Ken Keefe: Performance begins with preparation

Published on May 20th, 2014

Sitting in third overall after the first day of the Barclays 52 Super Series in Capri, Italy is Vesper, owned by San Francisco’s Jim Swartz and managed by nearby resident Ken Keefe. In this excerpt from the Marin Independent Journal, Michelle Slade profiles the Keefe’s role

The TP52 circuit consists of top-level professional racing programs, like Formula One car racing. While stronger in Europe where the fleet is well-developed, TP52 is gaining traction in the U.S. with highly competitive programs like Vesper (formerly the Quantum TP52, built in 2008). Owner-driver Swartz, who is in his early 70s, helms most of the time accompanied by a professional crew who have raced Vesper together for four years.

Ken Keefe’s essentially in charge of Vesper until the moment it leaves the dock to go racing. Getting to Capri alone involved traveling with Vesper, the container holding all its equipment and sails, as well as its chase boat on a ship from Palm Beach, Fla., then to Palma, Spain for two weeks before another ship carried them from Palma to Naples, and finally to Capri. At the final destination modifications then must be made to the boat for local race conditions.

“The logistics side is phenomenal just trying to find a marina, a boatyard, even just trying to figure out how to best tie up the boat in a new and unfamiliar location,” Keefe said.

He shared that on the trip from Capri to Naples, Vesper had an alternator go bad, melting some wires on the engine.

“I had to try to find a mechanic to work on the engine and figure out how to get it all operating so we can start sailing in a few days,” he said. “It’s as simple as trying to keep your cell phone costs yet ensuring that we have everything we need to operate at a top level. It’s challenging.”

He cites the biggest challenge with the most profound effect on results in this kind of racing is understanding the handicap rules which differ from regatta to regatta.

“You have to do a lot of homework ahead of time on these rules so that you can optimize — modify — the boats given any handicap rule in any given condition,” Keefe said.

Once the start gun goes, Keefe’s role on the boat is managing the rigging and running back-stays, as well as other mechanical equipment on board

“We have a very complicated mast which requires that very exacting engineering numbers that we have to hit and watch on the mast when we operate it,” he said.

TP52 racing is intense but really fun, said Keefe, typically with short courses and each race about an hour long. In Capri, Keefe expects to sail three races a day — conditions permitting. Additionally there’ll be one coastal race which is usually a 6-10 hour race, which could for example, see the fleet race around the island of Capri.

Keefe considers Vesper is, at the least, the best IRC program (IRC is a system of handicapping sailboats for racing) in the U.S. and is hopeful of a good result in Capri where Vesper will line up with some nine TP52s.

“I think we have a pretty good shot here in Capri to maybe finish on the podium — it depends on what conditions we have,” Keefe said.

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