A warm and sunny Monday morning greeted the sailors at Quantum Key West 2014. The light and shifty winds meant a 90 minute delay and time for more coffee and conversation. The voice of Race Officer Dick Neville announcing a planned start was a welcome relief as it meant there would be competition on opening day.
Within minutes of Neville's announcement that race committees were planning a 1300 start on all three courses, there was a flurry of activity as sailors sprang to life and began getting boats ready to go racing.
In the 21 years that Premiere Racing has been running the annual regatta off the southernmost tip of Florida there have only been a handful of days without any action. Despite a gloomy forecast, this would not be one of them.
Ken Legler completed two afternoon races on Division 1 while fellow Principal Race Officer Wayne Bretsch got one start off on Division 3. Dave Brennan on Division 2 was not as fortunate as the breeze never stabilised long enough for his race committee to go into sequence.
"I thought Wayne Bretsch and his team exercised great patience and restraint," said Jahn Tihansky, tactician aboard the J/80 Vayu2. "They waited and waited to make sure it would a fair competition then made do with what they had," "It was really nice to have a race on a day when it looked like it might not happen."
Skipper Ron Buzil and the Vayu2 team had reason to be happy after taking first in the 12 boat J/80 class for Race 1. Tactician Andrew Kerr knows the waters off Key West well and made the right calls on Monday.
"Andrew is a real guru down here and he nailed it. He kept us in breeze and kept us moving," Tihansky said. "We got out to a nice lead and were able to extend it. We came off the line cleanly, stayed in the middle of the course and picked up a couple puffs on the first beat that allowed us to pull away."
Fireball, a J/111 skippered by Eddie Fredericks, earned the victory in PHRF 1. Rounding out Division 3 is PHRF 2 with skipper Bill Sweetser and his team on the J/109 Rush coming away victorious in Race 1.
"It was certainly a challenging day. There were some big shifts and you had to kind of hunt for breeze," Sweetser said. "That being said, it was day that you needed an astute tactician and Tom Babel had us in the right place at the right time both upwind and downwind."
Legler got things going on the Division 1 course once he was confident a 4-7 knot zephyr from the SSW wind would hold. Skipper Doug DeVos and his crew aboard Quantum Racing figured things out the best in the 52 Class, winning both races. Tactician Terry Hutchinson and strategist Ed Baird combined to rally Quantum to victory in race 1 after rounding the first weather mark in fourth.
"There's a fine line between luck and great strategy," Hutchinson joked. "We had a really nice comeback in the first race. We got two nice lifts on the second beat then found an isolated breeze on the run to the finish," Hutchinson said. "Our goal was to come ashore with five points or less so we are very happy with how things worked out."
Rán Racing, skippered by Niklas Zennstrom, placed second in both races. Azzurra, the defending regatta champion owned by Pablo Roemmers of Argentina, posted a pair of thirds as just four points separate the top three boats.
"It was very tricky, but we ready things pretty well. Niklas got two fantastic starts and we had pretty good speed," said Adrian Stead, tactician aboard Rán Racing. "We sailed the boat about as well as we could in the conditions so we are pleased. It was a good opening day."
Read more about the 52 racing here
In Mini Maxi class, the two 72 footers Bella Mente and Shockwave owe time to the 69ft Caol Ila R and that made the difference on Monday. Newport skipper Alex Schaerer and the Caol Ila R crew notched a first and a second to take a one-point lead over Hap Fauth's Bella Mente.
Alec Cutler took a year off from the Melges 32 class, but you would not have known it from his performance on Monday. The Bermudan skipper steered Hedgehog to victory in both races to build an early three-point lead over Dalton DeVos and Delta.
The first race of the day got underway just past one o'clock under gorgeous sunny, blue skies and mild temperatures. Calm seas greeted the fleet for the first two heats of the event. The Hedgehog crew found their way across the finish line first in race one while the second was more intense as Demourkas was first to the top mark, chased by Richard Goransson's Inga From Sweden, then DeVos' Delta. DeVos gained big downwind to take the gate in first just ahead of Goransson, followed by Demourkas in third. Another lead change at the top mark gave way to Goransson taking full command, and hot on his heels were DeVos and Demourkas.
Cutler moved up a space to round fourth, but saved his best move for the final downwind run. With less than 100 yards to go, Cutler came in strong from the left side to beat out DeVos, who successfully gained again on the run. Goransson on the far right, slid in to steal second place only moments before DeVos. Demourkas was fourth and new boat owner Dieter Schoen on Momo from Germany finished fifth.
