Key West kick off
"There are a lot of big names here, [including] some of the America's Cup guys on their extended grants," Iain Percy noted with dry British humor. "They all seem to be showing up."
It's a long way from Auckland, where their teams were eliminated from the challenger trials, but Volvo racers like Stu Bannatyne, a member of illbruck's victorious campaign, should have felt right at home over the weekend. Temperatures plunging to highs in the mid-50s - nearly 20 degrees below the norm here - and winds gusting to 20 knots sent competitors scrambling for warm clothes and foul-weather gear for their practice sailing.
The conditions, part of the Arctic High that has had the eastern third of the U.S. in its grip, were expected to moderate to the upper 60s and 15 knots by race time at 10 a.m. Monday. Nine races are scheduled on each of the four courses set between the south beach and a reef five miles offshore.
The weather already claimed one victim. Island Flyer, Denny Manrique's S2 7.9 from Minnesota, got only to Findlay, Ohio where the trailer jack-knifed on an icy overpass, tipped the boat over onto the railing and cracked the hull.
The van Heeckeren family from Gates Mills, O., had better luck. They brought their Melges 24, Elektra, through safely and are ready to go---dad Dan driving, Ingrid working the bow, William on tactics and Chris navigating.
That's the backbone of the event, when recreational sailors line up alongside marquee talent, often with startling - and humbling - results.
Percy has become something of a name himself the last three years, first winning the Finn class gold medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, then the Nautica Star Worlds with crew Steve Mitchell last summer. This week he'll be directing moves for Dr. Wolfgang Schaefer on Germany's Struntje light in the Farr 40 class, alongside other celebrity tacticians.
He isn't taking anything for granted. He doesn't yet see himself in the same league with Bannatyne, Paul Cayard, Robbie Haines, Vince Brun, Jeff Madrigali, Jesper Bank, Chris Larson and Tony Rey, to name a few of the rivals with whom he'll be matching wits. Calling tactics on a Farr 40 isn't much like sailing a Star.
"Some of the older guys that have done both are probably better at it, but it is difficult for me making the swap," said Percy, 26. "After a while you're able to just flip a switch. For me, it's sometimes completely different, and I worry about going back the other way, as well.
"They emphasize different things. The Star, a lot of it's physical and you need just two people to sail. With this you have to blow out your thinking."
Nevertheless, Struntje light placed second in last year's European championship, when Percy's task was largely verbal. On the Star with Mitchell, he said, "We talk very little. It's telepathic. We were 150 days a year together in the Star. With a crew like this it's different. You have to communicate everything you're thinking and what you're doing."
Struntje light also is part of the German team seeking the Key West Trophy in the International Team Competition. Ten teams in each of three one-design classes---Farr 40, Mumm 30 and Melges 24---will be scored apart from their peers and combine their points.
Several boats used the annual race from Ft. Lauderdale to Key West as a tune-up this past week. Bill Alcott's Andrews 70 Equation (formerly Magnitude) was the first monohull to finish the 160 downwind nautical miles in 13 hours 51 minutes 37 seconds, only 41 minutes behind Team Raider US, a Raider 309 catamaran from Miami. Overall winner on corrected time was Charles Vaughn's Hobie 33. The race was sponsored by the Storm Trysail Yacht Club and Lauderdale Yacht Clubs.
Racing is scheduled Monday through Friday, Jan. 20-24, on four circles off the south shore of the island. Registration is on Sunday, Jan. 19. The regatta is open to entries in PHRF, one-design and IMS classes of 24 to 85 feet LOA. PHRF entries must have a rating of 175 or lower.