B Y and C Tour (Brit, Yank and Cypriat)
Key West Race Week 2003

"Let's go yachting"

by Mary Lochner

Last week's BY and C Tour in Key West, Florida provided the perfect escape from New England's frigid temperatures. Despite Logan's overbooked flights, I looked forward to enjoying the weather and competing in a world class sailing event.

Awaiting my arrival at the Key West airport, Neil, our sail trimmer, loaded my bags into his rental car and told me we were headed straight to the dock for our first practice. So much for taking it easy!

Along the way, Key West's "key weird" reputation was confirmed when we came across a damaged minivan parked along the road. Its entire left side was covered in duct tape. Neil remarked, "Only in Key West!" He was also stopped dead in his tracks as well as the rest of the traffic as a hen proudly marched her chicks across the road.

After arriving at the Galleon, a convenient and beautiful marina, we quickly found our home for the week, a chartered Beneteau first 33.7 named Safari. Its engine running, our skipper, Chris, was anxious to head out for our first practice. Swapping my high heels for racing gear, I gave my dear friend and our "pit chick," Steffi, a quick hug and scrambled to find warm clothes and foul-weather gear. With the temperature falling to a record low of 30 degrees that night, I thought "Hey, isn't is supposed to be warm here?

With my sailing gear stowed, I was ready to meet the remainder of our 8 crew. Besides Steffi and I, there was only one other "Yank" on board. Nathan, our cigar-smoking bow man from Washington, D.C. seemed quiet, but he later proved to be the life of the party after a jaunt to the strip bar and his 1st place finish in "knot and shot" contest for a bottle of rum.

The majority of our crew were the "Brits," Chris, Neil, Mark and Bill. Originally from California, our 60 year-old mast man, Bill, who now lives in England, was the oldest. The youngest, crewmember was Christos from Cyprus, a regular on Chris's Beneteau 40.7, Fast Wave, which is resides in England.

Noting the thoroughness and superiority of our crew, it was a delightful surprise to hear a proper British accent throughout the week. Racing can be stressful and I've experienced a lot of yelling and screaming, but communications aboard the Safari were unusually calm, with most comments followed by a polite "thank you." I thought to myself, "These guys aren't just professional, they're wonderful!"

However, even a seasoned racing crew is challenged by an unfamiliar boat. Like a pilot renting a plane he's never flown, you have to read all the manuals, know where everything is kept, and perform a "flight check," going over every knob and gadget to insure the vessel's safety without ever having flown that specific model.

Our pilot/skipper, Chris, constantly demonstrated a tremendous amount of experience and a strong knowledge of racing. His ability to work with a diverse crew was evident throughout the week with his communications and keen sense of organization. In only one day, he had already orchestrated a thorough tune-up of Safari. Many changes were made to her including moving the entire mast one inch forward. He adjusted rig tensions as another element of his plan of attack. Safari was also thoroughly stripped of all non-essentials including the auto helm and swim ladder. Only one of the two lucky charms was left aboard. It was a 4-inch tall sailor figurine. He hoped that would overcome the fact that they had a black class flag. But felt comforted that at least everyone else in the class had one as well. That evening I was sadly trimming my perfectly manicured nails and Chris tried to make me feel better by commenting, "I appreciate your contribution to making the boat light".

Steffi's attention to detail was also displayed with her special touches to Safari. She made photocopies of the class scratch sheet and courses and had them laminated to protect them from getting wet during the race. They were placed perfectly near the companionway for quick reference. I still think she needs to write a book on all of her shortcuts.

The race encompassed four race circles off the south shore of the island. Bill noted that our circle was closest to the "Ice cream cone" on the shore. Within an hour of motoring, we reached our designated area and began our practice. We noticed that we had a "blanket" current and the surface of the course was littered with lobster pots, which made it a challenging obstacle course. A huge turtle became our spectator for practice that day.

Our practice was the most thorough that I have ever experienced. Usually, in my other races, we perform a couple or turns and sets. But that practice, we must have completed at least a couple of dozen tacs/jibes all the while with 20-25 kts of wind. The increased wind made the motions aboard more vicious and crew needed to react quickly.

At times it seemed as though we had little gremlins aboard. Our horseshoe throwable floatation someone managed to untie itself and was donated it to the sea god. We lost our spin halyard…twice. Christos was hauled to the top of the mast for a quick recovery each time. Chris determined that we should tape the shackle during racing. Mark determined that Safari's nav instruments had not been calibrated properly so the previously reported wind/boat speeds were inflated. And the power for the nav electronics seemed to fluctuate on and off all throughout the week.

