Things aren’t looking any better for 2010 Key West Race Week than they were last year – in fact, with only 101 boats registered less than 8 weeks before the first gun, and a number of those registered not actually coming, it looks like the once-great event will experience yet another big drop in participation for the sixth or seventh straight year. Only the Melges 32 and IRC classes seem to have any strength at all relative to years past, and KWRW seems to be morphing into yet another Miami Grand Prix, which went from a multi class regatta of almost 150 boats to an exclusive invitational for big money GP racing in just two years. Shitboxes and small sporties not allowed…
From a peak of 320 boats in 2003 and around 270 in 2008, Key West Race Week saw just 154 boats on the line in 2009. Organizer Premiere Racing lost title sponsor Acura last year, and Europeans sent home emails wondering why "Key West has become a ghost town." And those emails seem to have done their job, assuring an even more desolate ghost town for 2010.
The strange part is that Premiere doesn’t seem to care that much – other than a token effort to appease the hot sportboat market by inviting the Twenties to come and play (only one signed up in 3 months), organizers are doing their damnedest to NOT bring in more business. Organizers and their paying sponsor/yacht service providers are still charging a fortune to race, to launch, to dock, and Premiere continues its idiotic policy of charging racers hundreds of dollars extra if they have any commercial advertising anywhere on their boat – even their own non-sailing industry company’s logo on the topsides. Premiere is also apparently trying to control the media rather than work with them to assure positive coverage – with their own NOR claiming that video of the event needs to be authorized and licensed – I think someone forgot to tell them how events run on public waterways like the US Territorial Waters are public by their very nature… And it’s not exactly a secret that this particular piece of nonsense was directed squarely at us. Don’t worry, like most everybody else we won’t be there either.
Meanwhile, amidst all this mayhem, long time launch/haul provider S&S Mobile Marine just pulled out this week citing an inability to break even at current participation levels. It’s hard to believe that Premiere can continue under their current model at all.
While the sailing conditions are some of the best anywhere, the competition, especially in the smaller one design and PHRF boats, has fallen way off. It is clear that the racers have voted with their wallets and decided to stay home altogether this winter, or to sail two or three lower-cost winter circuit events with the money they would’ve have spent in the Keys. With the Bacardi Cup, Charlotte Harbor Regatta, and St. Pete NOOD all offering warm weather alternatives this winter for numerous classes and Charleston Race Week likely to reach 200 boats this year, it’s not that big a surprise. Key West is just not that interesting as a ghost town.