Volvo Ocean Race sailor Richard Clarke, who has also represented Canada in multiple Olympics, is calling tactics aboard Hedgehog, which earned the City of Key West Boat of the Day honour for its strong performance.
Cutler commented: "It was kind of crazy out there. We had a five knot breeze that was up and down with 40° shifts. Our class caught up to the bigger boats ahead of us, which made things really tough. We would have been very happy with a one-four today so to put up a couple bullets it's a pleasant surprise. I thought our crew did a great job of staying patient and sticking with the wind we had instead of searching for something that may not have been there."
Vitesse, a Swan 42 owned by Jon Halbert from Dallas, Texas, placed second in both races to take the opening day lead in the highly-competitive IRC 3 class.
Mark Reynolds, a Star two-time Olympic gold medallist and World Champion, is calling tactics on board. He said: "The forecast said the wind would go right, but it actually went left. Fortunately, we went left and it worked out. We had good starts and got some good breaks."
In a class comprised of diverse designs, the top three spots in IRC 3 are held by Swan 42 footers. Massachusetts-based skipper Charles Kenahan steered Mahola to a pair of third place finishes and stands second overall.
The J/70 is the largest class in the regatta with 60 boats and the majority of skippers supported the decision to not attempt a race. Dave Brennan, who has been running Division 2 in Key West for years, said he never saw more than five knots of breeze and did not feel it was stable enough.
"Key West is about high-quality racing and we just simply could not provide that with the conditions we had out there today," he explained. "We waited and waited for sailable conditions and made every effort, but it became obvious it just wasn't going to happen."
Dave Ullman, the renowned California sailmaker who has competed in Key West many times in various classes, said it was difficult to bob around on the water for almost three hours, but applauded the race committee for not trying desperately to get in a race.
Top 3 results:
High Performance Class (HPR - 4 Boats)
1. Decision, Stephen Murray , USA - 3, 1, ; 4
2. Rock & Roll, Bernard Girod , USA - 1, 4, ; 5
3. Riot, Marc Ewing , USA - 2, 3, ; 5
Mini Maxi Class (IRC 1) (IRC - 3 Boats)
1. Caol Ila R, Alex Schaerer , USA - 1, 2, ; 3
2. Bella Mente, Hap Fauth , USA - 3, 1, ; 4
3. Shockwave, George Sakellaris , USA - 2, 3, ; 5
52 Class (IRC 2) (IRC - 6 Boats)
1. Quantum Racing, Doug DeVos , USA - 1, 1, ; 2
2. Rán, Niklas Zennstrom , UK - 2, 2, ; 4
3. AZZURRA, Pablo A. Roemmers , ARG - 3, 3, ; 6
IRC 3 (IRC - 10 Boats)
1. Vitesse, Jon Halbert , USA - 2, 2, ; 4
2. Mahalo, Charles Kenahan , USA - 3, 3, ; 6
3. Arethusa, Phil Lotz , USA - 7, 1, ; 8
52 Class (Super Series) (One Design - 6 Boats)
1. Quantum Racing (SS), Doug DeVos , USA - 1, 1, ; 2
2. Rán (SS), Niklas Zennstrom , UK - 2, 2, ; 4
3. AZZURRA (SS), Pablo A. Roemmers , ARG - 3, 3, ; 6
Melges 32 (One Design - 7 Boats)
1. Hedgehog, Alec Cutler , BER - 1, 1, ; 2
2. Delta, Dalton DeVos , USA - 2, 3, ; 5
3. Groovederci, Deneen Demourkas , USA - 3, 4, ; 7
J 80 (One Design - 12 Boats)
1. Vayu2, Ron Buzil , USA - 1, ; 1
2. Shenanigans, Bill & Shannon Lockwood , USA - 2, ; 2
3. Courageous, Gary Panariello , USA - 3, ; 3
PHRF 1 (PHRF_ToT - 8 Boats)
1. Fireball, Team Fireball , USA - 1, ; 1
2. Spaceman Spiff, Rob and Ryan Ruhlman , USA - 2, ; 2
3. Stark Raving Mad IV, James Madden , USA - 3, ; 3
PHRF 2 (PHRF_ToT - 7 Boats)
1. Rush, Bill Sweetser , USA - 1, ; 1
2. Rhumb Punch, John and Linda Edwards , USA - 2, ; 2
3. Heat Wave, Gary Weisberg , USA - 3, ; 3