Is Key West Race Week Sailing Into The Sunset?

Mar 2, 2015

Since 1987, Key West has hosted the international sail racing world each January. Quantum Race Week fills thousands of hotel rooms and provides footage that is shown all over the globe.

Bella Mente, skippered by Hap Fauth, sails to an overall IRC 1 class victory at this year's Quantum Race Week in Key West.
Credit Ken Stanek / Florida Keys News Service

But the regatta's future is in question with the announcement Monday from Premiere Racing, the event's owner and organizer, that it is stepping aside.

A combination of personal and economic reasons led to the decision, said Jeanne Kleene, the event organizer. Those reasons included a smaller race, with half the number of boats it's seen in the past, fewer sponsors and the difficulties of organizing a complicated event from 1,500 miles away. Premiere Racing is based in Marblehead, Mass.

"You put it all together, and it was time," Kleene said.

Kleene said Premiere is already talking to one potential successor, and "they're doing some very serious in-depth analysis."

Great Cup 32 class Swiss entry Armin Strom, left, maintains a lead over French-flagged ZouLou during this year's Quantum Race Week in Key West.
Credit Ken Stanek / Florida Keys News Service

The Monroe County Tourist Development Council provided $100,000 in promotion for the most recent event in January. Julie Fondriest, who runs a group of six historic hotels in Key West, says the event provides global exposure to a crowd that the Keys would not otherwise reach.

"It's been a really great event for Key West, not only from a heads in beds aspect but also just really good publicity for Key West as a sailing destination, a warm weather destination that's being broadcast out to top businesspeople in the world," Fondriest said.

And Fondriest said it's exciting for Key West to host an elite international competition.

"Some of these raceboats are incredibly impressive boats. The highest technology, the most elite racers. These really are athletes, Olympic-quality athletes," she said. "It's different than other groups that come to town. These guys are really here for a purpose."

Melges 24 boats cross the start line at this year's Quantum Race Week in Key West.
Credit Ken Stanek / Florida Keys News Service

Most of the events the TDC funds, like Fantasy Fest or Hemingway Days, are intended to fill the streets. Race Week is different.

"Because it is a participants' event and is happening a couple miles offshore, a lot of people never even see what's going on with this event, and they don't see the impact of it," Fondriest said. "But they should know that we at the Tourist Development Council track it very closely, that it does make a very positive impact on the town."

Kleene said Premiere Racing will do all it can to help another group that wants to take it on.

"There's great hope that this event will go forward for the next 30 years," she said.