By Bill Wagner
Sailors at Quantum Key West 2014 could learn a lot about strategy and tactics by attending the annual panel discussion featuring some of the finest professionals participating in the regatta. A large audience packed into the tent at Kelly's Caribbean Grill to watch America's Cup veteran Ed Baird moderate "Winning Strategies for Key West," which featured a lively discussion of numerous topics.
Andrew Kerr, Dave Ullman, Mark Reynolds, Terry Hutchinson, Jonathan McKee and Jud Smith have a wealth of combined experience racing off the Conch Republic and shared some of the secrets they have learned over the years.
Smith, a legendary sailmaker from Marblehead, Mass., is competing in J/70 class for the second consecutive year at Key West and said there was one constant in 2013. "It seemed like you always had to be in those lefty puffs. It was almost uncanny how often the left-hand side paid off," said Smith, a former Rolex Yachtsman of the Year.
Ullman, who has won Key West in the Melges 24 class and is currently racing a J/70, said it's important for competitors to arrive a few days early and practice as often as possible in order to get accustomed to the wide range of conditions in Key West.
"We start sailing Thursday and by the time the regatta gets going we've sailed in just about everything," Ullman said. "In five days here, you're going to see everything. So you better be set up and tuned for the full wind range."
Hutchinson, another former Rolex Yachtsman of the Year with vast America's Cup experience, is tactician aboard Quantum Racing in the 52 Class. The veteran pro talked about the importance of minimizing of maneuvers.
"You want to start from a position to make the entire beat in three tacks. Every time you maneuver, you take a step back," he said.
Reynolds, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time Star world champion, is calling tactics for skipper Jon Halbert aboard the Swan 42 Vitesse in IRC 3. Reynolds readily admitted he pays attention to what is happening elsewhere on the course.
"I absolutely watch the classes ahead. You want to see what angles the boats are sailing and where the winds shifts are," he said.
McKee, another Olympic medalist, is calling tactics for Dalton DeVos on Delta in the seven-boat Melges 32 class. McKee noted the difference between finishing third and fifth in a particular race could make a big difference at week's end
"In a smaller fleet, the team that ultimately wins is the one that wins those small battles. You have to fight for every position," he said.