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The Best from Key West 2012

Quantum Key West Race Week has long been a regatta where cutting-edge sailing hardware and hot new raceboats abound, and the 25th year was no exception. Making their racing debuts this year were Irvine Laidlaw’s Highland Fling XII, Austin Fragomen’s Interlodge and two new production boats—the Farr 400 and the McConaghy 38.
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Quantum Key West Race Week has long been a regatta where cutting-edge sailing hardware and hot new raceboats abound, and the 25th running of the event was no exception. 

Making their racing debuts this year were Irvine Laidlaw’s Reichel-Pugh-designed Highland Fling XII, Austin Fragomen’s Judel-Vrolijk-designed Interlodge and two new production boats—the Farr 400 and the McConaghy 38 (MC38). 

Interlodge and Highland Fling both struggled at the tail end of the hyper-competitive IRC 52 class—in part due to a number of breakages in the heavy air that marked the first two days of the regatta. But Carbonado, owned by Rob and Sandy Butler of Collingwood, Ontario, proved fast right out of the box, with a string of firsts, seconds and thirds that ultimately took first overall in the High-Performance class, which served as a test bed for the new HPR rule (see sidebar, page 50). 

The five new 400s that showed up all raced together as a one-design class, and it was interesting to see the various crews clawing their way up the learning curve aboard a brand-new design. The boats looked nimble and fast, even in the light air on Day 3. On the heavy-air days they were a sight to behold, slicing through the chop under their towering rigs. 

One of the niftiest bits of go-fast gear was a new spinnaker sheet take-up system on Niklas Zennstrom’s Judel-Vrolijk 72 Rán, winner of the Mini-Maxi class. Developed by the boat’s main trimmer, Lou Varney (who also works for Diverse Yachts Performance Racing Technology in the UK) the system helps clean up the spaghetti on the cockpit sole by quickly clearing away the slack sheet after the chute comes down: just pull a short line and the sheet is sucked belowdecks via a carbon wheel and ratchet, ready for the next set.

Also helping to keep the boat’s cockpit as orderly as possible was the boat’s dedicated Lewmar mainsheet winch arrangement.

Equipped with a combination reinforcing strut and tube, the system safely guides the line belowdecks, where it travels to the base of the mast then out through the end of the boom to the traveler, well aft of the helm. 

Over in the IRC 52 fleet, the latest trend appeared to be increasingly über-clean spars. There are no turning blocks clustered around the mast partners aboard such racing machines as Quantum Racing,Interlodge and Highland Fling XII. Instead the blocks are belowdecks, and all halyards and control lines run through a series of discrete openings or carefully sculpted low-profile guides. Quantum Racing has even added cloth fairings outboard of the gooseneck—complete with chafing patches—to further streamline the rig.

Another nifty bit of gear was the Farr 400’s spinnaker retrieval roller. Set into the deckhead just aft of the foredeck hatch and exquisitely crafted from carbon fiber (like the rest of the boat), this roller smoothes the way for the chute as it is sucked belowdecks into a long sock by a dedicated retrieval line during douses. Crews are still figuring out how to optimize this system, but from my perch on the press boat, they seemed well on their way to doing so. 

Both the Farr 400 and the MC38 have canted winches aft to improve ergonomics for the crew catching the runners on each gybe and tack—a trick adapted from the TP52 class. The Farr 400 also features an offset companionway, with all halyards and control lines led to a single bank of clutches to starboard. The result is a consolidated pit area, another trick borrowed from the TP52 class. It’s set to starboard, as opposed to port, so the pit crew will be positioned to windward during a typical bear-away set when leaving marks to port. 

Aboard the MC38, the mast was supported with swept-back concave spreaders, which provide a little extra room for the upper leech on the headsail at tighter sheeting angles. This feature has appeared on a handful of custom racers, including Dan Meyers’s Judel-Vrolijk 66 Numbers—also at Key West in 2012—but according to designer Harry Dunning, this is the first time they’ve appeared on a production one-design racer.

Elsewhere aboard the MC38 it’s what you don’t see that’s impressive. The seeming simplicity of the boat’s cockpit belies the virtuosity of builder McConaghy Boats, the same outfit responsible for such renowned super maxis as Wild Oats XI and ICAP Leopard. Integral carbon fiber winch handle holders, streamlined fairings leading lines belowdecks, carbon fiber stanchions: you name it, it’s there. 

Speaking of which, there seems to be a quiet battle taking place these days to see who can sport the sleekest stanchions in the never-ending quest to reduce weight and windage. Molded in a variety of different foil shapes with high-modulus lifelines secured with lashings and tape, they make conventional stanchions look downright primitive by comparison. 

Also in the interest of reduced windage and weight aloft, Interlodge boasted Hall Spars’s new airfoil-shape SCR (seamless carbon rigging) shrouds among it standing rigging. Coupled with sculpted titanium fittings, airfoil SCR is not only light and strong, but reportedly reduces windage by as much as 50 percent. Trim the windward D2!

Finally, perhaps my favorite bit of gear was the protective carbon fiber instrument cowling on the Melges 32 Arethusa Racing. Wedged in between the vang and companionway, the boat’s diminutive Velocitek ProStart was clearly positioned to take a beating. But according to owner Phil Lotz, this was the best place to put it so it would be clearly visible to all. Aboard some one-designs, a conventional fiberglass fitting might have done the trick, but in the ultra-competitive Melges 32 class? Not a chance!


HPR Beta Test

In addition to new boats and new gear, Quantum Key West Race Week 2012 also served as the debut regatta for a “beta” draft of the HPR rule, a new system for rating some of today’s hottest raceboats. Based on 14 different measured parameters, including stability, HPR is being developed for pure racers that don’t rate well under systems like IRC, which for boats around 40 feet favors more dual-purpose, racer-cruisers. 

In development since mid-2010, HPR remains very much a work in progress, with organizers still debating the specifics of the “typeforms” of boat it will encourage. However, carbon-fiber rockets like the new Farr 400 and McConaghy 38 are representative of the boats that will likely result from the “sweet spots” being proposed. In fact, the McConaghy 38 Carbonado was one of four boats in the 2012 Key West High Performance class, which shared a start with IRC 3 and employed HPR as part of its scoring system.

Currently, cutting-edge one-design racers like the Farr 400 and the McConaghy 38 or box-rule boats like the GP42 are often hard-pressed to find a suitable racing format outside their specific classes. Hopefully, HPR will solve that problem, creating a competitive format where lightweight offshore-capable racers can show their stuff. If the tight racing at Key West is any indication, the result will be very cool, indeed. 

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