by Bill Wagner
Top-of-the-line IRC 52 racing is alive and well and headed for Quantum Key West 2012. A strong fleet of eight 52-footers will compete in the 25th anniversary edition of the renowned midwinter regatta held off the southernmost tip of the continental United States. Included in the class are brand new IRC 52 designs from Reichel-Pugh and Judel-Vrolijk.
Melges 32 downwind fleet action - Key West Race Week 2011 - Day 5
Key West annually attracts a who's who of big-name professional sailors. Most of those 'rock stars' will be congregated in the Mini Maxi, IRC 52, Farr 40, Melges 32 and Melges 24 classes. Terry Hutchinson will be competing at Key West for the 16th time, although this year was somewhat of a surprise. Hutchinson, an Annapolis native, did not expect to do any monohull events this year while training in catamarans as part of his role as skipper of Artemis Racing, the Swedish syndicate challenging for the America's Cup.
However, Hutchinson will now take a break from the team's training camp in Spain to serve as tactician aboard Quantum Racing, a TP 52 being entered by the regatta's title sponsor and skippered by Doug DeVos. Quantum Sail Design Group, which captured the TP 52 World Championship in 2008, 2010 and 2011, and the Audi MedCup in 2008 and 2011, is bringing a star-studded crew to Key West.
'Key West annually symbolizes the start of the coming sailing season. The event always features top-notch competition and this year will be no different,' said Hutchinson. 'The conditions on the race course are the best and when you come ashore what is there not to like. You are in one of the great warm weather locales in the U.S. in the middle of January. Just a fantastic spot!'
J/80s: In an era when a brutal economy has negatively impacted participation in sailing regattas all over the world, the J/80 class is somewhat of an anomaly. While other one-design classes have seen fewer boats traveling to major events, the J/80 has actually seen some growth.
Glenn Darden, a veteran of the J/80 class and past world champion, credits that trend to a variety of factors. First and foremost, is great leadership from class officers led by Kristen Robinson. Second, is a well-organized racing circuit that clusters events geographically. Of course, the fact a J/80 can be sailed by a crew of four helps with travel expenses.
'But the overall bottom line is that the J/80 class has a lot of momentum in this country and is also growing worldwide,' said Darden, a resident of Forth Worth, Texas.
The J/80 class is certainly one of the success stories of Quantum Key West 2012. The J/80 has maintained the number of boats competing at this annual regatta since prior to the downturn in the economy in 2008. Darden, the two-time defending champion at Key West, will seek to sail Le Tigre to a three-peat against a deep fleet of at least 18 entries.
'I think it helps that Key West is the centerpiece regatta of a winter circuit,' said Darden, noting the J/80 class has events scheduled in Miami for February and March. 'I think everyone involved with the class is excited to kick off the season in Key West. It's always a blast!'
This will be the eighth time Darden has done Key West and used the word quality to describe the reason he keeps returning to the five-day regatta, organized by Premiere Racing. 'I think Key West offers some of the top conditions in all of international sailing,' he said. 'The race management is always top-notch and you get in an awful lot of great sailing over the course of five days.'
Darden expects stiff competition from past North American champion Bruno Pasquinelli (Dallas, Texas) aboard Tiamo and thinks class newcomer Brian Keane (Weston, Mass.) could make some noise. Keane was Key West champion in J/105 class the previous three years, but will sail the J/80 in 2012 after jumping into the class in time to compete in the 2010 worlds.
'As a sailor coming from the northeast, the warm weather is a big draw,' said Keane making his 10th appearance at Key West. 'To me, Key West has three great things going for it - location, race management and competition. You are guaranteed to get the best of all three ingredients.'
Farr 30s: Long a stalwart one-design class in Key West, the Farr 30 had a one-year hiatus in 2010 while undergoing a re-organization. Owners took over management of the class and returned to Key West in 2011 with Jim Richardson and the Barking Mad team capturing the Midwinter Championship.
'The racing at Key West was terrific last year and we expect it to be just as intense this year,' said class president Deneen Demourkas, owner of the California boat Groovederci.
Seven boats from California to New York, not to mention one from Sweden, will duke it out on the azure waters off the Conch Republic at Quantum Key West 2012. Demourkas said 17 boats have already registered for the Farr 30 Worlds in Sweden and believes there will be a similar number of entries in Key West next year since the 2013 worlds are being held on the East Coast.
'This class has a long history of sailing at Key West and we plan to continue that for many years to come,'Demourkas said. 'Peter Craig and Premiere Racing have always been very supportive of the class and in turn we feel we should be supportive of the regatta.'
Key West Debuts: A hallmark of the annual race week in Key West has been the debut of new designs and this year is no different. The Farr 400, McConaghy 38 and Carkeek HPR 40 are among the recently launched lines that will make their inaugural appearance at Key West.
William 'Sled' Shelhorse (Virginia Beach) officially became the first owner of a Farr 400 and took delivery from Premier Composite Technologies (Dubai) in September. Shelhorse raced Meridian X one day of the Annapolis Yacht Club Fall Series, but Key West will serve as the boat's competitive premier with a 5-boat one design start.
'We love the sport-boat aspect of the Farr 400 and the fact it can be trailered,' said Shelhorse, who has previously raced a Tripp 38, 1D35 and Farr 36 at Key West. 'It's a tremendously well-built boat that provides a lot of bang for the buck. It has breakaway speed downwind, but is also very strong upwind.' Joe Woods of Great Britain, a longtime Key West competitor, is another of the new owners.
'We are thrilled the new Farr 400 One Design competing in Key West. The regatta is certainly an important proving ground for new boats nationally,'said Patrick Shaughnessy, president of Farr Yacht Design. 'A one design start for the class clearly communicates the boat's initial success and appeal in the marketplace.'
J/Boats: Quantum Key West 2012 will mark the introduction of a J/Boat specific handicap class. There are eight J Boats entered in PHRF 1 that will be broken out and rated by Rod Johnstone and his consortium and scored Time-On-Time.
'This sub class is comprised of the old (J/35) and the new (three J/111s) and promises to be a building block for J classes in the future,' event director Peter Craig said. 'The concept of J Boat specific handicap classes will become a reality at the 25th anniversary event and owner feedback suggests the 2013 edition of race week will attract two strong J classes.'
Regatta dates are January 15 - 20, 2012.
Doug Douglas | Goombay Smash - Key West Race Week 2011 - Day 5
Event information, past results and photos: www.Premiere-Racing.com