Shellfish dinners could cost more in Key West over the next few weeks

If you’re heading to Key West on holiday over the next few weeks, you may find that the price of the lobster and crab may have taken a hike thanks to a poor harvest towards the end of January. The reason could be the surprising number of race boats in the 100 or so strong fleet at Key West found themselves ensnared by pots and were forced to cut themselves free.
Despite having competed in several Key West race weeks I can’t remember quite so many boats tripping up during the week.
Aboard Hannes Waimer’s Farr 400 Team Premier we watched several boats, including the mini Maxi Bella Mente, come to a grinding halt after which they were forced to drop sails and back up. We made a note of what had happened in each case and spent a considerable amount of time in crew briefings discussing how we could best keep a look out, what the calls to the helmsman should be and what to do if we did trip up.
The following day we had to put theory into practice as we hooked a submerged line while travelling downwind at 16 knots which put the brakes on like an aircraft carrier’s arrester wire.
Having dropped the kite and rounded up we made several attempts to back down and free ourselves from the trap, but to no avail.
Our boat captain went over the side and ran down the leading edge of the keel but couldn’t find any sign of a line. He then did the same on the rudder, but still no obvious problem.
A third dive, this time to the bulb, revealed that we had hooked an underwater loop of line, presumably connecting two or more pots, but with no visual clue on the water’s surface. The line was bar tight, draped down on either side of the bulb under such tension that it required just the slightest tap of a knife to see the rope part and snake off down into the depths.
We completed the course but our race was clearly over, the rest of the fleet having smoked into the distance.
Consoling ourselves this morning that lightening rarely strikes twice was of little use on day three.
Having had a superb start and a blistering beat we turned the top mark in first place to smoke our way downhill at 18 knots. A successful gybe and the bow came back up onto the plane as Hannes sent us flying down the leg once more. Yet seconds later the tiller was pulled to leeward momentarily before suddenly jerking to windward and locking tight. With the rudder jammed we rounded up into the breeze into what felt like a gentle broach. Hannes was clearly unable to move the helm and we gingerly dropped the kite, mindful that with the helm locked at an angle we were in danger of bearing way and and into a Chinese gybe. Not fun in 20knots of true wind. Keeping some pressure on the mainsail avoided this and gave us time to inspect the rudder.
Once again our boat captain went over the side but this time took just a few seconds to identify the problem, our rudder was broken at the stock.
Limping back to the dock and removing the blade revealed a chafe mark on the leading edge, presumably where the pot line had caught and had sawn into the rudder.
With no spare rudder to fit, this time our regatta really was over. A sad way to end a great week in classic Key West conditions.
And given a personal taste for shellfish dinners, a bit of a worry when you’re on a tight budget. Guess its back to the burgers.