We hoisted our entire sail inventory for testing and we discovered that taffeta doesn't stick to Velcro. The No. 3 battens began to fly out of their pockets after the hoist. Upon closer examination, we noted that there were actually two different slots for the secured ends. The appropriate slot for the fastening end was of course the slot with the Velcro. We joked that the Brits must have difficultly knowing which end to put it in.

We were set to go for a really "cool" and big breeze regatta on Monday morning. Monday's forecast was, temperatures in the upper 60s; wind 15-20 knots, N-NE; water temperature 71, and air temp 72.

On the way to the start, Chris held a crew meeting aboard Safari. He emphasized the importance of regimented crew work and not deviating from it. He mentioned that he might require crew to give him feedback on how they were doing in relationship to the position on the water with the other boats using the "ladder". He drew diagrams and discussed going up and down the "ladder". We checked the wind which was shifting to the left so Mark called for us to cover the left side despite Chris' initial plan to go right.

At the start of our first race, we forced, Peter Grim, on ?Mistral, over at the pin. On the first upwind leg, we led the charge against the rest of the class, but since our handicap rating was higher and thus we were slower, the rest of the class continued to pour on the pressure for the remainder of the race and eventually started to climb the ladder above us. On the downwind leg, another shackle on the spin sheet released in the middle of flying the kite. It was quickly re-attached, but again released within 3 feet of my pulling it down the forward hatch on the douse. So the remedy again was to tape all shackles. We experienced fickle wind shifts but still managed to place 3rd and 5th that day.

Also that day, Ken Read (an America' Cup participant), driving Idler, was knocked into the water a minute and a half before the start of the first race after being tagged in the starboard stern quarter by Larry Bulman's, Javelin. He swam back to the boat and won the race.

Back at the dock and under the cover of darkness that night, special undercover agents used halyards and rocked unsuspecting sleeping crew aboard Safari. Despite the crew's effort to identify those responsible parties involved, the undercover agents still remain at large.

Tuesday's weather was clear; wind NE-E, 10-8 knots; and air temp 71.

Chris conducted another meeting to discuss ways to eliminate any future errors. Each crew was allowed to comment and exchange solutions to problems. The lack of winches was becoming evident as Steffi (pit) and Neil dueled for open spots. Nathan took a nasty spill down the hatch and fell onto his tailbone and bruised his ribs. He continued seemly without any pain.

Dolphins escorted us on our return to the harbor and were considered a sign of good luck. Back at the condo, Chris went online to check our results…playing into a new realm-cyberspace. We took a 5th and a 3rd place for the day. Chris also competed in the Virtual Skipper computer contest at the tent. Although I remember his boat colliding with another and sinking. We had better keep him away from that game.

Secret agents attacked again that evening and Mark was their subject. Mark was in mid-stream in the portable toilets outside of the tent. The agents collectively pushed the outhouse and rocked it back and forth. I think Mark made it out safely though albeit a bit wet.

Wednesday's forecast: Clear to partly cloudy; wind E, 5-10 knots; air 73. This event is scheduled for a total of nine races, but wind prospects for that day were grim. Another cold front was expected to bring back more breeze Thursday and Friday.

It was a short but sweet Key West day. Our aches, pains, and bruises were becoming evident from the rigorous week thus far and we welcomed the light winds. The RC set a windward leeward, 5-leg race 1.3 miles away. We began with yet another stellar start and protected the right side of the course. We were prepared with our loose rig and maintained a lot of power throughout the race. As might be expected, the breeze was a typical oscillating northwesterly ranging from 265 degrees to 305 degrees. We experienced major wind shifts---including one of 65 degrees that shuffled our class on a different course and may have played a part in our success. Most boats were late to take notice of the shift and struggled to fly their kites. We mastered the shift, but our biggest dilemma occurred right at the finish. A large white powerboat to the north as flying a yellow race committee flag. Further south, an inflatable flew an orange flag. To the south of the inflatable was a buoy with an orange flag. Where to finish? Between the buoy and the inflatable or between the inflatable and the RC boat? In the end, it became clear that the inflatable also had an RC flag but it was on a staff well below that of the orange flag marking the line. The day's winner? SAFARI !!!!

Surprising news that day was of John Kilroy's, Samba Pa Ti, with the experienced America's Cup tactician, Paul Cayard, on board. They finished dead last in the 24-boat fleet in the second race. Kilroy said it was a bad combination clumps of weed on the rudder and being on the wrong side of the wind shift.

