Monday, January 18, 2016

Key West Race Week Preview

J/70s saiing Key West (Key West, FL)- America’s “Woodstock” of sailing is about to commence in the historical capital of the Conch Republic- Key West- from January 18th to 22nd.  It has a special place in the hearts of sailors from across the spectrum of time, especially for those who sailed the first major regatta held on the island back in 1978- the inaugural J/24 Midwinters.  Since then, the event has attracted thousands of sailors from around the world to sail in the balmy southeasterly tradewinds, gorgeous clear blue skies, and the translucent aquamarine waters of the Florida Keys.

In 2016, Storm Trysail Club and event sponsor Quantum Sails have Regatta Chairman Bill Canfield orchestrating a most excellent sailing experience in Caribbean-type waters (note- Bill ran the extraordinarily successful Rolex St Thomas Regatta for nearly two decades).  As a result, the event has 140 boats registered to date with 78 J/Teams (56% of the fleet!) spread across three one-design classes (J/70, J/88, J/111) and three handicap classes (IRC & ORR).

J/111 sailing Key WestNine J/111s will be sailing their inaugural J/111 Midwinter Championship on the Division I course area.  It is a stellar fleet of competitors, with teams ranging from the West Coast (San Francisco & San Diego), to the Midwest (Great Lakes), and to the East Coast (Marblehead, Long Island Sound, Buzzards Bay).  Past Key West class winner SPACEMAN SPIFF, skippered by Rob Ruhlman from Lakeside YC in Cleveland, OH , should be the pace-setter for the class based on their 5th in the 2015 J/111 Worlds Newport.  On that basis, Bill Smith’s WOOTON from Chicago, IL and Bennet Greenwald’s PERSEVERANCE from San Diego, CA will also be strong contenders for the class lead.  However, a number of other teams that are champions in their regions will certainly be contenders; such as Peter Wagner’s SKELETON KEY from St Francis YC (a top San Francisco Bay team); Brad Farber’s UTAH of Macatawa Bay YC; Marty Roesch’s VELOCITY from Annapolis YC; Gary Weisberg’s HEAT WAVE from Gloucester, MA; and the two New England teams- Sedge Ward’s BRAVO and Doug Curtiss’ WICKED 2.0.

J/88 sailing Key WestNot to be outdone by their sisterships, the J/88s are also hosting their inaugural J/88 Midwinter Championship with eight boats participating on the Division 3 course area. As the 2015 PHRF Class winner, Iris Vogel’s DEVIATION from Long Island Sound is hoping to repeat the magic that led to her first major regatta win in the J/88s.  Chasing her hard will be a rogue’s gallery of teams, such as the recent AYC Fall Series winner WINGS, skippered by Mike Bruno from American YC; a top team from Lake Ontario- Joe & Jeff Pawlowski’s EASY EIGHTS from Youngstown YC; Doug McKeige’s JAZZ crew that won class in the Manhasset Fall Series; and, last year’s Charleston Race Week winner and second in KWRW, Rob Butler’s TOUCH2PLAY RACING from Collingwood, Ontario. Two “newbies” to the fleet include the new J/88 Oceanvolt model- BLONDIE 2 (sailed by Tod Patton and Jeff Johnstone) and Gary Panariello’s COURAGEOUS from San Francisco, CA.

J/70s starting off Key WestThe fifty-five J/70’s registered are by far the largest fleet at the regatta for the fourth year in a row.  They will be sailing on the Division 2 course area, the first one to the east out of the ship channel on the south side of the island.  The level of competition continues to improve and several of the top teams from the J/70 Worlds in La Rochelle, France are participating.  Like last year, the foreign contingent continues to expand, with teams sailing from nine countries- Italy, Great Britain, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Finland, Spain, Norway, and France!  There are many new faces in the crowd that are well-prepared, fast and smart.  Will Jud Smith’s AFRICA continue to maintain pace after winning the North Americans in San Diego?  Or, will the past two World Champions (Tim Healy’s HELLY HANSEN from Newport, RI and Julian Fernandez’s FLOJITO Y COOPERANDO from Valle de Bravo, Mexico) stay in the hunt for a podium finish?  In either event, they will have the 2015 Key West Midwinter Champion, Carlo Alberini’s CALVI NETWORK from Pesaro, Italy, setting a blistering hot pace, too.

Several J/70 contenders that have posted multiple top five finishes in major regattas include Doug Strebel’s BLACK RIVER RACING, Joel Ronning’s CATAPULT, Bob Hughes’ HEARTBREAKER, Tim Molony’s JOUST, Dan & Gannon Troutman’s PIED PIPER (5th @ KWRW 2015), Tom Bowen’s REACH AROUND, Peter Duncan’s RELATIVE OBSCURITY, John Brim’s RIMETTE, Brian Keane’s SAVASANA, Peter Vessella’s RUNNING WILD and Henry Filter’s WILD CHILD.

J/125 Double Trouble sailing fastIn the world of handicap racing, the famous J/125 DOUBLE TROUBLE from San Francisco Bay will be sailing in IRC 2 Class on the Division 1 race area.  The class may be in for a shocker, as the DT gangster’s have “four-peated” the Rolex Big Boat Series on the Bay, winning the IRC Class against the hottest West Coast offshore teams.

The ORC 1 Class will see two world-class J/122 teams vying for class honors- past Key West Champions TEAMWORK (with Robin Team on the helm) and Paul Milo’s ORION from Virginia (an Annapolis-Newport Race winner).  They will be challenged by Peter Sulick’s J/100 SKYFALL from Naples, FL.

The ORC 2 Class has two J/80s dueling for class supremacy, including Peter Boland’s ACQUA VELOCE from San Francisco Bay and Henry DeGroot’s WIRED from Buzzards Bay.

Finally, the “just-for-fun” random-leg class called Performance Cruising will see Denise Imhoff’s J/22 FLEEBOFLAM from Ventura Sailing Club in California sailing against an enormous range of boats up to 58 feet long!  Sailing photo credit- Steve and Sharon Green/ Ultimate Sailing and Allen Clark/ For more Quantum Key West Race Week sailing information