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Scuttlebutt Interviews:

Peter Craig, leader of Premiere Racing and Key West Race Week

Since 1994, Peter Craig, President of Premiere Racing, has managed the on-water portion of what is now known as Terra Nova Trading Key West. In 1997, Premiere Racing took over the complete event management of what is now arguably the premiere multi-class keelboat event in the US. Scuttlebutt recently checked in with Peter about Key West, what today’s sailors are looking for and how all events can improve themselves. Here is what he had to say:

Peter at work (in blue), handing out the trophies.

'Butt: What do you see as the current trend with race week events?

Peter Craig: I believe the race week type events are probably a dying breed. With a premium today on leisure time, at least in this country, the one, two, and three-day regattas over a weekend are more commonplace than the more lengthy events of a week or longer. You just need to look at the demise of the old SORC format, Kenwood Cup, and Admirals Cup to name just a few. Some of the major regional events are shorter today than they were in the past. Time in many respects has become more critical than money. Key West Race Week is an exception. First of all it is a long way to bring your crew and your boat for two or three days of racing. Secondly, it has evolved into a championship-caliber event.

'Butt: But isn’t there still a desire for folks to branch out beyond their local racing?

Peter Craig: Part of it is the need for a destination location. For a keelboat regatta, as opposed to dinghies or easily trailerable keelboats, you have got to have a real good reason to pack up the boat and get your sizeable crew wherever it is that you are going. When you are doing all that, with both the expense and the time factor involved, and you only have two or two and a half days of racing, that includes a bad weather day, boy, that’s a huge effort to come up short. You’re finding that in the keelboat arena today, to get yourself out of your local regional area, and your boat on a truck and where it needs to be, there’s got to be a real good reason to do so.

'Butt: What do you feel most of these sailors are looking for?

Peter Craig: Sailors at Key West cover the whole spectrum. We’ve got the not-so-serious club racer on one end right up to the elite grand prix program in the other. But, the one thing that they are all looking for is competent race management. You have got to have that. We focus really hard to get that just right for all four divisions. There is a lot to putting on a great event, but above all else you better make sure that you’re making good decisions on the water.

'Butt: Recent Scuttlebutt dialogue has included how PRO’s (principal race officers) interact on the water with competitors. Is there a game plan covering this for Key West?

Peter Craig: We have been in tune with that for six or seven years now. We indeed have a game plan. With the four separate divisions and PRO’s coming from four different regions around the country, it’s important for continuity sake to have a detailed, written standard operating procedure, which we do. And that includes communications. We use a fair amount of VHF communications to keep competitors apprised with what we’re up to. We receive very positive feedback about our on-the-water communications, but no, we don’t coach competitors in the last minute before the start. I certainly don’t think that’s what sailboat racing is all about.

Enjoying the shore side activities under the big top.

'Butt: How did Key West become such a “must-do” event?

Peter Craig: The year before I got involved, Key West was 113-boat regatta. That was a decade ago. Five races over five days. Was it a good 113-boat regatta? People certainly wanted a little bit more racing than that. We aggressively went after competitors worldwide and in the US, because healthy class size means good competition. The word gets out about great competition, which then builds on itself. We promote directly to the one-design classes and owners and we seek out new classes. The Swan 45 is a good example for this coming year. Plus we are aggressive with the event promotion overseas which has paid off. Of course, having Key West as your venue during the month of January doesn’t hurt.

'Butt: And all during a tough economy?

Peter Craig: We are very fortunate to have a loyal following. Following an 8-year bull market, we didn't know what to expect during a global recession. An average fleet size of 310-boats these past 3 years answered the question. Our boat owners believe in us and continued to make the trek to Key West. I am also very fortunate to have Terra Nova Trading and RealTick with us. They stuck by us in a tough market in the title sponsor realm, showing their commitment to the sport and the event. The same holds true with the players in the industry that stepped up to the plate. Our three-part business plan is: big fleet, industry participation and sponsorship. If one of those components falls down, from a financial standpoint, we’re in trouble. But all three have hung in during a tough few years and we are hoping now to keep things going here in 2004 and going forward.

'Butt: How can you best learn what the “client” wants?

Peter Craig: It seems real simple - but it isn't about handing out a survey - that helps - but it's better to stay in touch by sailing and having people on your team that compete. A second point is to be sure you're doing what the majority of your clients want. You are going to hear from the vocal minority all the time.

'Butt: How have you handled PHRF at Key West?

Peter Craig: We spend an enormous amount of time and effort with our own event-specific PHRF process. The PHRF entrants make up a solid third of our fleet, and they come from across the country so we have to get this right. We have our own rules & regulations, consortium and appeals process, and we administer the process right here at our offices in Marblehead. Our Consortium consists of a team of 8 or 9 people who have access to and are familiar with a wide range of boats from around the country. We can't depend on a local PHRF organization to do this. PHRF is a local handicapping rule and we have over a hundred boats coming from all over the country so you need a national base of knowledge and experience to get the handicapping and class breaks right.

'Butt: Has the Key West event become more than just about the sailing?

Peter Craig: Just look at who attends. It's not just the boat owner and their crews. The sailing industry is there in force each and every year. It’s a real gathering. It’s not unusual for class associations, committees from ISAF and US Sailing, among others, to have their meetings in Key West. And I can’t tell you how many people we come across that let us know they are coming down, not to compete, but just to be there and be part of the event. They’re taking some vacation with fellow sailors at a location they want to be at. This speaks to our shore side component, where we really work hard to go the extra mile and provide more.

The circus comes to Key West.

'Butt: And this all occurs with very little infrastructure.

Peter Craig: That's one of the big challenges. The southernmost point of the U.S. with no host yacht club, no facility. We come down with our trucks every January and put up the circus. The last three years our team has included some 180-190 people on-site. The shore side component is really important in this regatta. We try to create a venue that is special, we bring Mallory Square to the big top, timely scoring and a top notch jury are important, video of the day’s racing, panel discussions each afternoon, six days of a great daily newspaper, etc. For all that to happen, you need great people, and lots of them. Our shore side team is significantly bigger than our on-the-water team, which tells part of that story.

'Butt: What advice can you offer event organizers who are looking to elevate their own events?

Peter Craig: I still sail as much as I can, as do the people on my team. Don't lose sight of the fact that the racing is what it's all about. And not to harp on the point, but the decisions your PRO’s and your race management teams make on the water are critical. First and foremost, your event should have a reputation for great racing. The quickest way to hurt the reputation and attendance at your event is to mess up your race management. If you are looking to build fleet size, the very first thing that has to happen is getting it right on the water. Once you get that done, then you can start paying attention to some of the other areas. We look very hard at every element of the event, on water and shoreside, always trying to do it a little better than the other guy.

Event information is available at the Premiere Racing website.

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