Making the Most of a Blessing From the Wind Gods: Spirit Walker Wins the 2015 Race to Mackinac

With constantly shifting weather models leading up to the Chicago Yacht Club’s 107th Race to Mackinac, the race came down to maximizing opportunities while minimizing mistakes.

In the days leading up to the Chicago Yacht Club’s 107th Race to Mackinac, weather predictions ranged from no wind at all to storms and 50-knot winds. Chris Bedford of Sailing Weather Service, and chief meteorologist for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, opened up his weather briefing at the skippers’ meeting by saying, “The weather this year, it’s complicated.” When race day rolled around, it was anybody’s guess where the wind would be.

The cruising fleet got underway with sunny skies and very light winds on Friday, but on Saturday, the racing fleet was greeted by overcast skies and steady winds.

Before the race, Quantum’s TJ Craig, on Mike and Dawn Fisher’s Archambault 40 Fishtals, said, “What this race is going to come down to is who can maximize the opportunities that come their way and minimize their mistakes.”

“Almost everybody stayed on the west side of the rum line. The boats that really got lucky—lucky isn’t the word, or maybe it is—were the boats that were a little bit east of us, but still west of the rum line,” said Craig.

The luck Craig referred to was a finger’s width of sea breeze that filled in on Sunday afternoon, taking a handful of boats up the lake at eight knots when the rest of the fleet wasn’t sailing faster than two knots.

Among those boats was the overall race winner, Vern McCain’s Sydney 38 Spirit Walker sailing in Section 3. “We made peace with the spirits above,” said McCain. “We got a lot of weather information early on, and just kind of stayed with it. I think that was probably the biggest factor.”

While many crews might cite great preparation and a lot of experience sailing together as another key factor in their success, McCain called his crew the “Wal-Mart crew”—most of the 12 members were pickups, brought on just ahead of the race. McCain had had back surgery in May, and while he’d registered the boat, it wasn’t clear that he’d be able to start. With three weeks to go, he said a friend of his called him up to say, “Let’s do this thing.”

“We put the rest of it together, and here we are. I think everybody was real conscious of everybody else because they didn’t know each other. There were no personality problems, nobody with a big ego, and if they had one they didn’t bring it with them,” said McCain.

Spirit Walker sailed the majority of their upwind work with Quantum sails. We asked McCain if there was a moment when they knew they had the race sewn up. He replied, “We went into Point Betsie and normally that can be a kiss of death, but the gods gave us a little wind off the shore and kept us rolling when the boats on the outside were running pretty slow.”

Doug Lewis’s J/109 Time Out was on a similar line to Spirit Walker, and finished first in their section and third overall. As a surgeon, Lewis has spent his career working with pancreas cancer patients, and his boat is dedicated to raising awareness for the disease. Not only is this the first podium for Time Out, it’s also the first Race to Mackinac.

Lewis credited much of his success to a new Quantum Code 0 he’d acquired shortly before the race, which they used from just after the start until well into Saturday night. “The Code 0 that TJ Craig and Kerry Klingler recommended was invaluable, and it helped us build a huge lead,” he said.  “A lot of people have asked me about our light blue sail. I wouldn’t be surprise if Quantum gets a boost in business.”

Success wasn’t entirely restricted to a few boats in one particular line of wind. Wes Schultz’s Kokomo was second in Section 2 and 11th overall, taking a dramatically different course up the Michigan shore.

“We had a good start. We’re always are careful at the start, even though it’s only a small part of the entire race,” said Schultz. “We went east. At one point we were probably the most eastern boat in the fleet, going fast with great VMGs. We led our section for almost the whole race until the wind filled in and the boat behind us, Chewbacca corrected out on us, but we were the first boat to finish in our section.”

Schultz wouldn’t divulge what information led them to make the decision to go east, saying only, “We sail as fast as we can where the wind takes us. We do our own weather forecasting and it seemed to work out.” He also added that the average age of the Kokomo crew is 60, and that’s badly skewed by one young crewmember.

