Thursday, January 19, 2017

Record Lauderdale to Key West Race

J/111 Heat Wave sailing Lauderdale Key West RaceJ/44 KENAI Wins Class, J/111 HEAT WAVE Second!
(Fort Lauderdale, FL)- The 41st Annual Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race, hosted by Lauderdale Yacht Club and the Storm Trysail Club, started at noon on Wednesday under absolutely perfect conditions- winds from the ENE blowing 15-20 kts with boats setting Code Zero’s and asymmetrics once they approached Rebecca Shoals, the first primary turning point to the WSW towards Key West.  Records were broken for both monohulls and multihulls.  And, the J/crews reveled in the conditions.

The annual race sends sailors on a 160 nm sprint down along the curve of the Florida Keys, to the Key West Sea Buoy, where they make the hard turn onto the final leg up the channel to the finish off Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.  The record was basically 10 hours flat for both the Gunboat 60 ELVIS and the RP74 WIZARD- 16 kts average!  Even more remarkable?? Two J/24 World Champions were the tacticians on each boat- Anthony Kotoun on ELVIS and Chris Larson on WIZARD.

Lauderdale  Key West courseThe competitors enjoyed classic Lauderdale to Key West Race conditions this year. David Cannon, Director of Yacht Ops and Meteorologist for Weather Routing, Inc., Official Weather Provider for the Race, forecasted “for Wednesday and Thursday, high pressure and Easterly winds will be the rule throughout the area, with wind speeds averaging near 20 kts. Higher wind gusts (to 23-24kts) are likely in any local NE winds downwind of any ‘channeling’ areas between the Florida Keys. Short and choppy seas will be from the east as well, generally from 4-6 feet, though within the Gulfstream waters south of the Keys, seas will tend to be near the high end of this range.”

Race veterans will attest that these are the conditions that bring them back to do the race again and again. South Floridian Dave Woolsey, a three-time race winner, recalls similar sleigh-ride conditions for the 1980 race, won on a hot pink Santa Cruz 27 named Inspector Clouseau. Among the motivations for the youngsters doing the race in those days were honing important offshore (and onshore) skills against the world’s best (not to mention the motivation for someone on a Santa Cruz 27 to be someplace warm and dry in January).

Speaking of the world’s best, none other than Volvo Ocean Race and America’s Cup Skipper (and 5x J/24 World Champion) Ken Read is a long time competitor in the event, and used to hold the monohull race record as a member of the crew of Joe Dockery’s 81 footer Carrera in 2005. Kenny commented about the experience of the race and the record,

J/122 sailing Lauderdale Key West race“The Fort Lauderdale to Key West race is one of the first "Distance" races I remember doing. It was Christmas break and I was at Boston University ...early 1981. There was no Key West Race Week back then. It was simply the Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race. I remember the amazing party at the end of it and this crazy group of guys on a boat called Puff owned by Wilkie Gilbert.  I remember that the whole crew was nuts and I loved it. And my friend Tom Lihan was the person that got me on board. No shock that Tom was onboard and we won our class. Snapshot forward to 2005 when I sailed aboard Carrera and we broke the record. It was a great forecast of reaching and running on an 80 foot Reichel Pugh sled. Amazing crew. Great owner, a guy named Joe Dockery. We had a phenomenal easy fun trip down, only to load the boat up a little too much about 5 miles before the right hand turn to go into the cut at Key West. That's when we did a little spin out with the A4 up and heard a big bang only to find three quarters of the rudder gone. But nobody wanted to stop so after about 15 to 20 minutes we got the boat back under control, bore off without hitting the reef and got up a number 4 jib and put a reef in the main. That was when as a crew we learned how to sail the boat with about a 2-foot stub of a rudder and easing and trimming the Jib and Mainsail in order to keep the boat going straight. The windy jibe at the final mark to head for shore was very tricky if I remember correctly. But we finished without crashing into anything and probably would've done the race about a half an hour faster if it weren't for a broken rudder. Every year since then a group of us who were all on board including the owner and the project manager Simon Davidson and Chris Larson and others get in touch and watch the race to determine whether our record is still safe. Well I can tell you this year based on some early prognosis it looks like it could be another ripper of the year. With great boats like Wizard and Prospector doing the race I certainly wouldn't be shocked if the record was in jeopardy.”

As it turns out, he was right! David and Peter Askew (former J/122 owners) sailed their 74 foot WIZARD (the old BELLA MENTE), with a who’s-who of offshore talent, several of whom sailed Alvimedica in the last Volvo World Race, including Alvimedica co-Skippers Charlie Enright and Mark Towill and the aforementioned Chris Larson.  Yet again, two J/24 World Champions on the same boat calling tactics and strategy- Charlie Enright from Bristol, RI and Chris Larson from Annapolis, MD.

Enright had his eye on the forecast, noting that it “looked like a great forecast. 20 knots from the ENE going ESE will make for a fast trip down to Key West. Exactly how fast will depend on how much the breeze shifts with us as we free up. The more we have to VMG run the longer it will take, by virtue of having to sail more distance. The Gulfstream can compound this, if it doesn't head and you end up lifting offshore, you expose yourself to more adverse current, too.”  It clearly all worked out for them in the end.  And, it was also ideal conditions for the top J/sailors in the race.

J/44 Kenia sailing offshoreThis year, the ORC Class has an enormous range of boats from 40 to 52 feet and it was Chris & Karen Lewis’ J/44 KENAI from Lakewood YC in Houston, TX that ran away with their class win by 27 minutes corrected- a virtual landslide victory in such a fast race!  KENAI covered the race track in 16 hrs 56 min, about a 9.4 kts average, not bad for an 22,000 lb boat on a 40 ft waterline (8.47 kts hull speed)!

The PHRF A class had Gary Weisberg’s J/111 HEAT WAVE from Jubilee YC in Gloucester, MA up against a J/88, M32, Farr 395 and a Class 40!  In the end, the HEAT WAVE gang took the silver and Kristen Berry’s J/88 M.I.2 took 4th place.  At just over 17 hours to cover 160nm, that’s a 9.38 kts average.  In other words, “planing mode” for the entire race given that hull speed on the 35.5 ft J/111 is around 8.04 kts!  For more Storm Trysail & Lauderdale YC Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race sailing information