Huge potential for growth in the US

Published on January 30th, 2020

Katie Pettibone partnered with Michael Hennessy on his Class40 Dragon in the 45th Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race, with the doublehanded class introduced to encourage interest for the new Mixed Two Person Keelboat Offshore event at the Paris 2024 Olympics. Katie reports on the experience:


The Southern Ocean Racing Conference’s 160 nm race along the Florida coastline started early on January 23 in a blustery North East wind with solid waves, due to the cold front that had blown through the day before.

Mike and I were prepared on our Class40 Dragon – we had been checking the models and working with our weather router, but we knew with a predicted dying breeze we would need to make tracks against our competition Ken Read and Suzy Leech sailing on Alchemist, a light, zippy new Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300.

We had a solid plan, and with a day that was predicted to have some storm cells, we wanted to go fast down the rhumbline, while not getting into trouble. The goal was to win while learning how to work together, have fun, and not have any unrecoverable situations.

We launched off the start on a nice reach with our largest jib, switching to the A5 and holding it through the afternoon. Although we couldn’t see our double-handed competition as we had drawn ahead, we knew they were pushing their boat hard and the corrected scores would be tough. In the meantime, the full crew on the Class40 Longbow, a sistership to Dragon, was playing with us as we pushed each other down the coast.

As we curved around the Keys and started pointing more to the Southwest, the change in relative position to the wind brought us into range for the big kite which we set around 5 pm. And then the fun began….. Gybing short-handed is a heck of a lot different than the fully crewed seamless maneuvers that we were used to!

Katie Pettibone and Michael Hennessy on the Class40 Dragon.

We were running progressively deeper and while the boats around us had to start gybing their way down the line, Dragon was able to sail deep enough to stay just shy of the reef. We were holding out for the predicted veer in the wind, which was forecasted to shift from about 70 TWD to something more like 105 TWD. That veer would have made it easy to fetch the mark at Key West….but the wind gods had other plans!

Instead, our pack of boats got swept up in a group of small, slow moving convective storm cells. Longbow stayed in towards the reef while on Dragon we were stuck under some terrible clouds. The wind dropped to a whole lot of not-much and was rotating randomly. Multiple sail changes later, we actually were on top of Looe Key and forced to gybe away before we grounded.

Although our plan to gybe back towards the reef once we got adverse current or a shift seemed sound, neither materialized. The fully-crewed boats that were able to short gybe and stay close to the reef ended up in very different wind…better wind, both in angle and pressure. ARGH!

Bottom line, the one long gybe cost us about 7 miles and we went from swapping leads with Longbow to instead watching the AIS forlornly as they crossed the line well ahead of us. Additionally, Alchemist was stalking us and although we ultimately beat them across the line by two hours, they got us on corrected time by two minutes.

Sailing short-handed is such a great physical and mental challenge. We didn’t get much (any) sleep and having to physically continue to push the boat while balancing learning to work together as a team unit is what makes the mixed-gender double-handed event so complicated and fun. We really focused on supporting each other, lending a hand, and discussing options/action plans as two equal compatriots fighting to get across the line in first.

The Key West Race was the perfect intro to the new Mixed Two Person Keelboat Offshore event for Paris 2024 which has drawn so much recent attention. This is just the beginning for a new class that has a huge potential for growth in the US, with numerous racing friends already reaching out to express their interest in getting into the discipline.

There are a number of European events coming up, as well as summer events in the US, including the Oakcliff Distance Race and the Chicago to Mackinac race in J/88s which is the qualifier for the 2020 World Championship in Malta in October. It will be very interesting to see which team prevails and how they get themselves to a point to take on the foreign competition.

MORE: Suzy Leach shares her race experience on the North Sails website.

Ken Read and Suzy Leech sailing on Alchemist, a Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300.

General informationRace detailsResultsTrackerPhotos

Series informationOverall results

2019-2020 Islands in the Stream Series
November 14 – Nassau Cup Ocean Race
December 6 – Wirth M Munroe Palm Beach Race
January 23 – Ft. Lauderdale to Key West
March 11 – Eleuthera Race

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