January 13, 2017

How to make the Best of 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.

Minimize tacks
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.

—Jonathan McKee