“I’ve sailed with most of these guys for 15 or 20 years. We’ve almost set a record for the Mac, making the podium for the past five years. We’ve gone 3, 2, 1, 2, 2—I’m very proud of that,” he said.

“We used Quantum sails from the beginning to the end, starting with a rental sail—a reacher that Quantum CEO Ed Reynolds had developed for us for the Queen’s Cup, which was very fast.” Kokomo later switched to a #2 jib that Lewis reported was extremely fast in all the conditions they used it in, including close reaching through the straights.

“I’ve known Ed Reynolds since before he sailed, when he was on his hands and knees cutting cloth, and I’ve stuck with him through the years; he’s always done a great job,” said Schultz. “They’ve got a great group of guys at Quantum, and they’re always very supportive.”

In the end, there’s a lot of luck involved in a light wind race. No matter how well you prepare, when the breeze is shutting off across the lake, you either get it or you don’t and there’s not much you can do about it. Even with local knowledge and secret weather reports, what it often comes down to is who is prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that come their way.

And like Bedford said, the weather was complicated—a heavy storm with 30-knot winds blew across the straights midday Monday. The crew on Felicia Wilhelm’s Dehler 39 Troubadour was exuberant reaching toward the bridge with a Quantum asymmetrical kite when the boats ahead of them started rounding up. Troubadour doused the kite and rode out the storm with only a mainsail, but still maintained eight knots of boat speed. After the storm blew through, taking most of the wind with it, they were again inching their way to the finish under spinnaker.

But like every Mac race, despite the flies and the heat, the storm and the cold, from first boat to last, good times were had by all. The Pink Pony was in full swing and the island was hopping well through the rum party on Tuesday.

“Sometimes you win the race, and sometimes the race wins you,” said Craig. “Maximizing opportunities when you come upon them was how these boats were able to benefit. They were ready for the wind, and they made the best of it when it came. Boat handling, preparation, and crew work is what won the race for them, along with just a little bit of luck.”

You can see the full list of results here

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Chris Rast Gives Quantum’s Allan Terhune the Lowdown on Winning the Melges 24 World Championship

Chris Rast and the EFG Sailing team won the 2015 Melges 24 World Championship in spectacular fashion last weekend. In the 95-boat fleet, they won five of 12 races, winning the title by a 53-point margin. This past week, Quantum’s Global One Design Director Allan Terhune talked with Chris about his experience.

Allan: The Melges 24 is the ultimate team boat. Tell us a little about your team and what sets them apart.
Chris: We had mostly local sailors from our club on Lake Thun onboard, and our trimmer Udo is from Austria. Udo previously sailed on our Melges 24 team in 2013, and I know him from my early 49er days. We race hard on the water, but also know how to relax once we get back to shore :-)

A: We heard (and the results showed) that you were very fast. What did you do differently that you think gave you an edge?
C: Speed is always relative, at least in our world! We knew we had very solid speed and were confident in our settings and the way we sail the boat through the whole wind range. Our Quantum Sails are very polyvalent and easy to sail to, which is super important when you have to get off the line quick in a confused sea state.

That said we were also quick in the flat water, just adapting our trimming accordingly. The other focus point was very active jib trimming, especially in the 7-10 knot range when the boat goes from under-powered to over-powered. The Quantum jib has excellent leech response and rewards proper jib trim accordingly.

A: What was your training plan/practice leading up to the regatta?
C: Not as good as we wished for. We sailed two regattas early in the season, winning the second one! That was important to establish confidence in our tuning and speed potential. We had two more practice days at the Worlds’ venue, where we mainly focused on boat handling as we had a new guy doing bow. That said, I had sailed in Middelfart two years ago and won the Danish Melges 24 Championships, so I felt pretty comfortable sailing at Worlds.

