January 13, 2017
Jonathan McKee calls tactics on the J/122 Hamachi in 2016.
Photo - Courtesy Sharon Green/Ultimate Sailing
Olympian, world champion and top notch coach Jonathan McKee reviews some handy tips for success at Quantum Key West Race Week
KEY WEST, Fla. – Quantum Key West Race Week is an unusual regatta because it runs for five days. The wind also tends to be relatively steady. This leads to a success-focused formula based on continuous improvement in boatspeed and minimizing tactical risk.
Consider a few key points.
Use your practice days effectively
Since this is the first regatta of the season for most, it’s vital to use your pre-regatta time to get up to speed, develop reliable boathandling, and remember how to start. Spend less time loitering on the dock or tinkering with the boat, and more time on the water.
Focus on upwind boatspeed
The wind is often pretty steady, so the way to win is to be fast. Try to learn a little something each race, and continually get faster as the week wears on.
Develop a consistent starting approach
Because of the relatively steady wind, and often a left-side favor, getting a clean start that allows you to go straight for the first 3 to 4 minutes of the race is critical. Do at least one practice start each morning, working on your time and distance to ensure you can start with speed and space to leeward.
While there are often upwind shifts worth playing, you have to be careful to not tack too often, as the edges often pay at the top of the beat.
Avoid boathandling errors
There is usually at least one windy day, and often two or more, so having confidence in your boathandling will make all the difference. As with developing speed, spend time each day to improve your tacks, jibes, and spinnaker work. This will allow you to continually improve and go into the last part of the regatta with confidence.
Stay in the game on the tricky days
Often there is a day or two with big shifts or unstable wind. You don’t need to win these races, but you can take yourself out of the running if you fail to get decent scores. So manage risk but keep your eyes open and look for the bigger trends. It’s a long regatta, so never give up. I’ve seen many Key West winners that were not at the top halfway through the regatta.
Stay in the strongest wind downwind
Look for lanes of pressure and stay in them as much as possible. The wind is quite visible in Key West, so have a designated wind spotter to help keep you in pressure.
Have fun, but not too much fun
My general strategy, developed over many years, is to enjoy myself early, but get to bed at a reasonable hour. Closing down the Green Parrot rarely leads to a top performance the next day.
Enjoy the place
Key West is a very cool town, with a lot of culture and a free spirit. Soak it in, look around, listen to some music. It usually helps to check the weather back home every now and then, just to keep things in perspective. A bad day in Key West is still better than a good day in the office, at least for most of us.
Note: This story was published in the Quantum Key West Race Week 30th anniversary commemorative program. Download the story here.
Platinum Sponsors: Quantum Sails (Title Sponsor and Official Sailmaker), Florida Keys & Key West (Presenting Sponsor), B&G (Official Marine Electronics), Gill NA (Official Apparel), Lewmar (Official Marine Hardware), Marlow (Official Rope) and Mount Gay Rum (Official Rum).
Gold Sponsors: Classic Harbor Line (Official Spectator Vessel), Foiling RIBs, Gowrie Group, J/Boats, Key West Historic Inns, Red Stripe Beer (Official Beer), Sailing World (Official US Magazine), Seahorse International Sailing (Official European Magazine) and Waterfront Brewery (Official Venue).
ABOUT QUANTUM KEY WEST RACE WEEK
The racing at Quantum Key West Race Week will be conducted under permit in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of critical marine habitat, including coral reef, hard bottom, seagrass meadow, mangrove communities and sand flats. For more information, please visit floridakeys.noaa.gov.
ABOUT THE STORM TRYSAIL CLUB
The Storm Trysail Club is one of the world's most respected sailing organizations. Founded in 1938 and consisting of ten stations, the Storm Trysail Club boasts an international, merit-based membership consisting of sailors who have demonstrated expert leadership offshore or in the management of the sport. The Storm Trysail Club encourages safe offshore racing and cruising by its members' example in sailing under its burgee, organizing regattas, developing and sharing safety standards, and promoting good fellowship among sailors. As a result, its members influence the highest levels of yachting as competitors, organizers, race committee, and supporters. The Storm Trysail Club hosts popular race weeks at Block Island and Key West, and organizes iconic offshore races such as the annual Block Island Race, the biennial Pineapple Cup race to Montego Bay, the Transatlantic Race with partner clubs, and a fresh list of events near and offshore. The Storm Trysail Club also has a strong commitment to sharing its wealth of experience with others, youth sailors in particular, through its affiliated charitable organization, The Storm Trysail Foundation, which hosts safety seminars and the Intercollegiate Offshore Regatta for college sailors in big boats. For more information, visit www.stormtrysail.org.