There will be no clouds hanging over Key West during the third week of January. Entries have topped 300, and the former winner Jack King will attend after seven years out.
Despite a global recession and the ongoing war against terrorism, sailors are coming from all over the world in their usual numbers next month to compete in Terra Nova Trading/Yachting Key West Race Week 2002.
Entries for the Northern Hemisphere's premier winter regatta slowed to a trickle in the days following Sept. 11, but the initial deadline passed three months later with a pre-Christmas flood of applications that pushed the total to 315 boats and continues upward toward the record of 326 that competed last January.
"Given the economic climate and recent world events, it's extraordinary," Event Organizer Peter Craig said. "Sailing is an expression of freedom, and sailors aren't going to be discouraged or intimidated into surrendering their lifestyle."
Least of all Jack King, 73, who has entered his seventh generation of boats named Merrythought, a new J/105, after missing the last seven years. King raced under IOR then IMS and PHRF with Gary Jobson as a crew member for many years, winning the Newport-Bermuda Race, the Pineapple Cup, Block Island Race Week and various classes at Key West so often that he said, "We never keep track of stuff like that."
His Frers 62 won its class at Key West in '93 and returned to sail in '94. This year he got the itch again, and subsequent events never deterred him.
"Sailing is too much of an avocation," he said. "We made our plans the tail end of the summer and said let's go down there and see what happens."
King went along on Jobson's expedition to the Arctic last summer. "We got to one mile above 80 degrees north, which is within 599 miles of the North Pole, but we couldn't get up there," he said. "Too much ice."
That's never a problem at Key West. Traffic might be a worry, though, with 30 or more J/105s expected. "It should be interesting with that many boats," King said. "We should learn some new words on the starting line."
The J/105s will share one of the four race courses with the Melges 24s, whose World Championship will be at stake. The Melgi have exceeded the most optimistic expectations with 77 entries to date, including 24 from foreign countries.
Altogether, there currently are 53 foreign entries, topping the record of 50 set a year ago -- another sign of the sailors' resolve.
One-design classes have outweighed the mixed bag of handicap boats in recent years, but the PHRF side of the competition filled the mailbag with 40 of its 95 entries in the last five days before the first deadline Dec. 12. Some will show up with new boats, including four Farr 395s, which will make their Key West debut after recently receiving Sailing World magazine's recognition as the best racer/cruiser and overall Boat of the Year, along with the new J/109 and Aerodyne 43.
One design class counts to date follow: Melges 24 - 77; J/105 - 28: Farr 40 - 26; J/80 - 21; Mumm 30 - 20; J/29 - 17; 1D35 - 13; F28-R - 13. The current entry list, event information, and media registration information are available on the Web site: www.Premiere-Racing.com.
The final deadline, subject to late fees, is Dec. 26.