Key West, FL, USA: One design sailing forms the backbone of the racing fleet at Quantum Key West Race Week 2016: out of the 133 entries from 16 countries lined up now to start racing on Monday, over 70% are competing in five classes at this event. Among racing purists many prefer one design sailing because the boats are all the same and it's therefore superior sail trim, teamwork and tactics that win each race.
Many one design sailors at Quantum Key West Race Week are repeat customers, having had numerous years of prior experience coming to this unique mid-winter venue, and all look forward to another great week of racing being held over Monday-Friday, January 17-22nd.
Rob Ruhlman is one, a Clevelander who has been competing here on and off for 15 years. His first trip to the Conch Republic in 1996 was with a Tripp 26, and he has returned again and again aboard such diverse one-designs as a Mumm 30, Mumm 36, 1D35, Farr 40 and Farr 400. This year Ruhlman will be returning to steer the latest of his boats called Spaceman Spiff in the J/111 class, the largest one-design at the event and which has nine entries from California, New York, Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts.
“This will be a tough crowd. I can't really look at this year's lineup and pick a favorite,” Ruhlman said. “That's the beauty of this class. It's a well-designed boat and they're all extremely close in terms of performance.”
Ruhlman always anticipates his annual pilgrimage to the southernmost point of the United States – mostly because of the high-level racing, but with the added bonus of getting away from the cold of Cleveland in mid-January. Ruhlman was thrilled when he heard the Storm Trysail Club was going to take over management of this iconic regatta this year from Premiere Racing.
“Key West is a one-of-a-kind regatta that cannot be duplicated. It would have been a darn shame had it gone away,” Ruhlman said. “We were really happy when we heard that Storm Trysail has come to the rescue. Some of the best racing I've ever done has been in Key West and you certainly can't beat the location.”
Spaceman Spiff placed second in a seven-boat class at Quantum Key West 2015 then went on to finish fifth at the J/111 World Championships. Perseverance (Bennett Greenwald, San Diego) and Wicked 2.0 (Douglas Curtiss, South Dartmouth, MA), which placed ninth and 12th at World Championship, are also here in Key West.
“It's going to be a week-long battle because winning Key West is a big deal,” Ruhlman said. “It's an interesting dynamic because the racing is incredible, but the regatta as a whole has a lot more casual feel to it than a lot of the other events we do. It's a much more relaxed atmosphere.”
The J/70 class is once again the largest class and most internationally diverse class in the regatta, with 54 boats from 10 countries, and is loaded with top-notch talent. Back to defend his regatta title this year is Italian skipper Carlo Alberini aboard Calvi Network, which was crowned as Quantum Sails Boat of the Week for 2015. He and his team of Sergio Blosi, Branko Brcin and Karlo Hmeljak will have a tough fight ahead of them this week.
One of the toughest will be Tim Healy, who with this team will be seeking his third class win in Key West. Healy and his team on Helly Hansen were victorious in 2013 when the J/70 debuted at Key West then earned Quantum Sails Boat of the Week honors after repeating in 2014. An OCS in the final race proved costly as Helly Hansen took third last year.
“We pushed the line a little too hard and paid the price,” Healy said. “We're really excited to sail this fleet. There are so many top teams that I couldn't even begin to name them all,” said Healy, president of North Sails One Design. “As always with a week-long regatta, consistency will be key. We can't afford any major mistakes like the one we made last year.”
Other top boats include Flojito y Cooperando (Julian Fernandez Neckelman of Mexico), the reigning J/70 World Champion with 2011 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Award winner Bill Hardesty calling tactics, and Africa (Jud Smith, Swampscott, MA), which finished second and fourth at Quantum Key West 2015. One of the biggest stories of last year's regatta was the impressive performance put forth by 12-year-old Gannon Troutman, who skippered Pied Piper to a fifth place finish in a loaded field.
