As mentioned previously, the backbone of the Quantum Key West Race Week fleet lies in the competitive racing offered in the one-design classes that comprise over 70% of the 130 teams from 10 countries entered in this event. However, the other 30% entered in the IRC and ORC classes race just as hard in their fight for a place on the podium.
When the Storm Trysail Club (STC) took over management of Quantum Key West Race Week earlier this year it had some difficult decisions to make on which rating systems to use to accommodate this important segment of the fleet. In particular, STC wanted to try to halt the declining participation levels among the PHRF sailors in this fleet, who many years ago were the mainstay of the event.
So in an attempt to inject new life into Key West and attract a new crop of entries, race organizers at STC decided to replace PHRF with the ORC rating system, a measurement-based scientific system in use in over 40 countries around the world and that has issued more than 10,000 certificates for its use in 2015.
Race committee chairman Dick Neville was pleased with the initial response to that significant change, and Quantum Key West 2016 will have two healthy ORC classes competing on the Division 3 course this Monday through Friday.
“We’re pleased that a good number of owners have decided to give ORC a try and we’re hopeful they will have a good experience this week,” Neville said. “I think if the teams here like the way the system works and believe it produces fair racing, word will spread and we’ll get more boats racing ORC next year.”
ORC 1 features a slightly wider rating band with a pair of J/122 sloops as the scratch entries. Robin Team (Lexington, NC) is a seasoned veteran of Key West and has done quite well over the years aboard his various boats named Teamwork. Paul Milo (Annapolis, MD) is doing the regatta for the first time, but has enjoyed much success on the Chesapeake Bay and beyond aboard his J/122 Orion.
“We have mixed it up with Orion at other regattas and we know that boat is very well-sailed,” Team said. “I’m sure there will be times when it seems like we are match racing with Orion.”
North Sails’ Jonathan Bartlett (Annapolis, MD) will once again be calling tactics for Team, who has his brother and two sons aboard as regular crew. On board Orion is another Annapolitan, Tad Hutchins of Quantum Sails, who helps manage the Orion program with yet another Annapolitan, perennial J/24 champion Mark Hillman, handling tactics.
A trio of 32-footers and pair of 33-footers comprise the remainder of the class and will likely mix it up amongst each other separate from the two 40-footers. Ben Hall (Tiverton, RI) of Hall Spars skippers Bluto, an Evelyn 32 he modified that figures to be quite competitive.
“It’s a nice mix of boats and it will be interesting to see how things shake out,” Team said. “Part of the fun of handicap racing is that you get out there with no idea of how the boats stack up against each other. I think we will have tough competition and I think it will be fair competition.”
At nine entries, the ORC 2 class is the largest handicap class at the event, yet has less diversity in boat types since all are Sportboats. Except for Henry DeGroot’s J/80 Wired (Newton, MA), all are relatively new designs to the US racing scene. The GP 26’s are all designed by Jim Donovan and have been built in Turkey at Wraceboats, but have varied sail plans and therefore different ratings, whereas the Farr 280’s are in one design trim and rate the same.
“Based on the certificate it looks like we’re a little faster (than the GP 26),” said Tate Russack of Boca Ration, FL, and is skipper of the Farr 280 Diesel. “I think it’s going to be fun racing. I see a lot of separation in the class, but we’ll find out for sure on Monday.”
Quantum Key West has always been a proving ground for new designs and the GP 26 will look to make an impression this week. Peter D’arista (California, MD) liked the boat so much he bought two hulls, one of which he is chartering to John and Linda Edwards, who are also from Southern Maryland. Mike Beasley (Annapolis, MD) is skippering the other GP 26 and even though this is first time in a GP 26, he too is looking forward to having this opportunity to stack up against the GP’s but the 280’s as well.
“I’ve heard a lot about these boats and how fast they are, so it will be great to get into the racing and learn more and more and go faster and faster,” he said.
“This is the first time we’ll have three boats sailing side-by-side so we should all learn a lot this week,” said Donovan, noting that all three boats are configured for Chesapeake Bay conditions and there was no time to make modifications for the often breezier conditions in Key West.
The GP 26 weighs 2,200 pounds empty and has a massive sail plan tamed by a 1000 pound bulb keel, a huge factor in keeping the boat in control. “An average sailor can hop on this machine and learn how to sail it,” says Donavan. “It’s high performance, but not high risk. I’m really pleased with everything about the boat.”
Also mixed in is Eagle’s Eye, a Fareast 28R skippered by Matt Wake (West Yarmouth, MA), who has a young crew of junior sailors from the St Petersburg, FL area and therefore will qualify for the newly-established Sailing World Trophy. That new award will be presented to the top performing boat in any class whose average age is less than 30 years old.
At the other end of the size scale and on the Division 1 course will be where sailors and spectators alike will be awed by the size and power of the four Maxi 72-footers competing in the IRC 0 Class. Bella Mente, skippered by Hap Fauth of Minneapolis, MN, is the reigning World Champion in the Maxi 72 class and bears the label of pre-regatta favorite as a result.
