The third week of January has traditionally marked the start of the American offshore sailing season on the East Coast. That event was the Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race that started January 23rd, 2020. The race is a 160.0nm dash down the eastern Florida coastline, bound by the Florida Keys reefs to starboard and the swift-moving 4-6 kt Gulf Stream off to port. The Storm Trysail Club and Fort Lauderdale YC host the event.
As usual, it was a challenging race for the navigators and tacticians. The race track was simple enough. Start off the Ft Lauderdale inlet, then head south to several Florida Keys turning marks to be left to starboard- 68.0nm to Elbow Key Light, 12.0nm more to Molasses Reef Light, 53.0nm more to Sombrero Key Light, 45.0nm more to Key West Channel buoy #2, then a short 6.0nm sprint north up the Key West Channel to the finish off Truman Annex Navy base. Because of the current off Key West (a channel that seemingly has half the Gulf of Mexico empty through it), the last 6.0nm can often be the most frustrating in the race in an ebb tide and light winds!
Here is the report from the race-winning J/121 INCOGNITO owned and skippered by Joe Brito from Bristol, Rhode Island. His boat captain, Jesse Fielding, a veteran of the Volvo 70 Around the World Race, provides a synopsis of their performance:
“It was a gorgeous, blue-skies day in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida with a fresh, warm, easterly breeze blowing across the Gulf Stream from the Bahamas. The boats approached the line luffing on port tack, then collectively put their bows down on port off the start line and easily fetched the first mark- the Miami Sea Buoy.
Heavy jibs were trimmed to the rail and after getting settled, reaching sails were deployed!
On the Incognito we kept our J3 in in the sky, added in our storm jib staysail (see photo – orange sail) and deployed our newest reaching sail.
Everyone makes a good joke about my luggage when I turn up for a race because it always includes something in a blue bag, but this Masthead Helix Code Zero did not disappoint. We were off, with a “triple-head/ triple-slot” setup and the helm locked in for our owner/skipper Joe.
Loading up the front of the sail plan allows the helm to neutralize and the driver can really put the bow where they want to in order to catch a wave.
If we saw a squall line coming, we could quickly top down furl our Code sail and carry on with the two headsails or even take a reef if needed. Using all of our tools in the kit kept us reaching down the upper keys nicely.
Joe had his boat hit a new ‘all-white sails’ top speed of 17.8 knots as he connected three big waves together. Nothing but smiles on board.
Joe set a precedent for this race of a “push” mentality, utilizing the “buddy system” for watches and keeping drivers and trimmers fresh. Full credit to the team for keeping boat above polar boat speed through cloud lines and around fishing fleets.
The last third of the race was a VMG run with stars lighting the way to the Key West Sea Buoy and a quick beat into the channel off of the infamous city at the Southernmost point of the United States- Key West, Florida! It was an amazing race for us, taking 1st in ORC B Class and 2nd ORC Overall!”