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New wave brings two worlds together

Published on January 22nd, 2020

Katie Pettibone

The introduction of the Mixed Two-Person Offshore Keelboat event for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games has triggered opportunities around the world to promote the anticipated format, and it was the convergence of two historical events in South Florida that jumped on this bandwagon in 2020.

The 31st edition of the Hempel World Cup Series Miami for Olympic Classes is partnering with the 45th Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race to include a doublehanded class when the fleet gets underway January 23, with American Katie Pettibone signing up for the 160nm test. Here’s her report:

The Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race has been known as a great course to one of the country’s coolest spots, and my involvement in both offshore and Olympic racing has me on this new wave that’s brought both worlds together.

US Olympic Team Coach and Performance Manager Sally Barkow connected me with experienced shorthanded Class40 sailor Michael Hennessy on the good yacht Dragon. Michael has done a tremendous amount of miles competing in this tough one-design short-handed class, including the famed Route de Rhum, Fastnet, and Bermuda race, so I knew I would be in great hands to learn the tricks of sailing competitively shorthanded.

Admittedly, this had been an aspect of the sport I had purposely avoided. It’s not the offshore aspect, as I have plenty of miles that include going around the world multiple times, but rather I have struggled with the concept whenever I had gotten an inquiry for one of the notable shorthanded races.

Through my years with America’s Cup and Whitbread campaigns, I just couldn’t imagine not pushing for every last ounce out of a tenth of knot (to our detriment?), and with fewer hands it requires a different approach. You must be smarter and savvier than that.

Sail changes take longer. Sometimes you stay with the wrong sail because it’ll take too long and cost too much to do a change. You have to push beyond exhaustion but get rest. It’s a different frame of reference that requires full effort but in a way that isn’t just measured in knots.

So, with Sally’s encouragement and Michael’s invitation, I put aside the Nacra 17 harness and wetsuit I typically use for the World Cup Series Miami and am eagerly jumping in to this new experience.

I love the idea how this complex athletic equation that applies to all levels of sailing would now be in the Olympics. Talk about some very good, useful trickle-down learning that can be applied to sailors across the country, and it’s been terrific to see how yacht clubs have indicated a great deal of excitement over the class.

As the race is shaping up to be anywhere from 16-24 hours, that puts it into the sprint category compared to so many of the offshore classics. It will start on a reach from Ft. Lauderdale, which will get broader, lighter, and trickier as we ascend along the Florida coast toward Key West.

There will be some very dicey navigation to be done along the reefs, particularly in those final miles, with a bunch of gybes as we finish deep down off the harbor in front of Key West. For those of us who raced so many Key West Race Weeks, it will be a return to a region which harbors such great memories.

While the inclusion of the class in the Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race happened late last year, with the amendment opening up what boats qualified coming even later, the turnout is small but the competition will be epic as we battle with the esteemed Ken Read and Suzy Leech sailing a Jeanneau 3300, in addition to the rest of the fleet for the overall trophy.

Without a full crew to do the orchestration of sail changes, the shorthanded element requires savvy decision making on the sail wardrobe as well as when to take rests in the context of tactics and navigation. Mike and I have been consulting with our weather router on the models and adjusting for the changing conditions.

I am looking forward to this event – so fun! What a great sport that, after all these years, still can present challenges that can put oneself outside of their normal box while continuing to learn a great deal… I guess that is why we all do this! Wish us luck, and we will report back on the finish of the race.

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