It will be old home week for Annapolis sailors when Audi-Yachting Race Week begins in Key West, Fla., on Jan. 13.
More than a dozen locally based boats and crews have gone south for the event, and many area sailors have joined "foreign" teams. Look for the turnout on the starting line and the crowds at the parties each afternoon to have a distinctly Annapolitan flavor, despite the palm trees and balmy breezes.
Old Chesapeake rivals will take this opportunity to test each other as well as new adversaries from across the country in the warm waters and big swells off southern Florida.
For many of the Race Week competitors, the fun begins a few days before Race Week, with a long-distance feeder race from Fort Lauderdale. It's an exciting way to transport the fleet to the tip of the Keys for the day-race series, and provides overnight off-shore competition as an interesting contrast to buoy racing.
This year's Audi-Yachting Race Week will have several subsidiary events within an overall structure that closely matches its sister event, held each August on the Chesapeake out of Solomons. About 70 boats from 17 states were firm in their commitments to participate in Race Week by Christmas Eve, and more are expected.
The five days of round-the-buoys racing, Monday through Friday, will include a one-design class for about 17 J/35s, in a repeat of last year's inaugural J/35 Midwinters, and a special one-design class for the J/44 North American Championships. There will also be a separate short-course, seven-race regatta for the International 50-Foot Class, beginning the day before the regular Race Week activities and wrapping up by Wednesday. Add exhibition racing during the final afternoons by the Open 30 high-tech go-for-broke boats formerly known as Ultimate 30s.
Among the well-known Annapolis boats taking part are: Jack King's renovated Frers 60 Merrythought; Bill Steitz' 1990 IMS I High Point-winning Baltic 43 Dancer; Dave Dodge's IMS II High Point champion Tripp 36 Privateer; Paul Awalt's MORC champion custom Nelson-Marek 30 Frog Legs; Robert Crompton's Swan 39 Full Cry; Allen Davies' Evelyn 42 Delta Seven; and Penn Alexander's Express 37 Once Upon a Time. In addition to key crewman Rob Pennington, Alexander's Once Upon a Time team will include international champion and Olympic hopeful Jim Brady.
Michael Hartung's Beneteau 42 Thunder, another frequent racer here with many local crewmen, and Mack Latz' Express 34 The
Knife, well known in local waters despite its home port in Atlantic City, also will be on the scene.
Don Zinn's Heritage One-Tonner Goldfish, which took second place in heated 1990 High Point PHRF-B competition, will be in the fleet, carrying its usual contingent of family members and friends as well as archrival Annapolis skippers John Yeigh of Fast Track and Larry Kumins of PollyWannaCracka.
In the J/35 class, Davidsonville sailor Henry Judy and Annapolitan Jim Michie will be testing out Outrageous. New Jersey sailor Bill Lockwood --another familiar face in local regattas -- will compete aboard Instigator. And Annapolis one-design champion Jonathan Bartlett will assist Trevor Underwood with his new boat, Inside Trader, which will be making its home here later in the season.
The 50s, whose class association was born at a Key West Race Week some years ago, will be fielding an impressive fleet of 15 boats, according to Jim Allsopp, who will sail in that event with Belgian Bert Dalp on the new Frers-designed Promotion in its U.S. debut.
Although the fleet is substantial, Allsopp said this year's event could be a significant one for the class, which some observers feel may destined for obsolescence, like the IOR class.
"This is really going to be a tell tale regatta for the 50s," he said."I think it will be a factor in deciding if they're going to make it as a class. I see it as a turning point in a lot of ways, especially since (Richard De Vos') Windquest and at least one other key boat won't be going."
Even so, Allsopp will be there for the same reason as many of the other of the country's 50s racers -- the event is part of the Admiral's Cup trials for U.S. boats.
Veteran 50-foot racer Larry Leonard, owner of the Annapolis Sobstad loft and a key figure in America's Cup campaigning, will be sailing with a new team aboard Abracadabra, now owned by the Italian America's Cup syndicate and helmed by Paul Cayard.
In fact, the event will be a mini-testing ground for more than one America's Cup crew, with Victor Forss having turned over Carat to the Swedish challengers' team. Since the 50s are sailed with the same number of crew as the new America's Cup boats, the races will offer good training opportunities on the short windward-leeward courses.
Audi-Yachting Race Week at Key West is the first in the annual series that includes events in June at Block Island, R.I., in July at Whidbey Island, Wash., and in August at Solomons.
Known for first-class race management, hospitality and non-stop fun, the Audi-Yachting Race Week program is continuing to gain popularity across the nation.
"It seems like the weather's always been pretty good to us down there," spokesman Roger Kennedy said. "We usually have good breeze and sunny skies, and of course everybody likes to get away from the cold."
Nancy Noyes is a member of the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association and has been racing on the bay for about five years. Her Sailing column appears every Wednesday and Sunday in The Anne Arundel County Sun.