Winning Strategies for Key West

On Sunday afternoon, prior to the Skippers Meeting, plenty of people mingled on Caroline Street to check-in with the stars of American Football to watch the NFC Championship game.

At Kelly’s Caribbean Courtyard, Ed Baird, winner of the 2014 52 Super Series and 2007 America’s Cup helmsman moderated an All-Star panel to discuss winning strategies at Key West. The combined panel has a long list of accomplishments.

L-R Taylor Canfield, Terry Hutchinson, Jonathan McKee, Scott Nixon, Jud Smith and Nick TurneySBenton | Quantum Key West 2015 Blog

L-R Taylor Canfield, Terry Hutchinson, Jonathan McKee, Nick Turney, Jud Smith and Scott Nixon

Panel Members:

  • Terry Hutchinson – Recipient of US Sailing’s 2014 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Award and tactician onboard the J/V 72 Mini Maxi Bella Mente.
  • Olympic Gold and Bronze medal winner and 3-time Melges 24 world champion tactician, Jonathan McKee, calling tactics for Greg Slyngstad onboard the J/125 Hamachi.
  • Taylor Canfield – 2013 ISAF Match Racing World Champion – one of the youngest sailors ever to claim this title. Tactician for Bob Hughes J/70 Heartbreaker.
  • Jud Smith, a multi-class One Design  champ that includes winning the Etchells 22 North American Champion six times.  Racing his J/70 Africa with family.
  • Nick Turney, Quantum One Design sailmaker and 2014 J24 World and National Champion, tactician onboard Rob Ruhlman’s J/111 Spaceman Spiff
  • Scott Nixon of Quantum Sails One Design and tactician onboard George Gamble’s J/111 My Sharona

Topics ranged from reading weather and current to tested, tried and true methods for race preparation. The standing-room-only crowd was more interested in the little details, and how they can add up to determine winning over placing in Key West. Here’s a collection of good advice and quotable quotes. The full panel discussion is available at the Premiere Racing Event page.

Prepartion: Terry Hutchinson – Racing in a 3-boat class, there are challenges for a Maxi – we look at the momentum and slingshot effect coming off the line…with 30 tons, that is a challenge! Our emphasis is to get out to the race course early, and setting up practice runs to make sure we hit the line with speed.

Jonathan McKee-The first 3 minutes are really key getting off the line. Under IRC, we can’t change sails – so we have to select the right sails for the wind conditions. In lighter wind – the middle of the course is pretty dangerous – we trend toward one side or the other.  The conditions are not generally straight oscillations.

With the northerly conditions: Taylor Canfield added we’ve seen some huge shifts (up to 20 degrees) – it is important to have leverage out to one side.

Jud Smith – What is unique about the J/70, is you have to pick your rig setting before the race, so you don’t want to get caught out in light air with the wrong rig setup. Watch for the wind pressure –Reading the wind on the water is unique here – the color of the water can be deceiving – finding and getting to the pressure first, whether upwind or down is really important.

Nick Turney – Our approach is to be conservative-minimize risks and potential losses. We spend time doing a lot of wind shots to track the wind trends.

Ed Baird: Where is the best place to start?

Jud Smith – With this race committee, if you are over, they’re gonna catch ya! Where’s the safe place to start? You stand a better chance of being somewhere on the line where it’s “not too busy”

Nick Turney – With 7 boats in the J/111 fleet – get off the line clean and utilize the first shift, and get away from traffic.

Taylor Canfield – A lot of the time our goal is to get off the line and go straight. We won at Etchells this summer just going straight, and using our boat speed. Ed Baird: What is a good plan to get off the line if you are not the best starting team? Start where it is easier, not as crowded. 50% of the guys starting at the favored end will be washed out the back.

Questions from the Audience:
What do you trust more, your Bowman or your Software?
Jonathan Mckee  We find the Velocitek – the bow guy works well if you are at the ends and with all of the respect to the bowmen who have a tough job at the front, I put faith in the numbers.

Terry Hutchinson We use both – they are both good sources of information plus I listen to the helmsman too. Pings are reliable, but there can be human error on both sides.

Ed Baird –  How many points do you think you will have when you  finish the week – (No one was keen on offering up definitive numbers, the cards were being held close to the collective chests on this one!

Jud Smith – If there is  lighter (air) in the series, the points will go up more quickly. You’ve got to stay in the game and monitor the top boats, and stay engaged with those boats throughout the week.

Taylor Canfield – Pick off as many boats as you can.

Scott Nixon – In a smaller fleet, the average number goes lower. We think it will be a tactical race – the mid 20’s could be a winning number

Ed Baird – In summary, you don’t want the big number at the beginning of the week!

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