Big-time sailboat racing is an expensive proposition. So is delivering a boat—any boat—to Key West, Florida, the southernmost point in the continental United States. Nonetheless, Quantum Key West Race Week, which takes place January 15-20, endures, despite the repeated buffeting of economic headwinds. SAIL magazine recently caught up with regatta organizer Peter Craig, president of Premiere Racing Inc. to find out why.
SAIL: While numbers remain down from years past, Quantum Key West Race Week, now in its 25th year, continues to draw many top-caliber campaigns. Why is that?
Peter Craig: The appeal of warm weather racing in January with world-class competition and professional race management draws the programs. The grand prix component of the Key West fleet—many of those with professional crew—has the resources to draw on, and time away from work isn’t as big an issue. There’s no mystery why overall fleet numbers are down. The fourth year of a struggling global economy continues to impact owners and crews, and their ability to commit the resources necessary – both money and time.
SAIL: What is new for Quantum Key West Race Week 2012?
Peter Craig: We can start with a new title sponsor! It’s likely we wouldn’t be having this interview without Quantum Sails. We’re going to start the racing a full hour later each morning with first gun at 1130. The evening parties are also starting a bit earlier, 1730-1930, so crew dinners don’t run as late. Further, in responding to recent feedback, for the 25th anniversary event we’ve eliminated the need to purchase an access card to attend the evening socials and awards presentations. Admission is open, and we’re looking to have everyone stop by and join in the shore-side activities. People will now pay for drinks, albeit with very special pricing, especially for Mount Gay Rum.
SAIL: Are there any particular classes regatta watchers should pay attention to in 2012?
Peter Craig: One class that jumps out is the eight-boat IRC 52 class, which boasts two brand-new IRC 52 designs, coupled with state-of-the-art TP52s fresh off the MedCup circuit. There are all kinds of subplots here—designers, a defending TP52 World Champion, the IRC Rule and top-tier talent, including America’s Cupper Terry Hutchinson. The international Melges 32 class will be as tough as ever with their all-star afterguards, and our Farr 40 friends are back after a one-year hiatus for their 2011 World Championship Down Under. The award-winning Farr 400 will make its one design debut, and the Mini Maxis will be worth watching, with the first-time-ever showdown between current and former world champions, Ran and Numbers. Add in the always competitive racing from the Melges 24s, J/80s and Farr 30s, and there are plenty of reasons to check in on the third week of January.
SAIL: Key West is a long way to travel for a regatta. How important is the “Key West” component of Quantum Key West Race Week?
Peter Craig: The Key West component can’t be underestimated. Where else in January can you get warm temperatures, sunshine and reliable breeze? By my count we’ve had four no-race days in the last 18 years that Premiere Racing has managed the event – that’s 90 race days. Over the course of the week it isn’t unusual to see the full range – light, moderate and heavy air – which makes for deserving champions at the end of the week. Throw in Duval Street, great restaurants and the unique nightlife that makes Key West what it is, and sailors get all they want, on the water and ashore.
SAIL: In an era of many shorter regattas, Quantum Key West Race Week continues to be almost a full week of racing. How does that factor into the event’s appeal?
Peter Craig: Well, the fact is five days of racing is a positive for some and a negative for others. Key West presents a dilemma in this regard, because it’s a long way away for most and it takes considerable resources to get your boat and crew there. A three- or four-day format wouldn’t work for most overseas and West Coast participants along with many others from the Northeast, Midwest, etc. Having spent considerable time and energy to get to Key West, they want to make the most of the week. But, we’ve heard from both sides of this issue. Many want to get the most racing possible and favor the full week. Others do not feel they can commit the time. There is also the crew-housing situation with full-week rentals being the choice for most. Fortunately, Monday is a national holiday and that helps with time away from work. All that being said, we’re looking closely at a four-race day option for certain one design classes in 2013.
SAIL: How has the relationship with new event sponsor Quantum been working out?
Peter Craig: [Quantum Partner] Farley Fontenot has been impossible, but the others at Quantum have been great to work with! Seriously, Quantum’s enthusiasm is energizing, and the working relationship has been a good situation for Premiere Racing and for the event. Having a company that is intimate with the sport in the title position is a first for us. While our industry partners have always been involved, Quantum has played an active role in helping us think outside of the box. In past years, the car companies didn’t have anything to say about what we did and how we did it. After 18 years of managing this event, it’s been good to have new ideas and energy – especially with the challenges that we all face in sailboat racing today. Plus I have someone else to blame if there’s any whining on site!
SAIL: What was the impetus behind the new J/Boat class? Do you seen that as a growth area in future years?
Peter Craig: With a steady decline in PHRF participation since 2008, this was our first attempt at grouping boats with similar performance characteristics with handicapping and marketing help from our friends at J/Boats. While we didn’t achieve the two distinct J/Boats handicap classes offered in the Notice of Race, we will have a J class featuring time-on-time scoring and now have something to build on. J/Boats has received direct feedback from a number of their clients who will join us in 2013 to race in one of the J-specific classes. I’m pretty confident that this new concept will have legs, and J-specific handicap classes will be a fixture for years to come.
SAIL: Premiere Racing and SAIL are teaming up on a second Best Around the Buoys program: how do you see that fitting into the overall Quantum Key West Program?
Peter Craig: We were really excited to have SAIL continue this Best Around the Buoys promotion. Last year was a great success on a number of fronts – bringing more exposure to race week and making for a great story and experience for the contest winner. The program moves from PHRF to one design this year with the winner, Ryan Glaze, living the dream and gearing up to take on a talented 18-boat J/80 class. There were a lot of intriguing submissions and worthy entrants – it’s a shame we can only have one winner! A big thanks to Josh Adams, SAIL and the other Best Around the Buoys sponsors who made it possible for a worthy local program to come down to the big show.
SAIL: You‘ve been in this business for a long time and have a reputation for success. Do you have any advice for someone involved in regatta management?
Peter Craig: Well, I’m not sure I’d advise anyone to try it in this economy, but there are a few basics. The most important thing is to build a strong volunteer team and make sure they know they are appreciated. I’m very fortunate in that we have very talented and loyal volunteers. I couldn’t begin to name them all, but they hail from across the country and are simply the best. On the water and shoreside – we couldn’t do it without them. Another important point is to seek and retain quality sponsors and industry partners that truly believe in giving back to the sport. Premiere Racing has been very fortunate in that regard also. Lastly, listen to your clients. Most improvements we’ve made over the past 17 years have come from actively seeking feedback and then responding to it.