Lessons for Success: Tips from 2014 Winners by Wally Cross

The BYC Port Huron to Mackinac race starts July 19. The best way to prepare is to gather information and find out what’s worked well in the past. I talked to last year’s winners in search of tips that could help you get your boat and crew ready for this year’s race. Here’s what the winners had to say, as well as some of my own tips.

  • Congratulation on last year’s finish. Was your finish more luck or good preparation?

The majority of owners and skippers felt they were well prepared for the race. The teams that did well made their own luck by setting themselves up for fortunate outcomes. Good race plans and the willingness to adjust strategies provided enough luck to help these teams win.

  • Can you list specific things that contributed to your finish?

Reaching sails, good watch systems, changes in strategy, experience, routing, speed, wind shift, and luck were just a few of the answers I received. There are many combinations of these that add up to a great finish. 

  • How did you research weather?

One boat had the ability to download GRIBB files from a satellite phone while others used local internet providers. Only a few boats downloaded weather information prior to the race, and the rest took notes. The online services used include:

  1. Sail flow
  2. Windfinder
  3. Lake Erie WX
  4. NOAA Buoy

Some of the winners looked at the weather a week prior, while others waited until race day.

  • What watch system did you use?

Most skippers agreed: a watch system is most important near the end of the race. There was no question that the teams that were well-rested performed better than the boats that tried to sail without rest. The majority of owners liked sailing with two teams rotating four hours on, four hours off. Others liked bringing up one or two crew each hour, or two around-the-clock to not disrupt the boat. One consistent class winner believes he has a team that works well from midnight to 4 a.m. while others like to change the rotation each day.

A system that encourages rest early in the race is much better than no system at all. Regardless of your system, you need a good helmsman, trimmer, and bow person on each watch.

  • Was there a particular sail that helped?

The majority of the teams agreed that there was not a secret weapon, but having a good sail that can reach was necessary. A code 0 was a nice sail to have not only reaching, but also when the wind turned light.

  • Do you have a cross over chart?

Only one team had a sail cross over chart. All agreed that sail changes were based on past experience and a gut feel.

(I was surprised to hear this because I feel a cross over chart eliminates loss discussion time.)

  • Do you sail polar angles and speed?

Two boats had information on polar angles and speeds, but none of them said they used that information. All agreed that sailing by the seat-of-their-pants worked. All the boats have sailed numerous Mackinac races and felt they understood the proper angle and speed to sail. 

(This is more the exception than the mean. I encourage all boats to understand your polar angle and speed in offshore races, as well as target speed and angle around the buoys.)

  • Did you follow an early strategy? Did you have to change your strategy during the race?

All of the boats admit to having a strategy based on weather and past experience. Half the boats stuck to their strategies while others adjusted based on early tactical decisions. The time of day also had an impact on the decisions made during the race: all the shore-course winners made gains sailing close to shore during the day. It’s great to have a sound strategy, but weather and timing sometimes make it necessary to alter the strategy up the course. 

  • What do you do at night to stay fast?

All the boats took pride in sailing well at night. The majority claim it was the most important time of the race because others were sailing slowly. Three things to consider when sailing at night are:

  1. Are you sailing the favored board?
  2. Do you have the proper sail up?
  3. Are you steering and trimming optimally?

Most of the boats used flash lights to illuminate telltales to help with trim and steering. Some of the winners relied on the instruments to help steer and trim.

  • Do you look at Yellow Brick Tracking? If so, how often?

They all tracked their progress against their competitors with Yellow Brick, which has changed the sport of long distance sailing by allowing sailors to track the competition. It’s something all boats should do to see if your strategy is working. The only problem for the Cove Island course boats was the lack of internet coverage – one boat spent $4000 on satellite service to use Yellow Brick. 


  • Do you clean the bottom of your boat prior to the race?

All the boats are cleaned either the day before or before the start, minus one. One skipper uses a paint that does not need cleaning prior to any race throughout the entire year – sounds too good to be true!

  • How many crew do you race with?

Most of the boats race with 8-14 crew members depending on the size of the boat. The talent of the crew was more important than the number though. Many of the teams made sure there were at least two good helmsmen per watch.

  • What will you do better this year?

