Key West Race Week on a Budget

After years of talking about it, a group of members at the Palmer Cove Yacht Club in Salem, Massachusetts, finally decided we had to do Key West Race Week before we all got too old. The group included Joe Naroski, 66, John Burke, 71, Steve Kelley, 61, and me, now 64. We later brought in a young whippersnapper, Joe Grenier, 55. All of us have boats, but Naroski is the only serious racer.

We needed a boat. An old Tartan Ten beckoned, but the cost of new sails soon had us looking for something smaller. Eventually, we purchased an old J/24, although everyone told us we were too old to sail the boat competitively. We recruited Grenier, who owns J/24 No. 22, as our coach, and picked up a used main, jib and spinnaker from North Sails.

We’d heard estimates that Key West would cost around $8,000 a head for a trailerable boat under 30 feet. This was way beyond our budget, so we found ways to economize. Because Steve is a U.S. Coast Guard veteran, we were able to stay at the Key West Naval Air station for much less than the cost of a hotel. We also did a little camping. Our total cost for housing was around $125 each for the week. Others were paying three times that much per night.

We had light winds and calm seas on the first day of racing and took second out of the five boats in the PHRF 3 class in the first race. A fourth in the second race put us third overall. That night we earned our share of swag at the awards ceremony. We couldn’t believe we’d actually won something.

Unfortunately, there were no awards on Tuesday night, thanks to a poor finish in the second race, but a pair of thirds on Wednesday got us back in to the winner’s circle. On Thursday we struggled in heavier winds and chop, but still we were tied for third overall with two races to go.

A third in Friday’s first race gave us a two-point lead. In the last race we had a great start and scored another third, clinching third overall in our class. What a great way to finish our first-ever Key West Race Week!

The moral is: you can do Key West on a budget. We did it at a cost of about $1,000 each and had an experience we will never forget. Yes, the J/24 is a killer boat, especially for anyone over 60, but what fun! Our new motto: “Old guys rule.”

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