For two decades, sailors from around the world have flocked to the southernmost point of the United States in January for warm weather, strong winds and stiff competition.
Key West Race Week, now known as Acura Key West 2007, delivered on all counts, serving up five straight days’ worth of the conditions for which the annual regatta has become famous.
Race Week is about enjoying the sun, fun and social scene as much as the on-water competition. Premiere Racing, which organizes the event, set up bases at a public parking lot at Historic Seaport and the nightly awards parties underneath the “Big Top” once again attracted a huge crowd.
Skippers keep their boats in a variety of locations around the ConchRepublic. Most of the boats are berthed at Historic Seaport at the docks in front of the Galleon, Turtle Kraal’s or Half Shell Raw Bar. Many of the larger IRC entries found deeper water in front of The Westin or along the sea wall at Truman Annex. Almost all of the Division 4 boats base out of StockIsland, docking at Robby’s Marina.
Of course large numbers of sailors hit Duval Street hard at night, making the circuit among such favorite establishments as The Green Parrott, Hog’s Breath, Irish Kevin’s and Sloppy Joe’s.
Many of the regatta regulars will tell you it’s the funky, eclectic side of Key West that has kept them coming back for 20 years.
Sunny skies and temperatures that hovered around 80 degrees combined with steady 10- to 14-knot winds and flat water to provide 260 boats with spectacular racing. As usual, competition among some of the best sailors in the world was tight, as nine of 17 classes came down to the final race.
It was a fitting way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the renowned regatta.
“This was the perfect Key West. We had terrific weather, wonderful conditions, fantastic race management and tremendous competition,” says Dan Meyers, skipper of IRC 1 champion Numbers.
Meyers and his high-level crew won a weeklong battle with Edgar Cato and Hissar. The two Farr-designed 60-footers from Newport, R.I., traded first- and second-place finishes throughout the week and entered the ninth and final race separated by just 2 points.
Predictably, a match race duel ensued and Hissar led until the second downwind leg before Numbers rolled over its rival and held the lead during the upwind finish. “It basically took until the last leeward mark rounding to decide the regatta,” Meyers says.
Hamish Pepper, an America’s Cup winner with Team New Zealand, called tactics aboard Numbers. Meyers had high praise for his entire crew, which also included such Volvo Ocean Race and America’s Cup veterans as John Barnett, Tim Dawson, Jerry Kirby, John MacGowan and Erle Williams.
“I cannot express how grateful I am to the crew. We had one guy fly in from Dubai, another from Spain. Guys came from New Zealand and California,” Meyers says.
Meyers, who made millions in the student loan business, spent the week living the lap of luxury aboard a 230-foot motoryacht that was berthed in front of the Westin Hotel. After each day’s racing, he and several crew took an inflatable tender to a reef to go swimming.
Meyers was among numerous wealthy, high-profile owners at the regatta. None was more notable than Swiss billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli, head of the Alinghi syndicate that currently holds the America’s Cup.
Bertarelli, who made his fortune in the biotech industry, took a break from Cup preparations to skipper his Farr 40 in arguably the most talent-laden and competitive class at Key West.
Bertarelli steered Alinghi to its fourth victory of the series to clinch overall victory with one race remaining. The team from Geneva built an insurmountable 20-point lead over Flash Gordon 5 in the 17-boat class and thus did not need to leave the dock on the final day.
Bertarelli came to Key West with five members of his America’s Cup crew, figuring warm and sunny Florida would provide a nice break from preparations to defend the Auld Mug. Kiwi tactician Brad Butterworth showed why he’s one of the world’s bests, calling the shifts brilliantly all week. Six members of the crew were not professionals — per class rules — and had to blend in with the Cup sailors. “This crew had never sailed as a group so we weren’t sure how it would go. It turns out we worked very well together,” Butterworth says.
Spend time in the media trailer listening to the many languages being spoken and you get a feel for the international flavor of the event. Among the more than two dozen photographers and journalists in attendance were those from Australia, Denmark, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Russia and Spain.
No sailor attracted more media interest than Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, who made his Key West debut as skipper of the Farr 40 entry, Nanoq. It was believed to be the first time in 20 years that visiting royalty had attended Key West.
Prince Frederik, 38, has been involved with competitive sailing for six years, mostly in the Dragon one design class. This is his second season in the ultra-competitive Farr 40 class, which always attracts some of the world’s top professionals. Dutch sailor Bouwe Bekking, skipper of Movistar in the last Volvo Ocean Race, served as tactician aboard Nanoq.
“The fact I can sail only a few weeks out of the year and still have an opportunity to compete against the real rock stars of the sailing world is very exciting, a real adrenaline rush,” says Prince Frederik.
A television crew came from Moscow to document the performance of Rusal Synergy, a TP52 owned by Alexey Nikolaev, the first Russian entry in Key West history. Japanese photographers were most interested in Esmeralda, the newly launched Club Swan 42 that Tokyo-based industrialist Makoto Uematsu skippered to an impressive victory in IRC 3.