Battle lines drawn up for Quantum Key West
Quantum Key West 2014 is gearing up for its trademark full week of racing over 19-24 January on the aqua-colored waters off the sothernmost tip of Florida for crews ranging from professional-laden 52s to top tier club-oriented programs in the PHRF classes.
The clash of the titans will be in the Mini Maxi class (IRC 1). Here the Shockwave team, skippered by George Sakellaris is looking to defend its title against fellow 72ft Mini Maxi Hap Fauth's Bella Mente and Alex Schaerer Mills 68 Caol Ila R.
The 52 Class (IRC 2) features an international fleet of six boats loaded with the world's top professionals. Key West is the kickoff event for the 52 Super Series, won last year by Quantum Racing. Doug DeVos will skipper the Quantum entry in Key West with America's Cup veteran Terry Hutchinson aboard as tactician, Ed Baird as strategist and Juan Vila navigator.
"We had a very successful 2013 season and are looking forward to getting off to a good start in 2014," said Hutchinson. "We love having Doug driving the boat. He's the leader of the whole program and brings great energy to the team."
The Argentine-Italian Azzurra took first in Key West last year and will have Vasco Vascotto calling tactics again as it seeks a repeat. Rán Racing, which captured the 52 World Championship, will look to improve upon its third place finish from a year ago with British pro Adrian Stead calling tactics for owner-driver Niklas Zennstrom.
"It's an impressive fleet and it's going to be quite a battle. Azzurra and Rán Racing are both formidable programs and you can't count out boats like Interlodge, which is a real rocket ship," Hutchinson said. See a more complete preview to the 52 Super Series racing here.
Defending champion Decision, the Carkeek 40 skippered by Stephen Murray headlines the High Performance Class and will no doubt spend the week match racing her sister ship Steve & Heidi Benjamin's Spookie.
Robin Team and his crew on Teamwork will look to repeat their success in PHRF 1 while going against another J/122 and four J/111 designs in this competitive eight boat class.
Rick Wesslund was a regular at Key West from 2004 to 2010 with his El Ocaso program and returns after a three-year hiatus with his newly-purchased J/122. "This is our debut regatta and we are really eager to put our best foot forward. We are cautiously optimistic, but know this will be a real good performance test for the boat. Robin has a terrific team and that is always a well-sailed boat so we will have to be on top of our game in order to win," said Wesslund, who earned the PHRF Boat of the Week honor in 2006.
Regatta chairman Peter Craig is excited about the 10-boat lineup in IRC 3, which will have such diverse designs as a Swan 42, Sydney 43, Mills 43 and Ker 43. Catapult, a Ker 40 owned by Marc Glimcher, captured IRC sub-class honors at Quantum Key West 2013 and will be challenged by an influx of new entries.
Among the newcomers are Andrew and Linda Weiss, whose Sydney 43 was designed specifically to the IRC rating rule. Andrew Weiss is eager to see how his boat performs against boats of similar size, but different design characteristics.
"We are very happy with the makeup of the class. There is a nice mix of designs and a lot of strong teams," said Weiss, who has competed against the Swan 42s as well as Catapult and John Cooper's Mills 43 Cool Breeze in the past. "It will be interesting to see which boat comes out on top over the course of five days and in varying conditions."
Newport-based professional Tim Healy will be back to defend his title in J/70 class, which has attracted a huge fleet of 62 boats. Runner-up Brian Keane and third placed finisher Bruno Pasquinelli will also be back as the J/70 class contests its Midwinter Championship.
A real bounce-back one design at Key West this year is the J/80 class, which will have 13 boats on the starting line. Skipper Ron Buzil and his Vayu2 team will try to repeat as regatta winners against a deep fleet that includes former North American champion John Storck's Rumor and several other accomplished programs.
"Our owners love coming to Key West and we're thrilled to have a very competitive fleet this year," said Chris Chadwick, national class secretary for the J/80. "Premiere Racing always puts on a quality regatta and the racing is second to none."
Dave Franzel attended what was known as Key West Race Week way back in 1981 as crew for a J/24 program. The founder of the Boston Sailing Center returned 32 years later as a J/70 skipper and was crowned as Corinthian champion after finishing eighth overall in the 39-boat fleet.
"I had an absolute blast. It was one of the best regattas I've ever been to. It made me wish I hadn't waited so long to come back," said Franzel. "I was very impressed with the race management. The courses were sound and the starting lines were solid. We got in 12 races in five days and you can't ask for more than that."
Deneen Demourkas will be sailing her Melges 32 after being nominated for the Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year award for her performance on the Farr 30 circuit in 2013. Her husband, John Demourkas, will be racing in J/70 class as the couple makes their annual pilgrimage from Santa Barbara in California.
"John and I have been attending this event the last 14 years and we love the relaxation Key West affords, particularly after a hectic holiday season," Demourkas said. "And then there is Race Week, which always delivers. You can pretty much guarantee great sailing conditions, beautiful weather and good competition. Why wouldn't you be here?"