Today marks the first day of racing here in Key West. With entries from 18 countries, 60 foreign boats and 2,500 sailors, the Acura Key West Race Week is without a doubt the most popular winter appointment for sailors worldwide.

Practice over the past three days leading up to today’s start saw conditions ranging from 6-8 knots on Friday, to 10-15 on Saturday and 25-30 on Sunday. Not many ventured out today and some of those who did had more excitement than they desired.

This event has 16 classes, from PHRF to IRC, to the very competitive one design classes like Farr 40, Melges 32, Melges 24 and the Club Swan 42. The 16 classes are spread out over four races areas…that means four race committees, lots of buoys, anchors, anchor lines, spare anchor lines, horns, etc. You get the idea… a BIG organization. Peter Craig and his team at Premiere Racing do an excellent job of not only running the event but promoting it, gathering corporate support and offering an event that fosters interest in our sport.

I am sailing with Fred and Steve Howe on their Farr 40 Warpath. I raced with the Howes in 2005 in Sydney in the Farr 40 Worlds where we finished a credible 4th. The Farr 40 Class is extremely competitive (25 entries here) with a nice mix onboard of four pros and six amateurs per boat. The helmsman is required to be an amateur, as well as the owner of the boat. Many of the top names in the sport are tacticians in this Class, including Terry Hutchinson, Dean Barker, Peter Isler, Brad Butterworth, Vasco Vascotto, Tony Rey, Gavin Brady, Morgan Larsson, Jeff Madrigali, to name a few….The other three pros on the boats are usually the mainsheet trimmer, a headsail trimmer and the bow man. Most all the pros in this class also race in the America’s Cup.

Having said all that, one of the best things about Key West Race Week is that there are so many passionate amateur sailors here….people who take vacation time and often pay their own expenses to come down here. These are the people who make up the heart and soul of our sport. This is there celebration of sailing.

To honor this passion, a few of us pros participated in a round table conference yesterday afternoon for one hour, just before the skippers’ meeting at 1700. Peter Isler, Terry Hutchinson, Larry Leonard, Riccardo Simoneschi, Kimo Worthington and myself reviewed a Farr 40 race from Key West 2007, using a software program called Kattack. Kattack plots the course of each boat and creates a graphical depiction of the race. Each of us was assigned to be the tactician of one of the race boats. The “race” was stopped a several interesting situations where were asked to comment on what was going through our mind relative to the fleet, the wind direction, even our position in the race at that time and weather risks or conservatism was warranted. The session was surprisingly well received, especially considering the Chargers were playing New England at that time. I think Kattack may be available on line to those of you who could not get down here to Key West in person.

Today’s forecast is for 25-30 knots of wind. My guess is that if this forecast holds true, Peter Craig and his team will postpone the start of Race 1 which is currently scheduled for 1030 EST. It is the first day of a long week and no point in breaking everyone’s gear on day one. The wind may moderate enough in the afternoon for us to get one or two races in.

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