In its 17-year growth into Terra Nova Trading Key West 2004, presented by Nautica, North America's largest keelboat regatta has matured into a midwinter pilgrimage for many of the world's best professional and amateur sailors.
Signing in this year, among others, are Ed BAIRD, Stu BANNATYNE, Vince BRUN, Brad BUTTERWORTH, Paul CAYARD, Eric DOYLE, Pease GLASER, Robbie HAINES, Terry HUTCHINSON, Chris LARSON, Ross MACDONALD, Harry MELGES, Adrian STEAD, Tom WHIDDEN---and, for the first time in a long time, Dawn RILEY, a former US Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year and America's leading advocate for women in sports.
Five days of racing start next Monday for what are currently 302 entries from 18 countries and 32 states, competing in 11 PHRF and 10 one-design classes on boats from 24 to 75 feet, including two new classes of Swan 45s and C&C 99s.
Riley, 39, sailed on a 50-footer, Gem, in the inaugural Key West regatta in 1988 and most recently on a 1D48 in '97. Then she became too busy with America's Cups and promoting the interests of women not only in sailing, but in sports in general. She is halfway through her two-year term as president of the Women's Sports Foundation founded by Billie Jean KING in 1974.
She'll be at the helm of a last-minute Melges 24 entry, M&M, from her hometown of Detroit that also includes her sister Dana, longtime crewmate Katie PETTIBONE, Nancy HOOD and the boat's owner, Mary Anne WARD.
"Katie and Dana were at the bar at Bayview Yacht Club [and said], 'Hey, let's do it!' "
Riley said. "It's a bunch of single girls going sailing in Key West, except for Mary Anne, who is married."
Riley recalled last sailing a Melges 24 as part of Bill Koch's all-woman-plus-Dave-DELLENBAUGH America's Cup team at San Diego in '95. "We match-raced them for practice,"
Others who have been coming to Key West for a long time include Bruce AYRES, one of Riley's Melges 24 rivals from Newport Beach, Calif. Ayres said, "Team Monsoon has made the trip from California every year since 1994. The main reason is the great time I have with my teammates. Our favourite restaurants, to name a few, are Louie's Backyard, Blue Heaven and Marquisa's."
Bruce GARDNER has been bringing his Beneteau FC 10M, L'Outrage, from Annapolis since '97. "The most important thing is the competition,"
Gardner said, "and it's also the best-run racing event in the nation. Every year just seems to be better."
John CHICK of Chicago has been coming for so long---this is his tenth year---that his Mumm 30 is named for the address of a favourite watering hole: 1029 Truman. But he almost became a no-show this year when he got tangled up with a car trying to pass him on the shoulder 150 miles south of Chicago.
"My van was tottaled but the boat was OK,"
said Chick, who has his priorities straight.
The helmsman is Mike ELAM. Chick trims the main sail. He doesn't drive, he said, because, "I've never driven a boat that I owned for the last 30 years. After about 10 minutes my mind wanders."
That happens easily at Key West, where the sub-tropical ambiance clashes with the action.
Dan Van HEECKEREN, an eight-year veteran, has several reasons for hauling his Melges 24, Elektra, from Cleveland. One is obvious: "When in January the Cleveland temperature is 20 degrees, what could be better than sailing in the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, competing against the best sailors in the world?"
With three of his children on the crew, it's also a family affair. Van Heeckeren, 67, says, "We belong to the Walter Mitty part of the fleet, but they will have to pull the tiller from my cold dead hands before I give up going to Key West!"
Title Sponsor, Terra Nova Trading, L.L.C. (member NASD, SIPC & PCX), is recognized as an innovative leader in Electronic Direct Access Trading. The Chicago-based firm enables customers to electronically route orders to major markets and ECNs. Terra Nova Trading's technology partner, Townsend Analytics, Ltd., is the developer of the premier real-time trading platform, RealTick(r), which is also a Key West sponsor.
Nautica has upgraded its role to the Presenting Sponsor level. The winners of the multi-boat International Team Competition will receive the Nautica Trophy.
Mount Gay Rum, Lewmar, Samson Rope Technologies, Pearson Yachts, Raymarine and the Florida Keys and Key West Tourist Development Council round out the official line-up. The Historic Seaport is the Official Site for the event. The Performance Sailing Industry Partner Program, now in its third year, features 26 companies that have made a multi-year commitment to the event.