Thursday's forecast was clear, becoming cloudy; wind W 10-15k, increasing to 20-25 knots sustained at 1-2 p.m.; air 70 into 60s.

At the start we claimed leeward rights and forced Creola out at RC boat. On the windward leg, we almost lost Nathan overboard as he slipped and clung on the toe rail with both feet dangling in the water. He was quick to get a leg on deck and Christos and I pulled him back aboard. We still managed to take a 5th and 2nd place that day.

Also that day, there was a major collision in the Farr 40 class. A video was taken of Barking Mad, Crocodile Rock and Breeze all abreast and slamming sides. Just for kicks, it was played at the tent over and over again with the crowd of sailors sighing in pain.

Friday's forecast called for a strong breeze, N 25 knots at dawn, dropping at 1 p.m. to NE 20 knots, then 25-33 in the late afternoon.

We woke that morning to the sound of wind whistling through the rigging. A new weather front swept the town with winds up to 30 knots and accelerated the racing action into a frenzy. The RC postponed the start and we surrounded the VHF radio in the warm condo anxious for any news of a start. The news came that the RC would only hold one race that day. Their goal was to finish all racing before 2 pm when the storm was really supposed to hit. Comments were made that the race committee was the best the Brits had ever seen.

We departed the dock and it was a little chilly, but I suppose compared to England this was a balmy summer day. Many competitors feared the conditions that day and our class size diminished to nearly half. Two minutes before the start, we lost a batten from the No. 3. I was so impressed at how quickly a new batten was measured by Christos, trimmed with a saw and stuffed back into the pocket. Chris said the 30 or so seconds for the repair seemed like an eternity from the back of the boat.

Safari loved the heavy breeze. Willowind, the Swan in our class, was also in heaven. After rounding the windward mark and hoisting the kite we flew like a rocket. Most boats refused to fly kites so we made huge gains downwind. On the second windward leg we noticed the boats approaching us nearly broaching and loosing their kites. The racing was tight yet we finished second in the race and third overall (sitting only one point behind the runner-up in the class). The contentious Farr, Hot Ticket galloped away with first in class. We crossed the finish line just as black clouds heralded the leading edge of a new front. We returned under a storm jib and main. The Brits commented that it was the appropriate Royal Ocean Racing Club way.

A typical day on shore would begin with the scent of bacon permeating from the kitchen while Bill was preparing a hefty breakfast and making coffee (Yanks) or tea (Brits). Apparently, the Brits are also very particular of the type of bacon they eat and my Oscar Mayor brand was totally rejected as being too fatty and not enough substance. Christos assumed the responsibility of chief sandwich maker but to the dismay of others since his only used one slice of meat and one slice of cheese. We quickly found out the Nathan was very fussy about food and never seemed to eat anything except an apple the entire day. The sandwiches were packed and Chris asked for some of the "purple colored stuff" (grape crush Gatorade) to be included. Chris and Steffi gathered information on current weather conditions while attending the daily morning weather briefings. We always worked with a "crew" mentality with everyone chipping to help clean up after breakfast and carry items to the boat.

Our daily post-racing regime included heading to the Jacuzzi to unwind and sooth our aching muscles from the physical activity of the day. And of course proper hydration was also in order. For dinner, we bought food at the local market and collaborated on the "appropriate" selection of wine to accompany each meal. We definitely ate like kings and queens that week. We had succulent gourmet dinners of fresh grilled Dolphin (Mahi Mahi), Key West pink shrimp, and rib eye steaks. Although the steaks where nearly charred because I was told by Bill that I purchased the wrong type of lighter fluid. Apparently it was cigarette lighter fluid, but luckily he read the bottle and was prepared for the voluminous explosion. I learned that the Brits were very fond of their cheeses and Neil helped me to discovered Muchengo cheese. I helped to teach the "Brits" how to use a coffee pot and how to properly open a box of rice (don't put the flavor packet into the boiling water unless it's opened first).

The "Brit" lingo was a bit challenging to discern. Some of the vernacular between Brits and Yanks had to be reiterated because of accents and unfamiliar terms such as "please pass the kitchen roll" meant that someone needed a paper towel. A "bathroom flannel" is a face cloth. Even the local bar which held the "knot and shot" contest, found it hilarious when they asked Christos where our skipper had gone and he responded "He's in the luve" which was announced loudly on the bar microphone.

Despite the diverse backgrounds of the crew, I think they would all agree that the real joy in a race isn't in winning, but the fun you have along the way. So as the Brits say, "Let's go yatching!"

A very special thanks to Steffi for all of her efforts in making it all possible!