Top names turn up to Key West
High profile fleets, intense competition and superb sailing conditions have made Key West a showcase event for many one design classes. The popular Farr 40 class, which debuted in 1996, is certainly one of them.
Jim Richardson recalls many fond memories and looks to next week for more. "I absolutely love Key West. It is one of my all-time favorite regattas," said Richardson. "It's an incredible venue and Premiere Racing always does a terrific job. I just think Key West is the Super Bowl of sailboat racing. It's as close to an industry-wide convention as you will find."
Richardson has skippered Barking Mad to three Farr 40 world championships, but his 2008 victory at Key West remains one of the highlights of his sailing career. Richardson had fallen short in 10 previous attempts to add that notch to his belt, finishing as runner-up on three occasions.
When the Barking Mad team broke through and took the Key West title, earning Boat of the Week honours in the process, Richardson was on cloud nine. He embraced long-time tactician Terry Hutchinson while the tears and the booze flowed.
"It was certainly a great thrill to finally win Key West. That was a major goal that had eluded us for so long and it was such a relief to finally finish on top," said Richardson, who splits time between residences in Newport and Boston. "When you do well in Key West you feel really good about it because the competition is always so tough and the venue can be challenging. There is a lot of subtle current and wind shifts that keep crew on their toes."
After a one-year hiatus because its world championship was held in Australia last winter, the Farr 40 class is returning to the southernmost tip of the United States for the 15th time. Barking Mad is among seven boats entered in Quantum Key West 2012, running over 16-20 January on the azure waters off the Conch Republic.
"We've been going to Key West ever since the class got started. The event is iconic and the boat is iconic," said Geoff Stagg, who has managed the Farr 40 class since its inception. "Key West is always one of the most anticipated events on our annual schedule. The level of participation we've had in Key West over the years is indicative of the high regard in which the event is held among our owners."
Stagg said it speaks volumes that the second-largest Farr 40 regatta in class history came in 2001 off Key West. That is the year George Andreadis and his Atalanti XI crew fought their way to victory in a talent-laden 37-boat fleet.
As usual, the Farr 40 class in Key West will feature a slew of big-name tacticians, including multi-time America's Cup champion Hamish Pepper (Barking Mad) and triple World Match Racing champion Ian Williams (Charisma).
Another class that has carved out a reputation for high-performance and bare knuckles competition off Key West is the Melges 32, which will have 19 boats on the line this year. Samba Pa Ti, which was named Boat of the Week after winning Key West 2010, headlines a deep, talented fleet that will no doubt come down to the wire. Skipper John Kilroy has brought on an extremely talented helmsman in past Melges 24 world champion Lorenzo Bressani of Italy.
Warpath, which finished second in Key West last year and just captured the 18-boat Melges 32 Gold Cup off Fort Lauderdale, figures to be another top challenger. Skipper Steve Howe will have veteran professionals Morgan Larson (tactician), Marco Constant (main trimmer) and Willem Van Way (jib trimmer) in the afterguard.
"I think it's going to be the same as it is every year with any of 10 boats capable of winning," Howe said. "Certainly, Samba is a proven program, but there is a ton of talent on a lot of the other boats as well."
Former Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Ed Baird and Chris Larson are calling tactics aboard Pisces and Catapult, respectively. Former Olympic medalist and Volvo Ocean Race veteran Richard Clarke will be working with a top-notch helmsman in Alec Cutler aboard Hedgehog.
Howe has competed in Key West 10 previous times as skipper of a Farr 40 entry. This will be the San Diego resident's first time racing a Melges 32 as he attempts to win the regatta for the first time.
"Key West is definitely one of those regattas on the bucket list that you want to check off. It's a great test because you have five days of racing and usually see a wide range of conditions," Howe said. "As always, the key is to be consistent, stay clean and manage the risks."
Some of the most exciting racing in Quantum Key West 2012 will certainly come in the 52-foot class, which has drawn eight entries of various designs. Included in the class are brand new IRC 52 designs from Reichel-Pugh and Judel-Vrolijk along with two others that are coming right off the Med Cup Circuit.
"This is going to be one of the finest IRC 52 fleets ever assembled," said Ed Reynolds, president of Quantum Sail Design Group, which is sponsoring the regatta and fielding an entry in that big-boat class.
Quantum Racing, which has won three of the last four TP52 world championships and two of the last three Med Cup circuits, will be skippered by Quantum primary stockholder Doug DeVos with America's Cup veteran Terry Hutchinson calling tactics.
"Nobody has been more supportive of the sport of sailing and backed that up with action than Doug DeVos so it's somewhat fitting that he's sailing in the regatta this year," Reynolds said.
Some of the world's top amateur skippers and captains of industry such as Hap Fauth, Ennio Staffini and Irvine Laidlaw will be at the helm of the 52-footers, which feature fully professional crews consisting of sailors with vast America's Cup, Volvo Ocean Race and Olympic experience. Among the notable tacticians on the scratch sheet are Gavin Brady (Vesper), Tommaso Chieffi (Anema & Core) and Peter Holmberg (Highland Fling XII).
"This fleet will have fantastic racing for sure. On the typical Key West race track, the boats will be very close together. Although there will be a small span in rating difference, I expect that most of the boats will be so similar in performance that it will have a one-design feel," said Tony Rey, who is calling tactics for Peter Cunningham aboard PowerPlay. "Races will definitely be won and lost on the start line and in the turns, not in the design office."
This marks the 25th anniversary of the annual race week off Key West and Reynolds said Quantum was happy to help keep the renowned regatta going during tough economic times. "We recognize that Key West Race Week is the flagship regatta in this country and has been for well over two decades," Quantum President Ed Reynolds said. "This has been reinforced by many people we've spoken with both here and abroad. Even with the smaller fleet sizes of recent years, this midwinter, big-boat regatta is very important to North American and
international sailboat racing. We would like to see it continue and are committed to supporting the regatta during this transition period."
Other classes to watch include the debuting Farr 400, the new High Performance PHRF boats, the Mini Maxis and the J-Class boats. There will be plenty of action on all three racing Divisions.