Key West Race Week Canceled for 2018 – Will it Return? By Steve Morrell
n May, the Storm Trysail Club announced that it was canceling Key West Race Week (KWRW) 2018. The club stated that they might be bringing it back in 2019, but changes in the event in recent years have made it difficult to run the one-week regatta. Storm Trysail Club, a not-for-profit organization, took over the event, held each January, from Premiere Racing (a for-profit company) in 2016. Premier Racing ran KWRW under the direction of Peter Craig for the previous 21 years. The event was originally started in 1987 by Yachting Magazine. Craig ran it in the 90s and eventually took it over with his company Premiere Racing. Craig said the cost and less participation made it impossible for Premiere to continue. Storm Trysail Club said they canceled the 2018 race week for the same reasons. KWRW reached its peak in participation in 2001 with 326 boats competing. Participation had been declining for years, especially after the collapse of the economy in 2008. In 2016, 130 boats competed, the first year the Storm Trysail Club was in charge. In 2017—the 30th anniversary—only 90 boats competed. Other contributing factors included the increased cost of staying in Key West. Key West prices, for both living there and tourism, increased drastically in the 2000s, and today, hotel room rates in Key West are the highest in Florida.
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These additional costs, along with declining participation, pressured the organizers to seek more and more sponsors to finance the event. And with fewer participants, it became more difficult to find sponsors. The two main sponsors, Quantum and Mount Gay Rum, were happy with the event, but the number of smaller sponsors needed to help with costs was declining. The budget for the event was over $500,000. Just the cost of housing over 100 volunteers was $95,000. And for the participants, getting to remote Key West with both crew and boat was a long and expensive ride, costing as much as $10,000 for many just for a crane to take a boat in and out of the water. Marina space was also difficult and expensive. In the early days, amateurs raced, often sleeping on their boats. As the years went by, the race boats became more professional with most boats having at least one professional crewmember on board. As the boats became more professional, the boats had fewer accommodations for those staying on board, meaning more hotel costs. Other events around the country competed with KWRW, like Charleston Race Week—held in April—which has become the largest keelboat event in the Western Hemisphere. Charleston is closer and cheaper and a shorter event—all factors which make it less expensive and less time-consuming. All these reasons put the future of KWRW in doubt. The Storm Trysail Club says that it will be observing the changing face of racing and these large regattas to see if it will come back, perhaps in a very different form—maybe for a shorter race week or something else that will cost less and bring more racers. But everyone who goes to the event each year agrees that there are few better places to sail in the middle of winter—and party like crazy at night—than Key West.
SOUTHWINDS September 2017