As always in Key West, the all-amateur entries in the J/70 class will be scored separately with a Corinthian Division champion being crowned. Geoffrey Pierini (Rumson, NJ) and his crew on Surge along with Amy Neill (Chicago, IL) and the Nitemare team are the top returning Corinthian entries, having finished fourth and fifth a year ago.
The C&C 30 class is one of the big success stories at Quantum Key West Race Week 2016, making its one-design debut with 11 boats from 3 countries. This will be just the third one-design regatta in class history and president Dan Cheresh (Saugatuck, MI) called it a milestone moment.
“This is absolutely huge for the class because Key West is the biggest event in North America. It's a great spotlight for the C&C 30 and very important accomplishment in our early history to have such a strong and competitive turnout. There are some really talented amateur and pro sailors in our class, so I predict this will be a tough week,” Cheresh said.
Cheresh skippered his own C&C 30 Extreme2 to victory in the two previous one-design starts – at the New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta last June in Newport and the Storm Trysail Club's Annapolis Fall Regatta in October, with help from Olympic Silver medalist Morgan Reeser aboard as tactician. Other strong contenders in the class include James Madden (Newport Beach, CA) on his Stark Raving Mad VIII, who placed third in both Newport and Annapolis, and Walt Thirion (Annapolis, MD) and his Themis team who took second in both of these events.
“I am expecting the fleet to be very compressed at the top. It's a good group of boats with a lot of talent,” Cheresh said. “We are supposed to get some big breeze so that will make things interesting. We've never done close course racing in 20-25 knots with this many boats.”
A strong fleet of 13 Melges 24's will use Quantum Key West 2016 as a critical tune-up for the upcoming World Championship being held in March in Miami. Richard Reid (Port Credit, ONT) is the top returning skipper after sailing Zingara to third place here last year. That marked the start of a superb season for Zingara, which won the Canadian National Championship and finished 10th at U.S. Nationals.
“It looks like a very deep, talented fleet. We are really looking forward to the challenge,” said Reid, who will have reigning Melges 24 world champion Chris Rast aboard as tactician. “This is going to be really good prep for the Worlds because the ocean course conditions will be very similar to what we will see in Miami.”
While the World Championship is the ultimate focus for the 13 participating teams, a victory at Quantum Key West 2016 would be a tremendous springboard and confidence-boost. “Everyone wants to win Key West. It's one of the premier regattas in the world,” Reid said. “Every sailor wants that trophy on the mantle.”
The C&C 30, J/70's and Melges 24's will be racing on the Division 2 course area south of the island, with Storm Trysail's Dave Brennan (Miami, FL) running the races as Principal Race Officer. Up to three races a day will be held on this and the two other course areas used in the event.
Rounding out the one-design classes at this year's regatta is the J/88 Class, who with 8 entries hailing from the US and Canada are racing among the ORC 1 and ORC 2 classes on the Division 3 course area to the southeast of the island, with Storm Trysail's Wayne Bretsch as acting PRO.
In this class Rob Butler (Collingwood, ONT) is the defending champion on his Touch2Play Racing, earned last year in a tie-break by winning the last three races to overtake Iris Vogel (New Rochelle, NY) and her crew on Deviation at Quantum Key West 2015.
“We battled it out with Deviation all the way to the last race,” said Butler. “We did real well in the big breeze on Friday and that was the difference. We have a few more boats this year so it should be really fun and competitive. It looks like a very level playing field so I expect close racing all week.”
Deviation is back to make a run at Touch2Play while Butler believes a pair of newcomers – Blondie 2, co-skippered by Jeff Johnstone and Tod Patton from Newport, RI and a smaller Spaceman Spiff sailed by Ryan Ruhlman from Bratenahl, OH – may also provide stiff competition in the class.
“Key West is always a blast. You can count on great breeze and awesome weather. It's just a great way to start off the New Year,” said Butler, who keeps his J/88 at his winter home in Naples, Florida.
For more information the classes racing and how to enter Quantum Key West Race Week, visit www.keywestraceweek.com.