Two-time Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Terry Hutchinson (Harwood, MD) will call tactics for Fauth, himself a nominee for that prestigious honor due to his success on the Maxi 72 circuit in 2015.
“Bella Mente is definitely the boat to beat based off its recent past and because it knows the race area here in Key West better than the other three,” said Rob Weiland (Amsterdam, NL), manager of the Maxi 72 class.
However, Weiland emphasized that it’s a new season and said many of the Maxi 72’s have undergone modifications since the world championships. For example, Caol Ila R, skippered by Alex Schaerer of Malta, has a new rig replacing that broken last year in Sardinia, and has also extended its keel to the maximum length of 18 feet. Other boats have gone with longer bow sprits or changed weight configurations.
“Proteus is a more powerful boat and could do well when the breeze is on,” Weiland said of the entry skippered by George Sakellaris of Framingham, MA.
A fully professional crew of 20 is required to get the majestic Maxi 72-footers around the race course. Top-level talent is also needed aboard the three TP52 designs competing in the IRC 1 Class. Doug DeVos (Ada, MI) returns to skipper Quantum Racing, title sponsor of the regatta. DeVos steered Quantum to victory in 52 class at the 2014 edition of Key West.
Steve Benjamin (Norwalk, CT), who last week was crowned as the 2015 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year, is starting a busy season of racing Spookie – a Botin-designed TP52 he bought in May with his wife Heidi Benjamin. The Benjamins got his feet wet in the class by doing two events on the 52SuperSeries circuit and is keen to fine-tune his team.
Following Key West, Spookie is slated to do the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s Caribbean 600 and then various regattas in St. Thomas, British Virgin Islands and St. Barth’s before returning north for the biennial Newport-to-Bermuda Race.
“What a thoroughbred this boat is,” Benjamin marveled. “We are still learning the finer points of sailing the boat, but I certainly expect to be competitive. We know Quantum Racing is plenty fast and Interlodge is a great rating boat. I expect to have darn good racing.”
Interlodge is a Botin 44 owned by Austin and Gwen Fragomen (Newport, RI) that has won just about every regatta it has entered since being launched last June. It was also designed by Botin and has a design largely based off Quantum Racing.
“It’s a very similar design and looks a lot like a smaller version of that boat,” Interlodge tactician Andy Horton said.
Interlodge won the New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta, Block Island Race Week and, most recently, the Annapolis Fall Regatta, all in IRC scoring. “It’s an awesome boat – the best boat of that size I’ve ever sailed on,” Horton said. “It’s really quick downwind and doesn’t suffer going upwind.”
Quantum Racing is scratch entry in IRC 1 and in a one-hour race would owe Interlodge about five minutes. Horton is hoping the three TP52s mix it up among themselves and ignore Interlodge.
“They are definitely faster upwind, but we accelerate pretty well against them downwind. We can’t lose too much ground on the first windward leg and try to make our gains going downwind,” he said.
IRC 2 is comprised of five boats ranging from 39 to 43 feet. Christopher Dragon, a Sydney 43 owned by Andrew and Linda Weiss (Mamaroneck, NY) is the fastest boat in the class by a slim margin with a 1.194 rating. Tschuss, a brand new Mills-designed and Turkish-built MAT 1180 skippered by Irishman Christian Zugel, rates 1.190.
“We’re excited because this is the closest rating band we’ve had in a while at Key West,” Weiss said. “We’ve been racing against the Mills 43 Cool Breeze (John Cooper, Cane Hill, MO) for three years here so we are very familiar with them. We’ll have to figure out how we compare with the other boats as the week goes along.”
This will be the fifth time Weiss has sailed his own boat in Key West with the best result being a third in the IRC 3 class at the 2008 edition. He brought his Sydney 43 Christopher Dragon to the Conch Republic in November and the crew has put in considerable practice.
“We’ve worked very hard to improve our performance. We’re looking to go a little better upwind,” he said. “Hopefully, the results will reflect the effort we’ve put in.”
New to Quantum Key West this year is a Performance Cruising class with four entries sailing distance races around government marks. Principal Race Officer Bruce Bingman anticipates plotting courses that will take two to three hours to complete with the fleet pushing out toward the reef.
Multihulls have returned to Key West Race Week following a lengthy hiatus with a Gunboat 60 (Arethusa, Phil Lotz, Fort Lauderdale) and a Corsair 28 (Flight Simulator, Tom Reese, Youngstown, NY) joining the Performance Cruising fleet on the navigational courses.
Racing starts tomorrow of all classes, with the first race signals starting at 11:30 AM. Two races are planned, followed by afternoon seminars and nightly awards planned at the main event venue at Kelly’s Caribbean.
For more information the classes racing at Quantum Key West Race Week, visit www.keywestraceweek.com.
Image: Dobbs Davis