Monday, February 1, 2016

J’s Sweep Epic Key West

J/88s sailing Key West Spirited One-Design Racing in J/70s, J/88s, J/111s (Key West, FL)- Storm Trysail Club’s first year at hosting the famous Quantum Key West Race Week was certainly a trial by fire.  With an army of hard-working volunteers, plus the capable leadership of John Fisher and Bill Canfield, and the support of Quantum Sails Group, the STC team was able knock out nine-plus races for virtually every fleet in what proved to be remarkably difficult sailing conditions over the five days.  In fact, the sailing was epic all week, with enough wind to force a cancellation of all racing on Tuesday due to a gorgeous sunny day with steady 35 kts registered at Sand Key Light, and closing out the week with even more fresh-to-frightening sailing conditions on Friday with winds in the 20-35 kts range.

Amongst the J/Teams, there were some extraordinary performances in the one-design classes.  In the J/111s, Peter Wagner’s crew from San Francisco, CA sailed SKELETON KEY to an emphatic victory and was crowned J/111 Midwinter Champion, surprising even themselves since it was their first time racing Key West.  In the J/70s, Carlo Alberini’s CALVI NETWORK did what many thought was impossible, by winning the massive, highly competitive class for the second year in a row.  Then, also sailing their first Key West as a team, Mike Bruno’s J/88 WINGS won their class in a rough & tumble duel for the top three slots to take the inaugural J/88 Midwinter Championship.

In the handicap world, it was tough sledding for the J/125 DOUBLE TROUBLE sailed by Peter Krueger’s team from San Francisco, but they managed a third in IRC 2 class.  Over in ORC 1 class, the dueling J/122s fought it out to the finish, but Robin Team’s TEAMWORK pulled off an amazing “four-peat”, to win for the fourth time at Key West!  Then, wonder of wonders, the J/80 family one-design racer turned offshore handicap crusher, saw Henry DeGroot’s WIRED sail to a 10 point victory over an ORC2 class that included extreme sportboats like the GP 26s and Farr 280s.  Here is how it all went down over the course of the five days.

J/111 Skeleton Key sailing Key WestDAY ONE
The regatta got off to a rousing start on the “City of Key West Day” with strong winds welcoming the 133 boats in 12 classes and organizers getting in three races on all three divisions.

While the tourists enjoyed Martin Luther King Holiday by strolling Duval Street, sailors from 16 countries took to the waters off the southernmost point of the United States and found ideal conditions- northeast winds that exceeded 20 knots for Race 1 and diminished slightly for the subsequent starts when the sun broke through and brought out the azure seas so famous in Key West.

It was a bumpy day on the water with three to four foot waves rolling through the course areas, giving a challenge for all teams.

Peter Wagner, a first-time skipper in Key West made an impressive debut, winning all three races in J/111 class - earning the “City of Key West Boat of the Day” honors aboard SKELETON KEY. Wagner (Atherton, CA) is a San Francisco Bay sailor and is accustomed to the big breeze.

"That's our home turf so these are conditions we are certainly very familiar with. That said, this venue is very different from San Fran," said Wagner, who had another Bay area sailor - Seadon Wisjen - aboard as tactician.

Wagner took delivery of his boat last May and this is only the fifth regatta for his team. He called Key West Race Week a "legendary regatta" and admitted he's been remiss in not previously attending.

"We got off the line clean and stayed in phase. We didn't try to make it too complicated," Wagner said. "We're not going to get too excited about one day. It's a long regatta and I'm sure the other boats will have their moments."

J/70 Calvi Network sailing off Key WestIn the J/70 class, Carlo Alberini (Pesaro, Italy) and the CALVI NETWORK crew picked up where they left off last year- posting a pair of bullets and taking third in the other race. CALVI NETWORK captured class honors at Quantum Key West 2015 and earned Boat of the Week honors as a result.

Tim Healy and his team on HELLY HANSEN got the gun in Race 3 to move into second place, five points astern of CALVI NETWORK and just one ahead of FLOJITO Y COOPERANDO (Julian Fernandez Neckelman, Mexico City). It is no surprise to see those three boats atop the leader board since they finished 1-2-3 at the J/70 World Championship.

"It was a great day on the water. I'm glad we got three races in... real happy the race committee decided to do that," said Healy, whose team overcame a broken spinnaker halyard. "It was breezy and a real bumpy - a lot more than I remember. We're pleased with how we did on the first day."

And the Corinthian Boat of the Day winner was Luis Bugallo's J/70 MARNATURA from Vigo, Spain, on the strength of earning a 13-12-13 scorecard in the 54-boat class.