Most of the skippers were secretive regarding this year’s improvements, but I know each of the owners I spoke to will make sure their boats, sails, electronics, and crew are ready.

There are no secrets to sailing, and there are no absolute answers either. After speaking with each skipper it’s clear that each winner had a system they have perfected over years of sailing. It is the individual belief of each team that good things will happen when they use their system.   

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Winning Weekend For Quantum’s Melges Teams

Quantum-powered Melges teams enjoyed victories in the US and Europe last weekend, winning in Italy and at Charleston.

In Loano, Italy, Alessandro Rombelli and tactician Francesco Bruni won the Melges 32 Audi-Tron Sailing Series on STIG. Cut short by 40 knot winds on the last day, sailors completed six races during the event. With five top-five finishes – including two firsts – STIG was named 2015 Melges 32 Audi-Tron Sailing Series Loano Champions with 11 points.

On the other side of the ocean, Jason Michas on Midnight Blue won the 2015 Melges 20 US National Championship at Sperry Charleston Race Week. Quantum sails dominated the division, finishing 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 in a 22-boat fleet.

Also winning were Paul Currie on Wild Deuces, taking first place in the Melges 20 Corinthian division, and Jens Altern Wathne on Party Girl in the Melges 24 Corinthian division.

Congratulations to everyone on a great weekend!

Melges 32 Audi-Tron Sailing Series Loano Championship
1 – Alessandro Rombelli, STIG

Melges 20 US National Championship
1 – Jason Michas, Midnight Blue
2 – Richard Davies, Section 16
3 – Tom Kassberg, Flygfisk
4 – Cesar Gomes Neto, Portobello
5 – Bruce Golison, Midlife Crisis
6 – Drew Wierda, Peshmerga
7 – Wes Whitmyer, Jr., Slingshot

Melges 20 US National Championship – Corinthian Division
1 – Paul Currie, Wild Deuces

Melges 24 US National Championship – Corinthian Division
1 – Jens Altern Wathne, Party Girl

For full results from the Melges 32 Audi-Tron Sailing Series Loano Championship, click here

For full results from the Melges 20 US National championship, click here

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Storm Trysail Club Assumes Ownership of Key West Race Week

Quantum Sail Design Group Remains Onboard as Title Sponsor 

LARCHMONT, NY – Quantum Key West Race Week will continue thanks to the organizational expertise of a new ownership group and the ongoing support of its title sponsor – Quantum Sail Design Group.

 The Storm Trysail Club is pleased to announce that it has come to an agreement with Premiere Racing to take over ownership and management of the prestigious regatta. 

The Storm Trysail Club, established in 1938, is well known for running Block Island Race Week, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary this summer. Storm Trysail Club also organizes the Lauderdale-to-Key West Race that has long served as feeder for Key West Race Week. 

“Key West Race Week is a terrific bookend to the club’s long-standing Block Island Race Week,” Storm Trysail Club commodore Lee Reichart said. “We believe we will be able to utilize our experience at Block Island to ensure that Key West remains the most prominent winter big-boat event in North America.”

Quantum Key West Race Week 2016 will be held Jan. 18-22, 2016 with many of the same elements that made the regatta so popular remaining in place. Foremost is the sponsorship of Quantum, the second-largest sail-making company in the world.


Quantum Sail Design Group came aboard as title sponsor of Key West Race Week in 2012 at a time when its future was uncertain. Quantum and its backers provided the financial support that enabled Premiere Racing to continue organizing the regatta. 

“We recognize Key West Race Week is the flagship regatta in this country and has been for well over two decades,” Quantum president Ed Reynolds said. “This midwinter, big boat regatta is very important to North American and international sailboat racing.”

Reynolds says the worldwide company is happy to see the event continue with such an accomplished regatta management group. “We recognize the complexity of managing Key West Race Week. There are probably very few organizations that could do it. Storm Trysail is uniquely qualified and we’re confident and excited about the future of the event under its direction.”

Reynolds thanked Peter Craig and his team at Premiere Racing for 21 years of dedication to ensuring Key West Race Week remained a highlight of the racing calendar, both within the United States and abroad. Reynolds also acknowledged an appreciation for Premiere Racing’s commitment to ensuring a smooth transition. 

