Unlike past regattas, this year's Yachting magazine Race Week at KeyWest did not feature a suntan contest in addition to the on-water competition.
Weather, in fact, was on the chilly side for Key West, and heavy air was the order of the week, with the lightest breeze a moderate 13 knots for one or two legs of one race in the entire five-day series.
The crash-and-burn racing in big swells and winds averaging 20 knots over the week and frequently gusting much higher left a number ofcasualties in its wake, with many boats suffering sail, rig and equipment damage.
One boat that came through unscathed in every way was Gaucho, the new, specially designed IMS 44-footer from Annapolitan Bruce Farr and his design team, which posted a perfect record of fiveaces in the 11-boat Class A IMS to win the prestigious Yachting Magazine Chelsea Clock Award for best performance in the 119-boat, eight-class fleet.
Sailed by a team headed by skipper Geoff Stagg of Farr International in Annapolis, with Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Jim Brady at the helm, and a crew made up of active Annapolis-area sailors,including Farr International's Tink Chambers and Bryan Fishback, andFarr designers Jim Donovan and Jim Schmicker, the boat showed her capabilities from the very start.
"We won the (Fort Lauderdale to) Key West Race going down the week before," Schmicker said, "so it was pretty obvious from the start that things were pretty close to being right."
When the first race started last Monday, the Gaucho team began an almost incredible week, winning every race by a corrected-time margin of three to five minutes over impressive competition.
Perhaps the most remarkable race was the last, on Friday.
At the start, the crew heard a somewhat garbled radio transmission about boats which were over the starting line early. Even though they were certainGaucho had started properly, the sail number they heard was close enough to their own A 3777 to worry them, so as a precaution they turned back and restarted well at the back of the pack at the bottom of the first leg.
By the first turning mark of that 18-mile windward-leeward course, the Gaucho team had worked up into third, and by the end of the race the only team to cross the finish line ahead of them was Connecticut sailor Richard Heffering and his Baltic 50 Bully crew, whose sail number, US 43777, had actually been the one called on the radio, and who also had restarted.
"The boat handled pretty well, and I think everyone would agree that it was sailed pretty well," Schmicker said. "Up until the last race, only one boat had crossed our bow -- Bully, which got the gun every race. They owed us about 10 minutes over the 18-mile course in that wind strength, and they only beatus by about five minutes every day." Despite taking the gun in all five races, Bully finished seventh in class.
"It couldn't have goneany better," Schmicker said. "We just stayed clear, kept our nose clean and sailed fast. Other boats were breaking all kinds of things, but the only thing that we broke was a Barient J-Lock (sheet connector). The boat is very strong."
In a conversation prior to Race Week,Stagg discussed the new Farr 44's IMS-specific design.
"The boat is different from where the other designers are," Stagg said. "It's lighter, stiffer and shorter, with more sail area than a Tripp 47, forexample. But this is actually a conservative boat, designed in the spirit of the IMS rule."
Stagg explained that the IMS rule's focus on velocity performance predictions is compatible with the kind of work the Farr office has been doing for the America's Cup.
Also in this closely watched class were Gibson Island sailors George and Maureen Collins on their Tripp 47 Moxie, sailing with locals Jim Allsopp, Dave Krebs, Curt Stephens and Julie Peterson, and Olympic hopeful Kevin Mahaney at the helm.
After bad luck with an equipment breakdownwhich forced them to retire the first day, the Moxie team racked up solid finishes of 3-3-4-2 in the remaining races and ended up third in the class.
Chesapeake Bay sailors made strong showings in other classes, too.
Among the notables were Henry Judy of Crofton and the crew on his J/35 Outrageous, who ended the week third in the highlycompetitive J/35 one-design class with strong finishes, including two thirds, a second and a first. They were forced to withdraw from a strong lead in Wednesday's race when a snapped lifeline resulted in a surprise swim for some of the crew.
The 18-boat Class D IMS also was dominated by area sailors, with the top four finishers all based on the Chesapeake Bay.
Winning the class was the Southern Bay-basedRay-zor's Edge, a J/39 owned by Kentuckian Ray Webb. Hampton sailor Seward Lawlor and his Serendipity 43 Chesapeake and Annapolitan Pendleton Alexander and the crew on his Express 37 Once Upon A Time were tied on points just behind.