J/122 Teamwork sailing off Key WestSome of the closest racing of the day came in the two ORC classes competing on Division 3. TEAMWORK and ORION, a pair of J/122's, chased each other around the course all day and wound up separated by just one point. Skipper Robin Team steered TEAMWORK to results of 1-2-1 while counterpart Paul Milo (Leesburg, VA) led ORIO to a 2-1-2 score line.

"Just as expected, we really mixed it up with the Orion boys," said Team, who hails from Lexington, NC. "We had a real nice tacking duel on the last upwind leg of the third race."

Heavy air favored the J/122s as most of the other designs in the class (Evelyn 32, B-32, Tartan 101) were lighter. "Both our boat and crew love big breeze," Team said.

The ORC system also seemed to be working well among the sportboats in ORC 2, where Henry DeGroot's venerable J/80 WIRED was racing against a fleet of new sportboats and managed to take second for the day!

Mike Bruno on WINGS got the gun in Race 3 after placing second in Race 2 and led the eight-boat J/88 class by three points.

Tuesday’s forecast for big breeze of 25+ knots held true, with the fleet enduring a 2 hour postponement and races canceled for the day by 1130 hours.  Despite the spectacular, sunny weather, it was truly howling offshore, with the proverbial dogs getting blown off chains in 35+ kt winds along the beaches.

Wednesday started well. During his morning weather briefing, Ed Baird alerted the assembled sailors about the importance of Wednesday’s racing.

“More than likely, there’s going to be three races today. That means the regatta is going to be more than halfway complete by the time you come off the water,” Baird said. “Like I tell my kids with their junior regattas, this is moving day. This is when all the action happens. Some boats are going to fall off the cliff while others are going to climb up the standings.”

Baird’s words proved prophetic and many teams did indeed make a major move on Mount Gay Rum Day as multiple races were contested in perfect 15-18 knot northeasterly winds that held steady enough to provide the closest race action of the week.

J/80 Wired sailing Key WestWIRED, a J/80 owned by Henry DeGroot of Newton, MA, was the slowest-rated boat in an ORC 2 class comprised primarily of sport boats (three Farr 280s, three GP 26s). However, DeGroot and his team sailed quite well so far, winning three races and placing second in three others.

“I’ll admit it’s very helpful to have a favorable rating, but we are trying to sail the boat as well as it can possibly sailed and I think we are doing that,” said DeGroot, who holds a seven point lead over the GP 26 Rattle N Rum (Mike Beasley, Annapolis, MD. “Our best finishes have been due to good starts. After the first couple legs, the other boats get away from us and it basically becomes a race against the clock. This is my third straight Key West with this team and we work very well together. We pretty much had an error-free day.”

Skipper Peter Wagner and the SKELETON KEY team further stretched out the lead in J/111 class. Two bullets on Wednesday gave the San Francisco Bay area boat a total of five for the regatta and a comfortable 11-point lead over SPACEMAN SPIFF.

J/111 Spaceman Spiff sailing Key West“The Skeleton Key guys start well and are very consistent. They’re also darn fast,” said Rob Ruhlman (Cleveland, OH), skipper of SPACEMAN SPIFF. “If we’re going to do something we need to do it tomorrow.”

In an attempt to get the best bang for the buck value in races, Division 2 P.R.O. Dave Brennan actually completed four races today, which was enough to trigger a discard in the scorelines for the J/70 classes.

Italian skipper Carlo Alberini’s CALVI NETWORK posted scores of 2-3-1-3 on to maintain the lead in the J/70’s, the largest fleet in the regatta with 54 boats. Branko Brcin is calling tactics for the defending regatta champion, which now has a low score of eight points and leads the reigning J/70 World Champ FLOJITO Y COOPERANDO (Julian Fernandez Neckelmann, Mexico City) by three points. RELATIVE OBSCURITY (Peter Duncan, Rye, NY) and HELLY HANSEN (Tim Healy, Newport, RI) are still in the mix with 14 and 19 points, respectively.

“There are a lot of very good boats and very talented sailors in this field. We prefer strong wind so we are enjoying the racing here this year,” Alberini said. “The game is far from finished. Tomorrow is a new day and we must keep our focus.”

The ORC 1 class is close; where J/122 sister ships ORION (Paul Milo, Leesburg, VA) and TEAMWORK (Robin Team, Lexington, NC) are battling every race and are only two points apart.

Skipper Mike Bruno (Armonk, NY) and the crew of WINGS stayed on top of the J/88 class by closing with consecutive second place finishes on Wednesday. Rob Fear is tactician on WINGS, which leads Deviation by three points.

“It has been really close sailing. Wings sails very consistently and very fast, which keeps us on our toes,” said DEVIATION skipper Iris Vogel (New Rochelle, NY), who sandwiched a pair of bullets around a seventh on Wednesday. “We had one bad race today and we cannot afford to do that. We need to be more consistent.”

