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GC32 foiling catamaran Argo having rounded the windward mark. Photo by Ingrid Abery
GC32 foiling catamaran Argo having rounded the windward mark. Photo by Ingrid Abery

Action Packed Key West Race Week

Classic champagne sailing was enjoyed across three divisions at Quantum Key West Race Week. The regatta opened in light airs and gathered momentum as the week progressed to the crescendo of a final day in the Conch Republic.

The renowned annual event drew sailors from across America, Mexico, Brazil and Europe including Ireland’s Conor Clarke and his Melges 24 team whose balance sheet listed eight first places. With a twenty one point buffer in the twelve strong fleet they needn’t have sailed their final race. “We were having a great time on the azure water. It was too good to miss,” commented crewmember Prof O’Connell. Helming the Melges 24, Embarr, was US Olympic 470 sailor Dave Hughes from Miami with his Olympic campaign crew Stuart McNay.

A new addition at Quantum Key West Race Week was the GC32 foiling catamaran. Four teams from Europe captivated spectators as even in the lighter airs their hulls achieved speeds in the low thirties downwind. A breakage midweek caused entrant Leenabarca to miss the challenging conditions on day five. It proved to be on-edge racing throughout the day. Early favorite team Argo from Newport failed to maintain a lead garnered early in the championship, dropping out due to a breakage in the penultimate race, finishing third overall behind Zoulou, second, and Armin Strom in first.

Heading the IRC1 class were three 72 ft Mini Maxis each with America’s Cup afterguard – Hap Fauth’s Bella Mente had Terry Hutchinson, Paul Cayard called tactics on Shockwave and Numbers chartered by Gunther Buerman, had four times AC winner Brad Buterworth. A discrepancy in charts listing a recent wreck resulted in Bella Mente, which draws 17.5 feet, leaving some of her keel on the submerged vessel on day three. Redress and average points were awarded for both races of the day. Subsequent protests from Shockwave and Numbers led the case to be reopened. Having originally accused the race committee of failing to note the wreck it transpired the Maxi’s European charts were incorrect. Average points were withdrawn and Bella Mente had to work harder to win the class silverware.

Going into the last day with low thirties breeze and a choppy seaway the JV72 Bella Mente had Numbers close on her hip throughout the four lap course. With six wins in the bag but still with only a one point delta going into the final race, Bella Mente skillfully managed to hold off Numbers and Shockwave to claim their fourth title at Quantum Key West Race Week.

Ten boats competed in the IRC2 class with an HPR sub-divisional rating. Returning pair Steve and Heidi Benjamin battled it out against KWRC first timer Bill Coates campaigning his Ker 43 Otra Vez. Ambitious in their outlook Coates and his team had sailed the asymmetric flyer for the first time only three days prior to the opening race. The class net was wide with three Swan 42s which performed well in the lighter airs. Former winner at Key West, Piet Vroon, from the Netherlands took delivery of Tonnerre 4 also a short time before racing started. Results across the class were close in both over-the-line and on corrected. The Ker 51 balanced podium positions in both the lighter conditions earlier in the regatta and the heavier at the tail end winning in both IRC2 and the HPR subclass.

The largest class, with 54 entries, was the J70 exhibiting a good depth of talent across the fleet. The youngest ever helmsman Gannon Troutman, at only twelve years of age, was aboard Pied Piper with his father at the pointy end. The team took a commendable fifth overall in class. They were just eclipsed by 2006 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Jud Smith in fourth place. Another holder of the accolade racing in the J70 fleet was Stephanie Roble, Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year winner in 2014.

It came down to three races per day in the more than generous breezes on Thursday and Friday to determine the overall J70 winner. With a race discard, Helly Hansen was able to drop their 55 point result in the final race to place third on the podium behind Mexico’s Flojito Y Cooperand in second and Calvi Network in first place. Calvi Network owner, Carlo Alberini, was also presented with the grand ‘Boat of the Week’ trophy.

Also new to Quantum Key West Race Week was the Farr 280 class. Launched in 2014, this one-design, 5/6 person grand prix racer fitted in both PHRF rating as well as competing in its own class. As with Division 1, Peter Craig (regatta chairman) worked hard to include a variety of ratings for all sailors. Carkeek 40 owner Stephen Murray from New Orleans, jumped at the last minute opportunity to charter a Farr 280 in the Keys and went on to secure second place overall behind team Red from the UK.

Nightly prize awards, panel discussions, and industry supporters in Quantum, Industry Partners, Mount Gay, Lewmar, Chelsea Clock and City of Key West meant the race village complemented the on-the-water action. All in all it was a spirited week in the Florida Keys.

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