According to a popular French maxim, the more things change, the more they stay the same. That little aphorism works pretty well to capture the general essence of Terra Nova Trading and Yachtings' Key West Race Week—arguably America's premier regatta—which came to a close at the end of last week. In fact if you were to ask most any sailor in attendance, he or she would probably be hard pressed to identify how this year's race fest in the tropics distinguished itself from the year before. That's not to knock normalcy, however. After a year when the economy in the US came unplugged and terrorists rocked the lives of so many, the same old same old carries a decidedly positive glow.
True, after a one-year hiatus without a title sponsor, the event now enjoys the backing of Terra Nova Trading—the Chicago-based firm specializing in direct access trading. Also true, many high-profile sailors were absent due to America's Cup commitments and the ongoing Volvo Ocean Race. But neither of those factors appeared to alter the competitive caliber of the regatta one way or the other. And with only two-fewer entries than in 2001, this year's edition of KWRW offered strikingly similar vignettes—a mass exodus from the harbor each morning, close-quarter action on the respective starting lines of four racecourses, close crossings on the first beat, a multitude of protests, and raucous socializing in the tent each evening.
But a closer examination of what transpired over those five days in mid January in the self-acclaimed Conch Republic reveals a few distinguishing aspects of KWRW 2002. Consider the renewed support shown by the performance sailing industry. For the first time at this regatta, 20 different companies signed on as multi-year partners in the event's Sailing Industry Partnership Program. Officially, this commitment meant that the event organizers within Premier Racing could breathe easier regarding the regatta's bottom line and the company's ability to ensure future editions of KWRW. Unofficially, it meant sailors could take refuge from the cacophony of the main tent to stand amid the numerous boat-show-like exhibits where they could actually hear each other talk.
And though this year's regatta failed to set records for overall attendance, it's worth noting that the event did attract an all-time high of 53 foreign boats. Among those were four teams from Japan, four from Italy, one from South Africa, and three from Australia. Twenty-five of the foreign entries had come to Key West for the 2001 Melges 24 World Championship where Franco Rossini's Swiss team on board Blu Moon posted an amazing five wins in eight races to top the 78-boat fleet (the largest gathering of Melges 24s ever in the US). And another two foreign boats came to duke it out as part of the 13-strong group of F-28R trimarans making their first appearance at KWRW. It must be regarded as a positive step that for the first time in over five years the organizers have opened their registration to boats with more than one hull. Though it's been a few years since KWRW lived up to its reputation as the venue where companies introduce their latest and greatest designs, that appears to be changing. This year there were several debut entries hidden among the 323 boats out on the water, most of them foreign-built. Noted New Zealand yacht designer Steve Thompson was on hand to ensure that Bill Bolin's new red-hulled Thompson-870 Stand Aside hit its stride. The boat, which arrived in the US only four days before the first race, was unfortunately lumped into a PHRF class that included another Thompson design, Chris Bouzaid's T-30 Wairere, which cleaned everyone's clock with five bullets and two seconds to win its class by almost nine points.
But two other foreign-built designs racing in the US for the first time—a J/109 and an Aerodyne 43—faired better, as did a brand new C&C 99. And Beneteau also staged the racing introduction of its new First 36.7. With designer Rodney Johnstone doing the lion's share of the driving aboard the French-built J/109 Mariah, the boat narrowly won its class by a point over Dame Blanche, Othmar Mueller von Blumencron's Beneteau First 40.7. David Millet's South-African built Tango (an Aerodyne 43) finished just a point in front of Rich Rubin and Rob Ruppel's Tripp 40 Chutzpah to win PHRF Class Four. Greg Robinson's new C&C 99 Rabbit finished first in its class by a half point over Bruce Gardner's perennial powerhouse, L'Outrage, a Beneteau 10-Meter. And racing the chartered Beneteau 36.7 Wings of Freedom, Guy de Boer finished sixth in the same class as Mariah and Dame Blanche.
As is occasionally the case, there were a few unfortunate happenings that also distinguish KWRW 2002. One was the fact that Mother Nature decided to take a powder on two of the race days. On Monday, only half the fleet managed to get in a race, and those contests were conducted in fewer than nine knots of unstable breeze. Though the mid-week days didn't disappoint, in fact typical Key West conditions prevailed with up to 18 knots of breeze on Wednesday and Thursday, come Friday somebody flicked off the switch. After almost two hours of postponement that morning—with most of the fleet lolling about in no more than three knots of breeze—the respective race committees wisely decided to call it quits. That meant that whoever was atop the leader board at the end of the day on Thursday was now destined to go home with some silver.Because of the foreshortened series, it meant that crunch time came earlier in the week. For at least one entry, that phrase had a literal application. With 18 knots of wind and steep choppy seas setting the stage, the action quickly went from intense to tense as Stephen Murray's Andrews 70 Decision converged with Tom Hill's Andrews 68 Titan XI at the top of the first beat in that day's first race. Decision's crew attempted to duck their starboard-tack rival, but somehow badly misjudged the maneuver and instead the larger boat—steaming along at an estimated 10 knots—skewered the blue-hullled Titan like a freight train piercing a condominium.
The contact of this collision was so loud that it was heard nearly a half mile away. With Decision's bow fully halfway through Titan's cockpit, the boats remained lodged together for over a minute and then skipper Madden Randle fired up the engine and backed his boat out. Hill's crew initially went for their life jackets, fearing the worst. "His bow was pushing us sideways," said Hill afterward. "We thought we were going to sink." But Titan made it safely back to the dock with the pumps working overtime. Though the damage put Titan out of the regatta, Murray offered Hill and his crew the use of his boat for the remaining two days of racing, and they took him up on the offer. Now that's the Corinthian sporting ethic at work.
As it turned out, the final day was Thursday. Mother Nature chose that day to throw a little spice at the almost 3,000 sailors participating in the event, giving them breezy conditions in the a.m., and then taking most of that away in the afternoon as 18-knot winds tapered off to about 10. The strong winds and lumpy seas produced some heady moments on the racecourse, many of which translated into anxious moments on shore as no fewer than 26 protests were lodged, keeping the international juries busy until well into the evening.
Despite the fact that the reasonably good winds only materialized for three of the five scheduled days of competition, the race management personnel at KWRW ably conducted at least six contests for everyone, and some classes (like the Melges 24 group) got in eight. If you asked anyone in attendance, the lack of a full schedule of races wouldn't likely detract from their enjoyment of the regatta. In fact, that's one aspect that most sailors have probably already forgotten about KWRW 2002. Surely the French have a saying that correctly describes this notion, but at the moment it doesn't come to mind.
The Winners' CircleWith 18 individual classes awarded prizes three deep at KWRW 2002, it's beyond our scope to mention all the winners here, but there are a few highlights that bear mentioning. George Andreadis' Greek team aboard the Farr 40 Atalanti XI not only won that 25-boat one-design class, but also Yachting magazine's crystal trophy for Boat of the Week (awarded to the winner within the most competitive class). Othmar van Blumencron's Dame Blanche ran away with PHRF Boat of the Week honors. And Team Great Lakes USA (comprised of Jeff Ecklund's Melges 24 Star, Bob Hughes Farr 40 Heartbreaker and Fred Sheratt's Mumm 30 Steadfast) won the International Team Trophy.
On a final note, though he didn't win his class, 83-year-old Lew Gunn from Hilton Head, SC, did win Race No. 1 among the J/105 class. All right Lew!
For full scores and details, log on to www.premier-racing.com.