“Through Peter’s leadership, Key West Race Week has become an internationally-renowned regatta. It would be a huge loss to the competitors and the industry if the regatta were to go away,” Reynolds said. “We’re pleased to continue as title sponsor and look forward to working with the Storm Trysail Club and our industry peers to build on the success of this great event.”

Yachting Magazine founded Key West Race Week in 1987 and seven years later brought Craig aboard as race chairman. At the time, it was a single division regatta with 112 boats. Craig took over as event director in the late 1990s and under his leadership Key West Race Week evolved into an iconic international keelboat event. 

Craig, longtime assistant Jeanne Kleene and an army of volunteers has always worked hard to ensure that Key West Race Week is always top-notch both on and off the water. Those two principals of Premiere Racing are very happy to hand off the event to capable new stewards. 

 “The Storm Trysail Club is uniquely qualified to manage an event of this magnitude, given their extensive experience with Block Island Race Week, Lauderdale-to-Key West Race and the considerable number of their members who have been actively involved with Key West Race Week over the past 21 years,” Craig said. 

Craig applauded Quantum Sail Design Group for staying on as title sponsor. “Quantum and its backers hold true stature in the industry. It is hardly surprising to see that they will continue to play a crucial role in the continuation of this event,” he said. “Quantum, like Storm Trysail Club, has expressed a strong belief that Key West Race Week is important to performance sailing in North America. I would expect other industry leaders to step up and play an active, contributing role as Storm Trysail takes this great regatta forward.”

Storm Trysail Club members are in the process of contacting all past sponsors and will be working to bring new partners into the mix. Jeff Johnstone has pledged the support of J/Boats, a worldwide leader in high-performance sailboats.

All sorts of J/Boats designs have competed at Key West Race Week over the years, either in one-design, PHRF or IRC classes. Johnstone challenged other industry leaders to do their part in making Key West Race Week a success. 

“Key West Race Week has been a favorite for J/Boat sailors since its inception 20-plus years ago,” Johnstone said. “We’re very excited to see the Storm Trysail Club take the helm and we encourage all of our sailing industry peers to join us in supporting this great event that means so much to the sailing community. We’re looking forward to being back in sunny, breezy Key West next January.” 

Storm Trysail Club announced that longtime member John Fisher will serve as event chairman for Key West Race Week. Fisher has been involved with Block Island Race Week since 1999, serving as chairman for three editions of the biennial regatta. Reichart said Fisher, a past commodore of Storm Trysail Club, was selected for the role because of his proven strength with logistics. 

“Key West Race Week has long been the best winter venue the U.S. has to offer, given the consistency of conditions and obviously the incredible weather,” Fisher said. “Veteran competitors at Key West have come to expect top-notch race management and that will not change! Storm Trysail Club is a proven commodity when it comes to on-water organization.”

Dick Neville, another Storm Trysail Club veteran, has been appointed race committee chairman. Neville has been working Key West Race Week for nearly two decades as right-hand man to Division 2 principal race officer Dave Brennan. Neville is expecting to conduct starts in most of the classes that have traditionally competed at Key West. 

Fisher said Nick Langone will serve as shore-side committee chairman while John Storck Jr. will oversee mobile marina logistics. The Storm Trysail Club hopes to retain the services of numerous dedicated volunteers that worked for Premiere Racing for many years.

“It is important to point out that many Storm Trysail Club race committee members have been involved with Key West Race Week over the years. So we are not novices when it comes to this particular regatta and its unique elements,” Fisher said. “Because of the accumulated knowledge available to us, I expect the transition from Premiere Racing to Storm Trysail Club to be very smooth.”

About Storm Trysail Club
Storm Trysail Club is one of the world’s most respected sailing organizations. Established in 1938, its membership includes skilled blue water and ocean racing sailors who have flown a storm trysail or severely reduced canvas during an ocean voyage. The club is headquartered in Larchmont, N.Y., and has regional stations throughout the U.S. It hosts Block Island Race Week in odd-numbered years, the annual Block Island Race, Lauderdale-to-Key West Race and the biennial Miami-to-Montego Bay Race among many other events. The Club’s affiliated 501(c)(3) organization, The Storm Trysail Foundation, holds annual junior safety-at-sea seminars and the Intercollegiate Offshore Regatta for college sailors using big boats. For more information, visit www.stormtrysail.org.

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