The Storm Trysail Club has promised to maintain all the elements that have made Quantum Key West Race Week such a popular event while introducing innovations designed to increase participation.
With the release of the official Notice of Race, organizers with the Storm Trysail Club have proposed several new elements for Quantum Key West Race Week 2016. A harbor course area for smaller sailboats, distance racing for Performance Cruising designs and replacing PHRF with the International ORC rating system are among the creative ideas found in the new NOR.
John Fisher, regatta chairman for Quantum Key West Race Week, said the changes were made in response to feedback from both the United States and international sailboat racing community. Storm Trysail Club conducted a survey of past and potential participants seeking comments on what could be done to improve the event.
“We believe the sailing constituency that revolves around Key West was looking for something different,” Fisher said. “Many, many elements of the regatta are tried and true, but there are other things that needed to be tweaked. We are listening to the sailors that care about Key West Race Week and are attempting to address their desires and needs.”
Cost has become a concern for some of the amateur programs that were a staple of Key West Race Week at its peak when more than 300 boats were competing on an annual basis. Participation at the annual midwinter regatta took a hit during the worldwide economic downturn as many of the mom and pop programs just could not afford to spend seven days in the Conch Republic.
“One of the things we’ve heard repeatedly involves the expense of the regatta. Key West is a very popular tourist destination and therefore the cost of meals and lodging can be considerable,” Fisher said.
To address that issue, Storm Trysail is offering the great racing experience of the event condensed into a three-day regatta format for those classes that choose to do so. Fisher said racing would be held Wednesday through Friday for those classes so participants are included in the final awards ceremony.
“Housing and feeding a crew for four or five days as opposed to eight or nine reduces the expense to a level that is more palatable for a segment of boat owners,” Fisher said. “We’re hoping that holding a regatta within a regatta will bring back a segment of skippers who stopped doing Key West because of the cost.”
Acknowledging the declining interest in PHRF racing at Key West has prompted Storm Trysail to make alterations aimed to attract those types of boats anew. One idea is to provide distance racing for Performance Cruising designs, whose skippers would prefer to sail one long race that traverses the keys as opposed to multiple buoy starts. This should be appealing to more casual racers who may not be participating with a complete crew or simply prefer navigation-style courses.
Dick Neville, race committee chairman for Quantum Key West, pointed out that 42 boats competed in last year’s Fort Lauderdale-to-Key West Race, but only four of them entered Quantum Key West 2015.
“We need to give those boat owners a reason to enter our regatta and I think one distance race each day could do that,” Neville said. “My experience is that those Performance Cruising boats would prefer that type of format. We could give them a different course each day and finish them near the harbor so they get back to the dock faster.”
In fact, it is the intention of organizers to eliminate PHRF racing altogether – a strategy that has prompted them to look for solutions offered by the Offshore Racing Congress (ORC), an international organization sanctioned by the International Sailing Federation and supported by users in 40 countries around the world. Having evolved from IOR and IMS roots, the organization currently administers two systems – ORC International (ORCi) and ORC Club, both of which are being proposed for use at Quantum Key West Race Week.
Neville noted that nearly 10,000 ORCi and ORC Club certificates will be issued in 2015, and the hope is that adopting the system for Quantum Key West will encourage more foreign owners to register. ORCi is the system used for full-measured boats participating at the highest levels of competition while the ORC Club is intended more for club-based programs.
“We had to face the reality that PHRF boats have been disappearing from the regatta and the logical solution is to offer a different rating system that is more popular worldwide,” said Neville, pointing out that ORC provides three different ratings for windward-leeward courses based on whether the wind is light, medium or heavy. “One of our goals is to attract more overseas boats to Key West, and we are encouraging owners who may have raced PHRF in the past to obtain an ORC Club certificate.”
Storm Trysail is also expecting to attract a whole new fleet of boats by offering a “Harbor Racing Circle.” That shorter course would be set just outside of the Fleming Key Cut. To accommodate the new course, Division 1 will be shifted east where there is deeper water.
Several Viper 640s have already entered Quantum Key West Race Week 2016 and organizers believe the Harbor Racing Circle would also be ideal for Melges 20s, VX Ones, F18 Catamarans and M32 Catamarans.
“The New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta has shown that stadium racing attracts an audience of non-sailors who are onshore,” Fisher said. “It will be a slow build, but we would like to create a course that would allow Key West locals and tourists to view some sailboat racing. That would increase awareness of the regatta within the city.”
Storm Trysail is also bringing back a class that was once a staple of Key West Race Week – the Corsair 28. Those speedy trimarans have not competed in the regatta since 2011 when they were part of a Multihull Division. Neville reports that four Corsair 28-footers have already entered Quantum Key West Race Week 2016 and is encouraging other multihull designs to consider coming to the regatta.
A Quantum Key West Race Week organizing committee that numbers in the double digits. Fisher said the committee has a weekly conference call to discuss strategies, provide sub-committee reports and brainstorm ideas for how to improve the event with the goal of increasing entries by at least 20 percent.
Bill Canfield has come aboard as on-site event manager and will be moving to Key West to provide a permanent presence. Herb Reese, a longtime Key West Race Week volunteer, will arrive in the Conch Republic several months before the regatta to help prepare Truman Annex and other shore-side support services.
“We have put together a committee comprised of people with vast experience running regattas,” Fisher said. “We’ve had boots on the ground in Key West already to meet with city leaders and look into the various logistical challenges. We are doing our best to build relationships and develop the organizational infrastructure well in advance of the regatta.”
Ed Reynolds, president of Quantum Sail Design Group, said the title sponsor was pleased with the innovative ideas proposed by the Storm Trysail Club leadership to keep Key West Race Week on the cutting edge.
“Storm Trysail Club has reached out to the sailing community for input on how to improve and grow Quantum Key West Race Week and is taking steps to satisfy the needs and desires of the sailors,” Reynolds said. “We’re pleased to see the proposed innovations designed to spark more interest and we’re looking forward to a great event.”