Monday, February 3, 2014

Gorgeous Sailing Off Key West

J/70s sailing off Key West on sunny day (Key West, FL)- There was plenty of final day drama at Quantum Key West 2014 as the winners of several classes were determined during the last race. And, conditions could not have been better for those winner-take-all scenarios with the southernmost point of the United States delivering the strongest winds of the regatta. NNE breezes in the 18-25 knot range made for some spectacular racing on all courses and enabled all classes to complete 10 races for the five-day event.

J/70 Helly Hansen winning Key West MidwintersThe most impressive performance of the regatta was skipper Tim Healy and his team on HELLY HANSEN, which won the 60-boat J/70 class in convincing fashion. Healy, from Newport, RI, repeated as class champ in Key West by winning two races and placing second or third in five others. HELLY HANSEN clinched the regatta by finishing third in Race 9 and therefore did not sail the final race, using that as its throw-out. Geoff Becker and John Mollicone combined on tactics and trimming while Gordon Borges worked the bow for Healy, who is also a standout J/24 sailor.

“Obviously the biggest key to success is having a good team. My guys did an awesome job of boat-handling and tactics,” Healy said. “We sailed here last year so we had a real good feel for the race course. This team has also sailed J/24s together the past few years so we have a comfort level that makes a big difference.”

Tim Healy wins Key West Race Week OverallHealy and HELLY HANSEN came away with the biggest prize – capturing Quantum Sails “Boat of the Week” honors. “We had a huge class down here last year with a lot of really good sailors so it’s a great accomplishment to come out on top. Winning Key West is definitely one of the highlights of my career,” said Healy, a 42-year-old resident of Jamestown, RI. Eight different boats took first place during the week.

Behind them the standings were closely fought for the top five.  Other than having to drop a 28th in race 4, Brian Keane’s SAVASANA from Buzzards Bay, MA sailed a very strong series and were in the hunt as regatta leader until the 8th race when they had to count a 13th.  The SAVASANA crew reveled in the windy conditions on Friday and sailed to a 204 to wrap up second overall with 48 pts.

J/70 sailed by Ian Atkins and Rory ScottThe “come-back kids” had to be Ian Atkin’s crew on BOATS.COM with Rory Scott skippering.  After starting out slowly with an 11-10-OCS, the J/70 UK National Champions managed to get their act together and sailed strongly to jump into third overall for the regatta, finishing with an emphatic win in the very last race! That’s wonderful news for European J/70 teams to understand that top sailors in their region are every bit as fast as the top American teams.  Follow Ian’s and Rory’s J/70 experiences here on their BOATS.COM blog.

As a winner of some of the regional J/70 events over the 2013 sailing season, many expected Joel Ronning, a long-time Lake Minnetonka, MN sailor, and crew aboard CATAPULT to be contenders.  Indeed they were, sailing extremely well in the first and last days of the regatta to sew-up fourth place with 71 pts.

Another “come-back” story was wily veteran David Ullman sailing US 32 to a fifth place finish.  After starting with a 39-14 the first day, Ullman and crew clawed their way back into contention by winning a race and placing in the top ten six times.

J/70 MUSE sailed by Heather Gregg-EarlTop woman skipper, repeating the same feat from last year’s Key West, was Heather Gregg-Earl from Boston, MA.  Heather’s team on MUSE persevered and despite being over early in the last race and literally starting DFL about 300 yards behind the fleet, she climbed back into contention to capture a 19th in the last race and finish 14th overall.

HOT MESS, skippered by Rob Britts of St. Petersburg, Fla., was crowned as Corinthian champion of J/70 class. Britts posted six wins and three seconds within the 14-boat sub-class comprised of all-amateur crews.

As an illustration of fleet depth and competition, eight teams won races with, oddly enough, only two teams taking two wins in the total of ten races— Healy’s HELLY HANSEN and James Allsop’s MOXIE.  To finish in the top five would take at least an 8th place average and to finish in the top ten meant you had to average 12th or better!

Rob Ruhlman's J/111 Spaceman Spiff wins Key WestPHRF 1 Class was up for grabs going into the last race and SPACEMAN SPIFF, the J/111 owned by Rob Ruhlman of Cleveland, Ohio, seized the moment by winning. This was the 13th trip to Key West and the first class victory for the SPACEMAN SPIFF program. “We’ve been trying to win this regatta for a while and it feels good to finally break through. It feels even better because of the quality of competition we faced. This is some of the closest PHRF racing in which I’ve ever participated,” said Ruhlman, who had his wife and son aboard. “We really had a blast this week. It was great sailing and all the people in the class are so friendly. We passed TEAMWORK on the way into the harbor and their entire crew applauded us.”