A: What is your impression of the class?
C: It’s amazing to get 95 boats at a major championship. The really cool thing was the huge turnout of Corinthian teams. This is a clear testament to how strong this 21-year old class still is. 

A: Why did you choose Quantum Sails for your program?
C: I have worked with Quantum for many years now and was involved in designing the sails that Carlo Fracassoli won the Worlds with in 2012 in Torbole. I love how the sails go through the range and hold shape, even as they get a couple of regattas on them.

A: What adventures are in the future for Chris Rast?
C: I keep myself plenty challenged sailing Melges 32s (tactician for the HedgeHog), sailing my moth, and managing/sailing on a Decision 35 (catamaran) on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. It keeps me on my toes! On top of that, we have a baby on the way and that will be an even bigger adventure.

A: What words of advice would you give a team that wants to try to win a major championship?
C: Put a fun and committed team together, because that’s the most important part to winning any regatta.

Make sure you give everyone enough time to sort out their jobs on the boat, and then let them do their jobs! Don’t overthink the regatta. In the end, you need to get off the starting line in good fashion and get on the first shift. Keep it simple. When things go sideways, crack a joke, re-focus, and get back at it.

A: Any funny stories form the event?
C: Plenty! But more important is the camaraderie between all the teams that makes this class so special. On the third day, our engine stopped working on our way out to the race course. It was really light and we were basically going backwards because of the strong current. Then Andrea Rachelli (Altea), who was laying in second place behind us, came along and gave us a tow all the way out the race course. How cool is that!

Congratulations to Chris and the crew of EFG Sailing on a great event! For full results, click here!

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Organizers announce innovations to Quantum Key West Race Week Storm Trysail Club proposes harbor fleet, distance racing, ORC ratings

The Storm Trysail Club has promised to maintain all the elements that have made Quantum Key West Race Week such a popular event while introducing innovations designed to increase participation.

KW15-8371_Touch2Play_timwilkes-rsWith the release of the official Notice of Race, organizers with the Storm Trysail Club have proposed several new elements for Quantum Key West Race Week 2016. A harbor course area for smaller sailboats, distance racing for Performance Cruising designs and replacing PHRF with the International ORC rating system are among the creative ideas found in the new NOR.

John Fisher, regatta chairman for Quantum Key West Race Week, said the changes were made in response to feedback from both the United States and international sailboat racing community. Storm Trysail Club conducted a survey of past and potential participants seeking comments on what could be done to improve the event.

“We believe the sailing constituency that revolves around Key West was looking for something different,” Fisher said. “Many, many elements of the regatta are tried and true, but there are other things that needed to be tweaked. We are listening to the sailors that care about Key West Race Week and are attempting to address their desires and needs.”

Cost has become a concern for some of the amateur programs that were a staple of Key West Race Week at its peak when more than 300 boats were competing on an annual basis. Participation at the annual midwinter regatta took a hit during the worldwide economic downturn as many of the mom and pop programs just could not afford to spend seven days in the Conch Republic.

“One of the things we’ve heard repeatedly involves the expense of the regatta. Key West is a very popular tourist destination and therefore the cost of meals and lodging can be considerable,” Fisher said.

To address that issue, Storm Trysail is offering the great racing experience of the event condensed into a three-day regatta format for those classes that choose to do so. Fisher said racing would be held Wednesday through Friday for those classes so participants are included in the final awards ceremony.

“Housing and feeding a crew for four or five days as opposed to eight or nine reduces the expense to a level that is more palatable for a segment of boat owners,” Fisher said. “We’re hoping that holding a regatta within a regatta will bring back a segment of skippers who stopped doing Key West because of the cost.”

Acknowledging the declining interest in PHRF racing at Key West has prompted Storm Trysail to make alterations aimed to attract those types of boats anew. One idea is to provide distance racing for Performance Cruising designs, whose skippers would prefer to sail one long race that traverses the keys as opposed to multiple buoy starts. This should be appealing to more casual racers who may not be participating with a complete crew or simply prefer navigation-style courses.

