For the past 30 years, sailors from all over the world have gathered in Key West, Florida, each January for Key West Race Week (KWRW), a regatta that has achieved legendary status due to its calendar dates (this year’s regatta runs January 15-20), its location, and the impressive level of competition, racecourse management and overall organization that this Grand Prix level event offers.
Stir in Key West’s turquoise-colored waters, its typically breezy conditions, and its world-class night life, and it becomes clear why KWRW has emerged as the most important big-boat regatta that’s contested annually on American waters during the winter months.
Having had the pleasure of attending this storied regatta in 2008, I can personally attest to the fact that the rumors are all true, ranging from those that pertain to perfect spinnaker rides to those involving the nocturnal madness known as Duvall Street.
But while most racing sailors enjoy raising a pint or three in the evening, the thing we love most is a well-run regatta that offers plenty of racing amongst a wide-range of competitive classes. A quick glance at this year’s scratch sheet reveals a staggering 11 entries in the 52 Super Series class (read: TP52s), nine entries in the J/111 class, five entries in the C&C 30 class, 42 entries in the J/70 class (11 of whom are racing for Corinthian honors), two multihulls, four performance-cruising entries, seven entries in the J/88 class, nine entries in the ORC class, and seven entries in the Flying Tiger 7.5m class.
All told, this translates to 96 boats racing on three courses, not to mention hundreds of sailors, family members and support professionals and personnel. In short, this complex and dynamic regatta requires expert management to pull off with aplomb.
I caught up with Dick Neville, Race Committee chairman for this year’s Quantum-sponsored KWRW, to learn more about the challenges of organizing this high-level event.
What have been the biggest logistical hurdles in preparing for this year’s KWRW over previous year’s of this storied regatta?
This is the Storm Trysail Club’s second year running this regatta, so in fact it has been a little easier this time. A big hurdle for this event [is] the permits required-there are seven times more than any other event we run. We have a new shore side venue at The Waterfront Brewery, so that is definitely a hurdle, but we think it will be a great venue. Accommodations for the Race Committee [are] a big hurdle and getting harder, as are slips for race committee boats.
Attracting customers may be the biggest hurdle for this event. It is not an easy location to get to, even for U.S. sailors. It is a full week, not held during summer holidays, in fact it is immediately after the year-end holiday break, so time is a big hurdle for your average sailing team.
What classes do you expect the stiffest competition and why?
The 11 52’s in the Super Series Class is the grand prix class this year. Now sailing even up, few new players, fully professional, support programs for each team, on-the-water umpiring, means some serious competition will ensue. The other one-design classes are very competitive as well: 40+ J/70s is always a good battle as many bigger boat owners have down-sized and the majority have pros on board. The J/111s are out in force and the J/88s are a growing class.
How would you describe this year’s KWRW to an regatta veteran who has not been down to the Conch Republic for say 5 or 10 years? How has the event evolved and grown?
Key West is still the best place to race in January in the U.S. mainland. In the last five to ten years it has evolved into a mostly One Design event. Handicap racing is suffering in many areas of the U.S. Between the recession and too many rules, handicap racing has taken a back seat to the One Design classes. A veteran would see many more professional programs.
How many racecourses will you be running, and how many races are you hoping to get in, provided that Mother Nature cooperates?
We have three racing circles and we hope to have ten races on Divisions 1 and 3 and hopefully 12 races on Division 2.
There’s been a lot of talk about course shapes in recent years-do you plan on setting straight windward-leeward courses, or do you think we’ll see some reaching legs this year?
The sailors and boats racing in this regatta want windward-leeward courses. This is a high-level event and W-L is what they are set up for, so any variation to that format makes it more difficult. If the customers asked for a variation of windward-leeward [courses], we would certainly accommodate them. We do offer short distance races for [the] multihull and performance cruising classes.
Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?
For those who suffered through cold temperatures and big breeze last time, the long-range forecast calls for proper Key West conditions this time–warm and sunny with moderate breeze–just the way it is supposed to be!
by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA