Thirty-five thousand feet over the Atlantic Ocean, just overhead Hamilton, Bermuda, I am very happy to be escaping a particularly wet and windy English winter. I'm flying to Miami en route to one of the world's most enduring and popular sailboat regattas - Key West Race Week. I have taken part at Key West on a few occasions, but the last visit was in 2006 and I decided a return was well overdue. Florida in January is always an attractive proposition, but Key West is especially appealing with temperatures at this time of year typically in the low 70s, turquoise waters, blue skies (most of the time) and generally reliable breezes. It's hard to resist, especially for UK sailors used to brown water and grey skies, even in summer. Home over the years to the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Jimmy Buffett (Margaritaville on Duval Street is a legendary watering hole made famous by the Buffett song), it's just about the most laid back and fun regatta venue I know.
Celebrating 27 years since its inception, this year's Key West Race Week has as usual attracted some of the top sailors from around the world. We are competing in the J/70 class and are up against some very talented crews, including World Champions, Olympic medalists, and the current World Match Racing Champion. As the only non-north American entry in a fleet of 62 boats, we are keen to see how our boatspeed compares with the US boats; the class has grown fast and become very competitive just in the last twelve months. First launched in late 2012, this lightweight, trailerable design has attracted over 500 new owners in the eighteen months since, and the racing is always extremely close.
My long time sailing buddy, Dan Brown, and I have, this year, teamed up with Ruairidh Scott and Ben Field who led the team that won the inaugural J/70 European Championships in Lake Garda, Italy last September. I have sailed against Ruairidh and Ben in different classes- 1720 Sportsboat, J/80 - and been beaten by them most of the time, so this is definitely a case of 'if you can't beat them, join them'! We are hoping to qualify for the British team that will attend the first World Championships for the class in Newport, Rhode Island in September. The fleet for the Worlds has been capped at 120 boats and competitors have to qualify in their National events in order to take part. Key West is our first regatta together and the learning curve is sure to be steep.
They say that a boat owner should buy bigger boats as he/she gets older - the maxim used to be one foot of overall length for every yearof age. On that basis the 23 foot J70 is over 30 feet too short for me,but its light structure, carbon rig, strict one-design rules, as well as the ability to plane downwind in under 15 knots make it irresistible to a sailing nut like me. I just hope I don't let the young guys down...
There are practice events this weekend, and then racing proper starts Monday and continues through Friday. I am planning to provide updates during the week - but that is likely to depend on whether we've got news we want to share! Wish us luck.
For more information, visit the J/70 Class website.
Quantum Key West Race Week