In fact, the TEAMWORK gang may be in for the fight of their lives against the “rogue’s gallery” of J teams in the class, many whom have won Key West Divisions in the past.  For starters, Jim Madden’s J/125 STARK RAVING MAD will have an all-star team from San Diego, CA ensuring he’s going fast in the right direction.  Challenging them will be Rick Wesslund’s “new” EL OCASO, a J/122 that’s quite fast and no question will include many of his past Key West winning teams.

J/111 Fireball sailing off Key WestJoining the PHRF 1 class will be four J/111s, any one of which are capable of winning.  Consequently, they’re also the hardest to handicap as everyone continues to improve significantly.  FIREBALL’s crew will be led by tactician Kristen Robinson from Annapolis. Rob & Ryan Ruhlman from Cleveland, OH are back in Key West with their new SPACEMAN SPIFF (watch out, they improved dramatically at the J/111 NA’s in Chicago after taking delivery of the boat just 3 days beforehand!).  Brad Farber’s UTAH from Macatawa Bay YC has several Chicago-Mac winning crew aboard. And, three-time Key West participant and multiple podium finisher, Doug Curtiss, has the colorful WICKED 2.0 sailing with his champion Buzzards Bay crew aboard.

Rick Wesslund was a regular at Key West from 2004 to 2010 with his J/120 EL OCASO program and returns after a three-year hiatus with his newly-purchased J/122. "This is our debut regatta and we are really eager to put our best foot forward. We are cautiously optimistic, but know this will be a real good performance test for the boat. Robin has a terrific team and that is always a well-sailed boat so we will have to be on top of our game in order to win," said Wesslund, who earned the PHRF Boat of the Week honor in 2006.

J/109s match-racing while sailing off Key WestPHRF 2 will again see the twin-terrors going at it hammer & tong for division bragging rights, the J/109s sailed by multiple Key West champion Bill Sweetser on RUSH from Chesapeake Bay and Gary Weisberg’s HEAT WAVE from Massachusetts Bay.  Challenging them will be Terry Mckenna and crew from Prince Edward Island (Canada) on the new J/88 DOG PARTY, hoping to get a nice mix of weather to test out their “new wheels” on the race track.

Newport-based Tim Healy will be back to defend his title in J/70 class aboard TEAM HELLY HANSEN, which has attracted a whopping 62 boats. Runner-up Brian Keane’s SAVASANA (Weston, Mass.) and third place finisher Bruno Pasquinelli on STAMPEDE (Dallas, Texas) will also be back as the J/70 class contests its second Midwinter Championship.  They’re up against a formidable array of teams from across the world, not just top Americans, but also teams from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Great Britain, Canada and Bermuda.  The top boats from the Tampa Bay Quantum Winter series will be attending, including the top three- Jud Smith on AFRICA, Rob & Sandy Butler on TOUCH 2 PLAY and Rob Britts’s HOT MESS.

The balance of the J/70 fleet is deeply talented with any number of teams capable of top ten finishes.  Amongst the top foreign teams could be one of Great Britain’s top J/70 crews, Ian Atkins sailing BOATS.COM; from Puerto Rico is Marco Teixidor skippering CACHONDO; from Bermuda is Chuck Millican racing ELUSIVE; and from Mexico is Julian Fernandez Neckelmann’s FLOJITO Y COOPERANDO.
J/70s sailing under spinnaker off Key West
Several Etchells 22 World, North American and Jaguar series champions are sailing J/70s, namely Jud Smith as mentioned, but also Peter Vessella sailing RUNNING WILD, Peter Duncan helming RELATIVE OBSCURITY and Jim Cunningham on LIFTED.

Other contenders that have won or were “in the chocolates” in various J/70 regattas in the past year include Brian Elliot’s B-SQUARED, Doug Strebel’s BLACK RIVER RACING, Mike Sudofsky’s CARLOS, Joel Ronning’s CATAPULT, Bob Hughes’s HEARTBREAKER, Kerry Klingler’s MENACE, James Allsopp’s MOXIE, Bennet Greenwald’s PERSEVERANCE, Dave Franzel’s SPRING and Dave Ullman’s US 32 from Newport Beach, California.

Designers Rod and son Alan Johnstone will be sailing the latest RAGTIME and welcoming other renown class newcomers like Johnny Demourkas sailing GROOVEDERCI from Santa Barbara, CA (Farr 40 and J/105 West Coast Champion); John Brim from Fisher’s Island skippering a “baby RIM” called RIMETTE; Johnny Wynacht sailing STRANGE BREW from Nova Scotia (Canadian J/24 champion and J/29 sailor); Richard Bergmann on ZUNI BEAR II (of J/105 Zuni Bear fame); John Arendshorst on 20/20 RACING from Macatawa Bay; Chris Whitford sailing a baby HOT LIPS (top Farr 40 team from Chicago); Stu Williams on CLOUDSOURCED from Whitefish Bay; Malcolm Gefter sailing CELERITAS from Newport (long-time M32 and Swan 42 sailor); and Tim Molony skippering JOUST (with his New Orleans friend, Olympic medallist Johnny Lovell, as tactician!).

