by Bill Wagner
The Quantum Key West 2013 was off to a wonderful start as strong winds provided sailor enough reasons to enjoy racing off the beautiful shore of Miami.
Quantum Key West 2013
In sailboat racing, it's always nice when the wind conditions prove better than predicted. Early forecasts for the opening day of Quantum Key West 2013 were questionable, to the point some sailors were worried whether a race could be completed.
Turns out the breeze was much stronger and more stable than expected and organizers with Premiere Racing were able to conduct two good races for all three divisions, getting the 26th annual regatta off to a strong start.
'We'll take this as a bonus day,' said George Caras of Commander's Weather, who on Sunday was seeing light air of five knots or less.
Principal race officers Ken Legler (Division 1), Dave Brennan (Division 2) and Wayne Bretsch (Division 3) all recorded north-northwesterly winds from six to nine knots and had no problem getting courses set and races started.
'Very comfortable,' was how Quantum Racing tactician Ed Baird described the conditions. 'It was great to get in two races on a day that was supposed to be dicey. Now that's the end of that wind speed and now we're going to climb the ladder.'
Indeed, Caras expects 12-18 knot winds on Tuesday and even stronger on Wednesday after a front comes through.
Quantum Racing is leading the IRC 2, the 52 class, after winning Race 2 on Monday. Skipper Doug DeVos and crew began defense of their Key West crown with a fourth, for which Baird took the blame.
'I didn't start Doug off in the best manner. I put him in a bad place on the start line and we were forced to the right. That looked good for a while, but turned out bad,' Baird said. 'We got a much better start in the second race, led around the first weather mark and kind of legged out from there.'
Azzurra, the Argentina entry that won the 52 Super Series in 2012, got the gun in Race 1. However, skipper Alberto Roemmers got a tough start in Race 2 then had the misfortune of hooking a crab pot en route to finishing last in the six-boat fleet.
Bella Mente also snagged a crab pot while match racing with fellow 72-footer Shockwave in IRC 2, the Mini Maxi class. 'We couldn't shake it so we dropped the chute and backed off,' skipper Hap Fauth said.
Bella Mente had better luck in Race 2, hitting the line with perfect timing and top speed to leeward of Shockwave. Tactician Dee Smith called the shifts correctly and the Judel-Vrolijk design crossed the Reichel-Pugh design with plenty of room to spare by the fourth tack.
'It's going to be a good battle all week. The boats are very close in performance,' said Fauth, whose Bella Mente holds the overall lead via tiebreaker.
Steve Benjamin said single digit winds did not favor his Carkeek 40 in the High Performance Class. However, the Connecticut-based North Sails professional did just fine in those moderate conditions on Monday, winning both races over fellow Carkeek 40 Decision (Stephen Murray, New Orleans).
'I'm pleasantly surprised. Our boat was going better than ever before in that wind range,' said Benjamin, who praised wife Heidi for an outstanding job of reading the wind shifts. 'We went left most of the day and it usually paid off.'
California skipper John Demourkas and his crew aboard Groovederci lead the Farr 40 class after posting a pair of seconds on opening day. Barking Mad (Jim Richardson, Newport, R.I.) and Struntje Light (Wolfgang Schaefer, Lueneburg, German) were the day's winners, but Groovederci, with Cameron Appleton calling tactics, showed the most consistency.
'We got good starts at the pin end and had success going left in both races,' Demourkas said.
Fantastica, a Melges 32 skippered by Lanfranco Cirillo of Brescia, Italy, earned the Nautica Watches Boat of the Day honor after winning an opening day duel with fellow Italian entry Robertissima 1. Both boats totaled five points, but Fantastica won the tiebreaker based on a bullet in the second race.
Skipper Philip Williamson (Fort Worth, Texas) got Hoss off to a strong start in Swan 42 class, placing third in Race 1 then winning Race 2 to build a three-point lead over Vitesse (Jon Halbert, Dallas, Texas) and Stark Raving Mad VI (James Madden, Fort Lauderdale).
'Patience was key today in picking a side, making a commitment and pressing the boat in the light stuff, which is very tough,' Williamson said. 'We didn't have a great start in the second race, but had the advantage of being behind some of the bigger boats to be able to see what was happening in front and be able to incorporate that into our strategy.'
J/70 is the largest class at Quantum Key West 2013 with 39 boats and California professional Dave Ullman is the early leader after placing second in both races. Greg Koski and Tom Lihan are crewing for Ullman, who said owner Joseph Colling (Bath, Ohio) is out for the week after injuring ribs during a practice session.
'We had a very nice day and are very pleased. Our boat was quite quick today,' said Ullman (Newport Beach), whose team on USA 69 holds a seven-point lead over B Squared (Brian Elliott, Sayville, NY).
Helmsman Alec Cutler and his hedgehog team have seized control of the Melges 24 class, second-largest of the regatta with 24 boats. Richard Clarke, who has represented Canada in multiple Olympics, called tactics as Cutler took second in both races on Monday.
Skipper Bill Sweetser has been a runner-up in Key West more times than he cares to count, often leading the regatta at some point in the week and not being able to close it out. Rush, a J/109 from Annapolis, is atop the standings after Day 1 thanks to an impressive 2-1 score line.
'This was the perfect wind range for our boat,' Rush tactician Tad Hutchins said. 'The deal today was more about velocity than shifts. The wind was hard to see on the water. If you were smart enough to scope out the velocity you did well.'