J/111 Fireball sailing off Key WestTEAMWORK, a J/122 skippered by Robin Team of Lexington, N.C., came up short in its bid to three-peat in Key West – finishing 4.5 points behind SPACEMAN SPIFF.  In fact, Robin’s team had to win a tie-breaker over Eddie Fredericks’ crew on the brilliant orange J/111 FIREBALL to capture second overall.  Mid-week, the TEAMWORK crew were on a roll, rattling off four straight bullets to jump up the ladder into contention, however a seventh race 7th position hurt their chances at grabbing the brass-ring.  Sailing very strongly all week was “Fast Eddie’s” FIREBALL team, trading the lead with the SPIFFER’s until the last two races when a 5-4 tally dropped them into the tie-breaker with TEAMWORK.

J/122 El Ocaso sailing off Key WestPerhaps the “new kids on the block” award goes to Rick Wesslund’s champion crew sailing their “new”, gorgeous multi-hued aquamarine J/122 EL OCASO.  While not exactly “new” to Key West, having won class and overall in the past on their J/120 by the same name, Wesslund’s crew had one of the two best records in the last four races and best record in the last two with a 2-2 tally.  It was not enough to hop onto the podium, but it was certainly an indicator for the future.  Taking fifth was Jim Madden’s J/125 STARK RAVING MAD IV from Newport Beach, CA, indicative of how tough the fleet was since Madden’s team has won class more than three times in the past.

J/109 RUSH sailed by Bill Sweetser- class championSkipper Bill Sweetser has been bringing his J/109 Rush to Key West for 11 years and been runner-up on four occasions. The Annapolis resident sported a huge smile on Friday morning after clinching the class championship in PHRF 2 Class on Thursday. Sweetser steered RUSH to victory in five races and placed second or third in fourth others in building an insurmountable lead that allowed him to stay ashore on Friday.

“It feels fantastic to finally win here in Key West! You could say we got the monkey off our back, or maybe it was a gorilla. I was tired of going home and hearing people say ‘Too bad you got second again.’ The whole bridesmaid talk was getting old,” Sweetser said. “Everybody is so ecstatic. We can’t wait to get the whole crew up on stage at the awards party.”

Giving the RUSH team a run-for-the-money the entire week was Gary Weisberg’s J/109 HEAT WAVE crew from Marblehead, MA, sailing an excellent regatta to capture second overall.

J/80s sailing fast off Key WestSkipper Ron Buzil and his team aboard VAYU2 were wire-to-wire winners in J/80 class, which attracted 12 entries. A pair of highly-regarded professionals, Jahn Tihansky and Andrew Kerr, served as helmsman and tactician aboard the boat chartered from J/World Annapolis. This was the second straight year that Buzil had chartered the boat and the team repeated as class champs.

“We had our mojo going early and managed to build a fairly substantial lead. We never really had a bad race and I attribute that to being able to get off the line cleanly and go where we wanted,” said Tihansky, owner of J/World Annapolis Performance Sailing School. “Andrew Kerr knows these waters well and did a masterful job of playing the shifts.”

Scrambling hard to catch up to them were previous J/80 North American’s winners, John Storck Jr on RUMOR.  However, having to count all races, the first race 8th would come back to haunt them.  Despite having eight races in the top five, they simply could not gain on the VAYU2 gang ahead of them, having to settle for second overall.

Taking the next three spots were the “fun-loving” couples teams making the most of Key West’s gorgeous weather and spectacular night-life.  Third were Chris & Liz Chadwick’s CHURCH KEY with 43 pts, fourth were Bill & Shannon Lockwood on SHENANIGANS with 52 pts and fifth, just by one point, were Bob & Cheryl Howard on BLUE JAY with 53 pts.  Sailing photo credits- Onne Vanderwal.

Sailing video interviews:
Tim Healy- Team Helly Hansen- J/70 Midwinter Champion & Overall Race Week Award winner.  Tim is also current J/24 World Champion. Tim Healy- J/70 champion
Rob Ruhlman- J/111 Spaceman Spiff owner and winner of PHRF 1
Terry McKenna- J/88 Dog Party owner- from Prince Edward Island in Canada.
Bill Sweetser- J/109 RUSH owner and winner of PHRF 2
Alan Terhune- J/22, J/70 boat owner, skipper & crew providing perspectives on sailing J/70s in Key West.  Alan is also current J/22 World Champion.
Robin Team- J/122 TEAMWORK owner, 2nd in PHRF 1 and past Key West champion.
For more Quantum Key West Race Week sailing information