The road to Quantum Key West Race Week takes many forms: some boats arrive on trailers, some come after being delivered from their commissioning sites in West Palm Beach or Ft Lauderdale. But some do it the old-fashioned way: by racing. The Storm Trysail Club’s annual Ft Lauderdale – Key West Race has that appeal for some who want to get to Race Week fast, as well as for others who just enjoy an offshore romp down the Florida Keys.
Classic South Florida conditions welcomed everyone to the start of this year’s 41st edition, which attracted 37 boats in six classes and got underway on Jan. 13.
Defending champion Steve Benjamin hit the line with speed following a well-executed gybe-set and steered his TP52 Spookie to the coveted pin end ahead of the Cookson 50 Privateer (Ron O’Hanley, Boston, MA) to win the start of the IRC class.
Frank Atkinson (West Palm Beach) and his team aboard the J/125 Raisin’ Cane outdueled the Swan 80 Chessie Racing (George Collins, Miami Beach) to win the coveted pin end in the PHRF 1 class.
Winds held steady in the double digits throughout the 160-nautical mile race with brothers David and Peter Askew (Baltimore, MD) sailing the Reichel-Pugh 74-footer Wizard to line honors. Spookie came across second, 1:25:33 behind the scratch boat in the fleet. \
“What a fantastic race. We really love doing that feeder race,” said Benjamin, who found out upon arrival in Key West that he’d been named Rolex Yachtsman of the Year. “While it was a bit frustrating at times, it was a super fun race.”
Benjamin was referring to the fact his boat could not seem to settle into a stable breeze for a good portion of the passage.
“We had a lot of wind out of the northeast so we would go pretty high with the Code Zero paralleling the reef. The winds would get lighter and we would change to a 2 ½ spinnaker and gybe to get off the reef,” Benjamin explained. “We would quickly get lifted on port and have to gybe starboard back toward the stalled front. Then we would see winds like 50 to 70 degrees. We’d get blown off course. We’d get about a mile offshore and have to change back to the Code Zero again in order to sail higher again and out of it.”
Benjamin said it was “like Groundhog Day. We repeated it over and over and over again.” So the skipper called for a meeting of the minds so the afterguard could figure out how to attack the situation.
“We finally got our heads together and asked: What is the pattern here? What is causing this? We figured it was because we were on the edge of the stalled front,” he said. “So we sailed a little deeper into it and found more solid breeze.”
Spookie finished sixth while Wizard wound up last among 10 boats on corrected time. Decision, a Carkeek 40 skippered by Stephen Murray of New Orleans, secured the victory in IRC.
BadFish, a Melges 32 owned by Bill Bollin of Sylvania Ohio, beat a bunch of bigger boats in PHRF 1 with Collins and his crew on Chessie Racing coming in second on corrected. Gary Weisberg, skipper of the J/111 Heat Wave, was doing the Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race for the third time and said the key is to remain as far inside as possible in order to avoid the current.
“We were the inside boat for most of the race and were doing well until about three in the morning. Unfortunately, we got passed toward the end and wound up third,” Weisberg said. “Overall it was a good race. We got the boat up to almost 16 knots on the downwind and put 14 hours on our A2.”
Spookie and Heat Wave are among several boats that did the feeder race and are now competing at Quantum Key West 2016. Arethusa, a Gunboat 60 owned by Phil Lotz of Fort Lauderdale, topped the six-boat multihull fleet in its maiden distance race. “It was a great opportunity for us to learn the boat a bit and practice our crew work,” Lotz said.
The Storm Trysail Club, which organizes both the Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race and Quantum Key West 2016, would like to see more owners compete in both events. STYC even offered a discounted entry rate into Quantum Key West 2016 to any boat that also competed in the feeder race.
“Many of the boats that did the feeder race this year would have fit well into some of the classes being contested during the regatta,” said Dick Neville, race committee chairman for Quantum Key West 2016. “There was once a time when almost all the boats participating in the feeder race stayed and did Key West Race Week. We are hoping to renew that tradition.”
For complete results of the Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race, please click on the following link: http://www.yachtscoring.com/event_scratch_sheet.cfm?eID=1520