It was coming down to the wire for several classes. Three more races on all three courses were sailed on Thursday in solid 10-14 knot winds that started out of the northeast and slowly clocked around to the east, all per prediction.

The 10 classes on Divisions 1, 2 and 3 had completed nine races. Division 1 and Division 3 courses intended to hold one start on Friday to finish a 10-race series. Division 2 managers had the option of running two races for the J/70 classes.

J/70s sailing off Key WestHELLY HANSEN skipper Tim Healy was hoping for two races on Friday since he stood second in J/70 class, 10 points behind CALVI NETWORK. That was not insurmountable in a 54-boat fleet, although skipper Carlo Alberini and his crew had not finished worse than sixth so far.

"Those guys are going really well so they would have to make a mistake," Healy said. "In a fleet this size, anything can happen. We were over early in the last race last year and lost the series, so you never know."  The J/70 fleet attracts serious talent; for example Brian Keane's SAVASANA has among its crew World Match Racing Champion Taylor Canfield from St Thomas, US Virgin Islands.  With that kind of talent in the top ten, anything can happen.

Healy and his HELLY HANSEN team found another gear on Thursday, winning two of three races with a runner-up result in the other. "We changed some things with our tuning and rig to account for the short chop and it really helped. The boat felt really good today and we were going well as far as boat speed," he said."

TEAMWORK and ORION, a pair of J/122's, had been battling all week and were just three points apart going into the 10th and final race. Skipper Robin Team (Lexington, NC) steered TEAMWORK to victory in six races, placing second in the other three. Skipper Paul Milo (Leesburg, VA) and ORION won the three races TEAMWORK did not and finished second in all the others.

"It's been a dogfight just like we expected. Every tack, every gybe, every mark rounding - we are within feet of Orion," said Team, a multi-time class winner in Key West. "We've gotten to know the guys on Orion and they're an awesome group to sail against."

Team credited his foredeck crew comprised of son Coleman and Matt Welborn for the two wins on Thursday. "We're making our gains on the downwind legs. We just seem to be able to carry the kite deeper into the leeward mark," he said.

Milo admitted it would be tough to make up three points in one race, although Teamwork could have some sort of breakdown. "That's an incredibly well-sailed boat and the fact we're chasing them around the course, and sometimes the other way around, is very encouraging. We've had a lot of fun competing against Teamwork this week," he said.

J/88 Wings- winner of Key West J/88 MidwintersSkipper Mike Bruno (Armonk, NY) and his crew on WINGS held a four-point lead over skipper Iris Vogel and the DEVIATION team in J/88 class, so it would come down to tomorrow's result to determine a winner.

Meanwhile, WIRED increased its lead in ORC 2 class with skipper Henry DeGroot steering the J/80 to a 3-2-1 score line. WIRED now had 15 points, six better than the GP 26 Rattle N Rum (Mike Beasley, Annapolis, MD), so it was not not over yet in that class either.

In the J/111 class, skipper Peter Wagner (Atherton, CA) had sailed SKELETON KEY to an insurmountable 14.5 point lead over SPACEMAN SPIFF (Rob Ruhlman, Cleveland, OH).

Lightning, thunder and torrential rain opened the final day, with organizers debating if the conditions were safe to proceed with two races to finish the J/70’s in Division 2 and one for all other classes.

With several titles at stake, but bad weather threatening, this was not an easy call. Forecaster George Carras from Commander’s Weather described the moist tropical conditions in the atmosphere as “juicy and unstable,” with a chance for more thunderstorm cells, but with nothing on the radar the fleet headed out for one more day of battle.

When they got out the harbor and headed into the southerly, the forecasted 8-15 knots turned out to be 20+ and building, with monstrous seas enhanced by the south-flowing ebb tide, especially in the Division 1 pre-start course areas. These seas hampered the Race Committees in their efforts to set marks and establish their race courses, so the PRO’s pulled the plug for these classes for the day.  But racing proceeded on the Division 2 and 3 areas where the ebb tide was not as strong and produced nothing more serious than some OCS calls for some teams.

“It was wild out there. For the last couple of legs, the wind was over 30 knots and the waves were real big. We hit 16 knots surfing downwind with the kite,” said Robin Team, skipper of the ORC 1 class champion TEAMWORK. A win in this final race gave the North Carolina boat a total of seven bullets for the week with a low score of 13 points, five better than fellow J/122 ORION (Paul Milo, Leesburg, VA).

“It was a great week with incredible conditions and we’re thrilled with the result,” said Team, who has now captured class honors at Key West Race Week four times. “Our entire crew worked really well all week. Jonathan is a master tactician and consistently put us in the right position.”

