by Bill Wagner
Quantum Key West Race Week, Key West, Florida. It's been said the only certain things in life are death and taxes. Oh, and a full week's worth of racing in Key West. Time has proven the latter is almost as guaranteed as the two more ominous events, and a heck of a lot more fun!
Quantum Key West Race Week - 52 Super Series
Quantum Key West 2014 got off to an atypically slow start due to difficult conditions the first couple days, but reliably strong winds off the Conch Republic certainly delivered on Wednesday and Thursday. Organizers with Premiere Racing have crammed six races into the last two days and just like that all three divisions are on the threshold of reaching the regatta goal of 10 for the week.
'Over the course of five days down here, you are going to get your money's worth,' said event director Peter Craig, who has been overseeing the annual race week off Key West for 21 years now.
Northerly winds ranging from 12 to 16 knots allowed for another three-race day on all courses. Hap Fauth, skipper of the 72-foot racing machine Bella Mente, felt exhilarated as he stepped onto the dock following Thursday's action.
'We had absolutely fabulous conditions out there today,' Fauth declared. 'Anybody who complains about any aspect of this regatta has a screw loose. This is just fantastic sailing.'
Fauth had another reason to be jubilant as Bella Mente has pretty much secured overall victory in IRC 1 class on Thursday. The Minneapolis resident has steered his Judel-Vrolijk to first place in five of nine races in totaling 15 points, three better than runner-up Caol Ila R, a 69-footer owned by Alex Schaerer. With only one race scheduled on Division 1 for Friday, Bella Mente needs only to complete the course in order to win the regatta.
'It's been really close racing and we've had a lot of fun. It's always nice to come out on top and I give all the credit to the crew. We have a bunch of outstanding sailors and they do a terrific job,' said Fauth, reserving particular praise for tactician John Cutler and strategist Mike Sanderson.
It's down to the wire in the 52 Class with Quantum Racing and Ran both capable of winning. Skipper Doug DeVos and the Quantum team posted a superb line of 1-2-1 to take the lead away from Ran, which suffered a fifth in Thursday's last race. Azzurra, the Italian entry owned by Pablo Roemmers, is 9 ½ points out of the lead and thus will not defend its Key West title.
'You always want to be in the hunt going into the last day. We have put ourselves in good position and now we have to finish,' said Terry Hutchinson, tactician aboard Quantum.
Quantum, the U.S. program backed by the sailmaking company that is title sponsor of the regatta, is the reigning 52 Super Series champion. Ran, a British boat owned by Skype founder Niklas Zennstrom, captured the TP52 World Championship in 2013.
'We just need to go out and sail the best we can. Quantum had a day today and we did not so now we have our work cut out for us,' Zennstrom said. 'There's going to be quite a lot on tomorrow. We need to sail really well and hope Quantum has a bad result in order to win.'
Spookie, the Carkeek 40 skippered by North Sails pro Steve Benjamin, has clinched victory in the High Performance Class. Heidi Benjamin is calling tactics for her husband, who has won five races and placed second or third in the other four in totaling 15 points.
'It's been terrific racing, very close the entire week. We've really battled it out with Decision with most of the finishes just seconds apart. Riot has sailed really well and corrected over both of us today,' Benjamin said. 'We're really happy to win a tough class. The crew did a superb job and Heidi has hit so many shifts the last couple days.'
IRC 3, an extremely competitive 10-boat class with a diverse group of designs, is still up for grabs. Arethusa, a Swan 42 skippered by Phil Lotz, maintained the lead for a second straight day by placing second in the last two races on Thursday. Catapult, a Ker 40 owned by Marc Glimcher of New York, is seven points behind in second. Tonnere de Breskens 3, a Ker 46 campaigned by Peter Vroon of The Netherlands, is just one point behind Catapult.
'It's really, really close racing, which is what we came here for. We're having a heck of a lot of fun,' Glimcher said. 'Arethusa is very fast and very well-sailed. It's going to be all-on tomorrow and we're going out there with the intention of winning.'
Alec Cutler, Hedgehog - 2014 Quantum Key West Race Week
After holding first place at the end of racing Monday through Wednesday, skipper Alec Cutler and the Hedgehog team have given up the lead in Melges 32 class. Dalton DeVos, a 22-year-old college student, got the gun in two races on Thursday and is now one point up on Hedgehog. Two-time Olympic medalist Jonathan McKee is calling tactics aboard Delta, which has four wins and two seconds over the last two days.
'It feels really good to be winning the regatta going into the last day. The Hedgehog guys are really good so we know it's going to be a real fight to stay on top,' DeVos said. 'We've had great upwind speed the whole regatta and our downwind pace is getting better every day. My crew is just tremendous and Jonathan is doing a great job of keeping us in phase.'
Dave Brennan, principal race officer on Division 2, is hoping to complete two races on Friday. That may not be possible with afternoon winds expected to exceed 20 knots, which might be too much for the J/70s and Melges 24s on the course.
J/70 action at Quantum Key West 2014
North Sails professional Tim Healy has put forth an impressive performance in J/70 class, largest of the regatta with 60 boats. Healy, the defending class champ in Key West, has placed first or second in five races and counts no lower than a fourth in accumulating 15 points. Savasana, the second place entry skippered by Brian Keane, is a whopping 27 points astern.
Healy won two races on Thursday and finished fourth in the other to earn the Industry Partner Boat of the Day honor. He received the beautiful handcrafted Ship's Bell Clock trophy from Chelsea Clock. Geoff Becker and John Mollicone are teaming to call tactics while Gordon Borges works the bow aboard Helly Hansen.
'The big takeaway today was that you can't get too focused on one side of the course. We saw big shifts both ways and there was plenty of pressure on both sides,' Healy said. 'Our strategy has been to choose a side, but not be the furthest boat out there. You don't want to get pushed all the way to the edge.'
Little Wing, the Italian entry owned by Nicola Ardito, has wrapped up the six-boat Melges 24 class - having won every single race so far. Hugo Rocha, a three-time Olympian and 1996 bronze medalist in 470 class for Portugal, is calling tactics on Little Wing.
There figures to be some fireworks in PHRF 1 as four boats are still in contention. Spaceman Spiff, sailed by Rob and Ryan Ruhlman of Cleveland, Ohio, held onto the lead for a second straight day, but is just 1 ½ points ahead of fellow J/111 Team Fireball (Eddie Fredericks, Annapolis). Teamwork, the J/122 skippered by Robin Team, is coming on strong - having won five of the last six races to get within 2 ½ points of the lead. Stark Raving Mad, a J/125 owned by James Madden, also has a shot to win.
'It's a strong class with a lot of good boats and it's not surprising the regatta has come down to the last race,' said Team, who was regretting a seventh place suffered in Race 8. 'We've got to go out tomorrow and win the race. That's all there is to it.'
Skipper Bill Sweetser and the crew on Rush have clinched victory in PHRF 2, posting a steady stream of firsts, seconds and thirds in the seven-boat fleet. Veteran pro Tom Babel called tactics on Rush, which has built an insurmountable lead over fellow J/109 Heat Wave (Gary Weisberg, Gloucester, Mass.). Sweetser, an Annapolis resident who has been class runner-up in Key West four times, announced he will not race on Friday to avoid a breakdown in the big breeze or fouling another competitor.
Vayu2, a J/80 chartered by Ron Buzil of Chicago, is the runaway winner of the 12-boat J/80 class. Professionals Jahn Tihansky and Andrew Kerr are helmsman and tactician, respectively, aboard Vayu2, which has won six races and placed second in three others in totaling 12 points.