The dynamic match-racing duo of Taylor Canfield (current World Match Racing Champion) and Stephanie Roble (USA #1 Women Match Racer) are sailing as tacticians and could be the proverbial “dark horses” in the fleet. Taylor is sailing with Dan Cheresh’s EXTREME team from Macatawa Bay and Steph is helping Juddie Smith’s Marblehead team on AFRICA.

J/70 champion Heather Gregg-EarlAmongst the record nine women J/70 skippers (15% of the class!) will be current J/70 North American Champion Heather Gregg-Earl skippering MUSE along with Suzy Leech sailing JUNKANOO, Catharine Evans steering MOJITO, Maegan Ruhlman on SPACEMAN SPIFF, Kathy Parks on SUNDOG, Amy Neill on NITEMARE, Kirsten Berry sailing DANGER MOUSE, Carrie Austin skippering CHINOOK and Tris Worth sailing ALIBI.

Dave Franzel attended what was known as Key West Race Week way back in 1981 as crew for a J/24 program. The founder of the Boston Sailing Center returned 32 years later as a J/70 skipper and was crowned as Corinthian champion after finishing eighth overall in the 39-boat fleet.  "I had an absolute blast. It was one of the best regattas I've ever been to. It made me wish I hadn't waited so long to come back," said Franzel, a resident of Somerville, Mass. "I was very impressed with the race management. The courses were sound and the starting lines were solid. We got in 12 races in five days and you can't ask for more than that."

The Demourkas family from Santa Barbara, CA are back again.  This time, John Demourkas will be racing his new J/70 GROOVEDERCI in the class as the couple makes their annual winter pilgrimage from Santa Barbara.  His wife Deneen is sailing her M32 GROOVEDERCI, commenting that, "John and I have been attending this event the last 14 years and we love the relaxation Key West affords, particularly after a hectic holiday season.  And then there is Race Week, which always delivers. You can pretty much guarantee great sailing conditions, beautiful weather and good competition. Why wouldn't you be here?"

NOTE- the North Sails J/70 team is providing FREE pre-regatta clinics in Key West— come one, come all! Here's what’s happening:
  • Saturday 1-4 pm- North On-the-water clinic (run by Tim Healy, Allan Terhune, Andreas Josenhans and Chuck Allen) with starting drills and short course races with complete photo and video coverage.
  • Saturday 5:30 pm- Clinic Debrief at the North U. Regatta HQ (725 Caroline St, formerly West Marine)- review photos and videos and pick the brains of top J/70 sailors in a relaxed and casual environment. Refreshments courtesy of North Sails.
  • Sunday 10 am- North Dockside clinic- will be held at Tim Healy's boat located near the ramp at the Truman Annex. Bring your questions and a notepad to get the latest, hands-on, tuning tips
J/80s sailing off Key WestNo question, the re-bound one-design class at Key West this year are the J/80’s, which will have thirteen boats on the starting line for their J/80 Midwinters (it’s also part of their season series leading up to the 2014 J/80 World Championships in Annapolis, Maryland). Skipper Ron Buzil and his VAYU 2 team will try to repeat as regatta winners against a deep fleet that includes former North American champion RUMOR (John Storck) and several other accomplished programs like Chris & Liz Chadwick’s CHURCH KEY, Gary Panariello’s COURAGEOUS, Bill & Shannon Lockwood’s SHENANIGANS, and Henry DeGroot’s WIRED.  "Our owners love coming to Key West and we're thrilled to have a very competitive fleet this year," said Chris Chadwick, National class secretary for the J/80. "Premiere Racing always puts on a quality regatta and the racing is second to none."

Finally, the lone wolf representing the J gang in IRC 3 will be perennial Key West contender Jim Bishop on his IRC-modded J/44 WHITE GOLD sailing for American YC in Rye, New York.  Nevertheless, Jim’s up against dozens of J “alumni” sailing other boats, like Phil Lotz and Jeff  Madrigali on ARETHUSA, Marc Glimcher and Geoff Ewenson on CATAPULT, Andrew Weiss and Butch Ulmer on CHRISTOPHER DRAGON, Jack Slattery on MAHALO, Bill Coates and Jay Lutz on OTRA VEZ and Mark Reynolds on VITESSE.  Without question, Bishop or J alum’s in one form or another will be on the podium at the end of the week in this class!  Sailing photo credits- Onne Vanderwal Photos and Tim Photos.

For Key West sailing video entertainment, look at this beautifully produced summary from Chris Odom @ Chris Odom Photos- nice sequences of J/70s, J/80s, J/109, J/111, J/44, J/122 in the 3-minute clip.   For more Quantum Key West Race Week sailing information