Dick Neville, race committee chairman for Quantum Key West, pointed out that 42 boats competed in last year’s Fort Lauderdale-to-Key West Race, but only four of them entered Quantum Key West 2015.

“We need to give those boat owners a reason to enter our regatta and I think one distance race each day could do that,” Neville said. “My experience is that those Performance Cruising boats would prefer that type of format. We could give them a different course each day and finish them near the harbor so they get back to the dock faster.”

In fact, it is the intention of organizers to eliminate PHRF racing altogether – a strategy that has prompted them to look for solutions offered by the Offshore Racing Congress (ORC), an international organization sanctioned by the International Sailing Federation and supported by users in 40 countries around the world. Having evolved from IOR and IMS roots, the organization currently administers two systems – ORC International (ORCi) and ORC Club, both of which are being proposed for use at Quantum Key West Race Week.

Neville noted that nearly 10,000 ORCi and ORC Club certificates will be issued in 2015, and the hope is that adopting the system for Quantum Key West will encourage more foreign owners to register. ORCi is the system used for full-measured boats participating at the highest levels of competition while the ORC Club is intended more for club-based programs.

KW15-5149_OtraVez_timwilkes-rs“We had to face the reality that PHRF boats have been disappearing from the regatta and the logical solution is to offer a different rating system that is more popular worldwide,” said Neville, pointing out that ORC provides three different ratings for windward-leeward courses based on whether the wind is light, medium or heavy. “One of our goals is to attract more overseas boats to Key West, and we are encouraging owners who may have raced PHRF in the past to obtain an ORC Club certificate.”

Storm Trysail is also expecting to attract a whole new fleet of boats by offering a “Harbor Racing Circle.” That shorter course would be set just outside of the Fleming Key Cut. To accommodate the new course, Division 1 will be shifted east where there is deeper water.

Several Viper 640s have already entered Quantum Key West Race Week 2016 and organizers believe the Harbor Racing Circle would also be ideal for Melges 20s, VX Ones, F18 Catamarans and M32 Catamarans.

“The New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta has shown that stadium racing attracts an audience of non-sailors who are onshore,” Fisher said. “It will be a slow build, but we would like to create a course that would allow Key West locals and tourists to view some sailboat racing. That would increase awareness of the regatta within the city.”

Storm Trysail is also bringing back a class that was once a staple of Key West Race Week – the Corsair 28. Those speedy trimarans have not competed in the regatta since 2011 when they were part of a Multihull Division. Neville reports that four Corsair 28-footers have already entered Quantum Key West Race Week 2016 and is encouraging other multihull designs to consider coming to the regatta.

A Quantum Key West Race Week organizing committee that numbers in the double digits. Fisher said the committee has a weekly conference call to discuss strategies, provide sub-committee reports and brainstorm ideas for how to improve the event with the goal of increasing entries by at least 20 percent.

Bill Canfield has come aboard as on-site event manager and will be moving to Key West to provide a permanent presence. Herb Reese, a longtime Key West Race Week volunteer, will arrive in the Conch Republic several months before the regatta to help prepare Truman Annex and other shore-side support services.

“We have put together a committee comprised of people with vast experience running regattas,” Fisher said. “We’ve had boots on the ground in Key West already to meet with city leaders and look into the various logistical challenges. We are doing our best to build relationships and develop the organizational infrastructure well in advance of the regatta.”

Ed Reynolds, president of Quantum Sail Design Group, said the title sponsor was pleased with the innovative ideas proposed by the Storm Trysail Club leadership to keep Key West Race Week on the cutting edge.

“Storm Trysail Club has reached out to the sailing community for input on how to improve and grow Quantum Key West Race Week and is taking steps to satisfy the needs and desires of the sailors,” Reynolds said. “We’re pleased to see the proposed innovations designed to spark more interest and we’re looking forward to a great event.”

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