Elsewhere on Division 3, skipper Henry DeGroot and his crew on WIRED completed an impressive victory in ORC 2 class by winning Race 10. Simona Pasqua served as tactician on WIRED, which won five races and finished second in four others in totaling 16 points

“We are surprised and delighted. We have to thank the people who put together ORC for the great number they gave us. We were very happy with how our rating worked out,” said DeGroot, a resident of Newton, MA. “This is our third straight Key West with the same crew. It’s always a fantastic regatta and we love coming here, but winning certainly puts a golden tinge on things.”

Four of the ORC 2 entries elected not to compete on Friday and DeGroot admitted his crew had never raced in such severe conditions. “Today was about surviving. There were a lot of gear breakages and other issues on our course and we just had to find a way to get the boat across the finish line,” he said.

Mike Bruno and the WINGS team led at the end of each day’s racing en route to topping the J/88 class. Bruno, from Armonk, NY, won Race 3 then finished second in five of the last six starts. This was Bruno’s first trip to Key West as skipper of his own boat. It was only his fourth event since taking delivery of the J/88.  “This is one of the world’s great regattas so I’m pretty excited,” Bruno said. “We had real good boat speed and I think the key was we were real consistent.”

J/88 Deviation- skipper Iris Vogel sailing in Key WestBehind Bruno’s WINGS team was Iris Vogel’s DEVIATION, she took the silver on a tie-breaker on 33 pts over Tod Patton/ Jeff Johnstone’s BLONDIE 2.  Rob Butler’s TOUCH2PLAY RACING from Canada was just one point back in 4th place with 34 pts, finally having gotten his mojo going winning three of the last six races.  Fifth was Ryan Ruhlman’s SPACEMAN SPIFF from Cleveland, OH.    The BLONDIE 2 dry-sailed at Truman Annex all week using a simple single-point lift system.  “It was easier than launching a J/24 at Sail Newport,” said co-owner Jeff Johnstone.  “We’d wanted to have the boat plugged in overnight to charge the engine batteries (BLONDIE2 has the new Oceanvolt electric propulsion system) and dockspace was already booked in town, so Herb Reese and Coffin Marine got us set-up for the week.”
Skipper Carlo Alberini and the crew of CALVI NETWORK also led from start to finish in capturing the J/70 overall class win for the second straight year in Key West.  Branko Brcin called tactics for Alberini, who got the gun in five races and finished second or third in four others to finish with an impressive 15 points.

J/70 Calvi Network wins Key West“I come back every year to Key West because the regatta is so good – always great wind and excellent race management,” said Alberini, who previously raced a Farr 40 and Melges 32 here. “I have no words to describe how happy I am. This is just fantastic.”

Alberini (Pesaro, Italy) praised the performance of his crew, which also included Sergio Blosi (jib trimmer) and Karlo Hmeljak (main trimmer); “My crew is amazing. I am so lucky to have three very talented sailors. Sailing is a team sport and the best helmsman in the world cannot without a strong crew,” said Alberini, who earned the Quantum Sails Boat of the Day honor today.   Skipper Peter Duncan (Rye, NY) and the RELATIVE OBSCURITY team were runner-up in J/70 class with 27 points, four ahead of Tim Healy (Newport, RI) and the HELLY HANSEN crew. The balance of the top five included Fernandez’s FLOJITO Y COOPERANDO in 4th place (with World Champion Bill Hardesty as tactician) 36 pts back and in 5th position was Flip Wehrheim who sailed John Brim’s RIMETTE with USA Match Race Womens’ Champion Steph Roble as tactician.

J/70 Marnatura- Corinthians winners at Key WestSkipper Luis Bugallo and the Spanish sailors on MARNATURA were the top Corinthian entry, finishing seventh. His crew included Fernando Campos Marquez (spinnaker trimmer), Enrique Freire Faria (jib trimmer), Jose Luis Freire (tactician) and Gerardo Prego Menor (bow) crewed aboard MARNATURA, which earned the Quantum Corinthian Boat of the Week award.  Second in Corinthians was Rob Britt’s HOT MESS from Tampa, FL and third was Tim Molony’s JOUST from Annapolis, MD.

J/111 Skeleton Key wins Key WestPeter Wagner and the SKELETON KEY crew made a successful debut at Quantum Key West, winning the J/111 class in dominant fashion. SKELETON KEY, which does most of its racing on San Francisco Bay, also reveled in the big breeze while notching seven bullets and a pair of seconds.

“I really enjoyed my first Key West. We had great conditions and it was a really well-run event. The race committee did a fantastic job,” said Wagner, who hails from Atherton, CA. “We’re just really fortunate that we managed to sail consistently and we had a lot of fun doing it. We got off the line well and Seadon did a great job of managing things tactically on the course. We had really solid boat speed throughout.”
For more Quantum Key West Race Week sailing information