52 Super Series kicks off today
Unstable, unsettled breezes marked the final days of practice for the US 52 Super Series fleet on the azure blue water of Key West. Finding a pattern to the changes in wind pressure and direction has been equally difficult for the six TP52 teams whether they are the reigning champions or the newcomers to the circuit.
With a continued series of small low pressure systems set to roll across the south of the country, the first few days the first 52 Super Series regatta of the season, Quantum Key West, are likely to see more of the same: winds which are hard to decipher, challenging to predict and varying in strength and direction over each race day.
So while the form book might otherwise be expected to follow on from last year’s established hierarchy, the weather will present plenty of opportunities for the new teams to do well. Predictions from several of the assembled teams are that this will start off as a very open event.
“I think the wind is so shifty here, especially before and after the fronts that is much more about getting the right shifts than boat speed, I think boats will have bad results and good results, even the top boats will have bad results,” suggests Nacho Postigo, the very experienced circuit winning Spanish navigator who is sailing on Hooligan.
“I think for the few days we will see the same as we have seen at the weekend which is a super unstable breeze. There are small low pressure systems building in the middle of the country and they come with associated fronts. Things change a lot when the fronts arrive and then after they go then we are left with this fantastic weather. There should be another front through around lunch time tomorrow, and that same pattern should continue until Wednesday probably. I think when the fronts are here we will see high teens, low 20s but otherwise after that we will be left with 8-12 NE to NW breezes. I think the wind is so shifty here, especially before and after the fronts that is much more about getting the right shifts than boat speed, I think boats will have bad results and good results, even the top boats will have bad results.”
Getting the 2014 season off to the best possible start is usually about minimising early mistakes. Last year’s Quantum Key West saw all three of the top finishers encounter some type of costly problems. Hooking crab or lobster pots happens often and usually costs places. Quantum Racing lost rig tension in a key early race last year.
Big shoes to step into
Charismatic American owner Doug DeVos loves his racing at Quantum Key West and relishes the pressure of stepping into Ed Baird’s shoes, taking over the helm of the 2013 52 Super Series champion Quantum Racing for his ‘home’ regattas in Key West and Miami. This time he has America’s Cup winner Ed Baird as strategist and MedCup winning skipper Terry Hutchinson as tactician. The ‘dream team' afterguard partnership cut DeVos no slack, nor does the highly competitive owner-helm expect it, but he did admit that coming on ‘cold’ after being away from the Quantum Racing helm for many months brings with a very unique set of pressures. And in these light, streaky, shifty breezes it harder to find a settled, fast groove.
DeVos reported: “It is all going well with the team. It is really good to be starting out 2014 here in Key West.
"Today it was light and shifty and that is always tough trying to figure out if you are sailing too high or too low, too fast, too slow. It is really hard to get back into the swing of it but the team do such a really great job bringing me back into it, it feels great. But I know that I am still trying to figure things out a bit at this stage.
“We all feel the pressure here and of course I do too. The whole team has worked hard to get us here, there is great competition, great people here, and so it is never going to be easy but I love being on the boat and giving it a try.
"Key West, the whole atmosphere is great, everyone is pretty close, it is fun being part of other fleets. So as well as the 52 fleet there are a lot of friends we have here in many different classes which we have met since we started doing this. We did the first Key West in 1987 and I have done most of them. I reckon I have done 20 of them at least.
"We have a great team and they had a great season last year, but the competition is always good. Every regatta starts all over again, and here we have Rán Racing which won the world championship, Azzurra won the last regatta of last season, we won the season championship, we had a nice spell in the middle. You just feel blessed to have done well in the last season, but there is no extra pressure (as champions).
"It works so well with Ed and Terry. It is very different because of course at this time last year Terry Hutchinson was not on the boat. Ed does strategy and Terry tactics and they work extremely well together, it is so much fun to just listen to them and each and every manoeuvre, or every situation. They have their own styles and I just try to fit into what they want. They know how to make the boat go."
Niklas Zennström's Rán Racing finished third in Key West last year. He commented: “We have had three days of training and so now I think we are back on form again, we are all set to go racing. Every day here in training it has been shifty, streaky and quite difficult. We have a few changes in the team and so we are finding our feet a little bit. Nic Aisher comes from a dinghy background and do for him it is new for him to be sailing on a bigger boat. But it is very good for us to have a dinghy sailor with the team.
"Last year we got ourselves into good spot here and we are certainly here to win. The key thing on the first day is to minimise mistakes, not to hook any lobster pots, and try and just not have any shockers, to be top three every boat in every race that would put us in good shape.”
The two newest teams Takashi Okura’s Sled (ex Rio/Synergy) and Gunther Buerman’s Hooligan (ex-Emirates Team New Zealand) are both fully ready to join the fray, even if their learning curves will be relatively steep compared to the more regular teams.
Ross MacDonald, Canada’s double Olympic medallist and previously tactician on Bribon, is tactician on Sled: “This is a new team and so we really don’t have much of an idea of how it is going to go. I have sailed with a few of the guys before but as a team we are all new. But there is lots of experience on the boat. Mr Tokura is a really good driver. It might take us a little while, but the future looks good.
"The boat does feel great, but it is all relative because there are a lot of sisterships here, I don’t think we are lacking for anything. But the best thing for us is a little bit of everything to learn a little bit before the other boats go back to Europe and so we can see how the good teams do things."
Racing for the US 52 Super Series starts Monday with the first warning signal around 1130 Local time. Up to three races can be sailed each day. Friday is the final day of racing.