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Prestigious Sailing Event This Week In Waters Off Key West

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KEY WEST (CBSMiami/FKNB) -- Veteran sailboat racing teams from around the world competing in the waters off America's southernmost city through Friday putting on a colorful display for spectators during Quantum Key West Race Week 2016.

One of the most prestigious sailing regattas on the international calendar, the Key West event includes a diverse fleet with teams hailing from 12 nations.

More than 135 boats and crews, organized into 11 classes, are participating in the event.

Quantum Key West Race Week 1
J/70 sailboats cross the starting line Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, at the Quantum Key West Race Week regatta in Key West, Fla. With 54 boats, the J/70 class is the largest of 11 in the 138-boat fleet. Racing off the Florida Keys is set to end Friday, Jan. 22. (Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau)
Quantum Key West Race Week 2
J/70 sailboats round the windward marker buoy Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, at the Quantum Key West Race Week regatta in Key West, Fla. With 54 boats, the J/70 class is the largest of 11 in the 138-boat fleet. Racing off the Florida Keys is set to end Friday, Jan. 22. (Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau)
Quantum Key West Race Week 3
Calvi Network (#33), skippered by Italy's Carlo Alberini, leads a pack of J/70-class sailboats Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, at the Quantum Key West Race Week regatta in Key West, Fla. Alberini and his crew are at the top of the J70-class leaderboard more than halfway through the five-day regatta that is set to end Friday, Jan. 22. (Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau)
Quantum Key West Race Week 4
Bella Mente, skippered by Hap Fauth of Minneapolis rounds the windward mark Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, at the Quantum Key West Race Week regatta in Key West, Fla. Fauth and his crew are at the top of the Maxi 72-class leaderboard more than half way through the five-day regatta that is set to end Friday, Jan. 22. (Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau)
Terry Hutchinson, Hap Fauth
Tactician Terry Hutchinson records race data on a paper taped to the boom of Bella Mente Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, at the Quantum Key West Race Week sailing regatta in Key West, Fla. Hutchinson and skipper Hap Fauth (at the helm in gray jacket) have Bella Mente in the lead in the Maxi 72 class more than halfway through the five-day regatta that is to end Friday, Jan. 22, off the Florida Keys. (Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau)
Quantum Key West Race Week 6
Spookie, left, skippered by Steve Benjamin, and Quantum Racing, right, helmed by Doug DeVos, race abeam of each other Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, at the Quantum Key West Race Week regatta in Key West, Fla. More than halfway through the five-day regatta, Spookie has a two-and-a-half point lead in the IRC 1 class. Racing off the Florida Keys is to conclude Friday, Jan. 22. (Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau)
Quantum Key West Race Week 7
The Maxi 72-class sailboat Bella Mente, second from right, weaves through a pack of J/111-class boats under spinnakers Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, at the Quantum Key West Race Week regatta in Key West, Fla. The five-day regatta features a fleet of 138 boats in 11 different classes. Racing off the Florida Keys is set to end Friday, Jan. 22. (Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau)
Quantum Key West Race Week 8
J/70 boats sail a downwind leg at the Quantum Key West Race Week regatta Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, in Key West, Fla. With 54 boats, the J/70 class is the largest of 11 in the 138-boat fleet. Racing off the Florida Keys is set to end Friday, Jan. 22. (Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau)
Alison Syrian Aid Work
Alison Thompson is helping shine a light on the Syrian refugee crisis, literally. (Courtesy of Alison Thompson)

Race organizers say teams are attracted to Key West to enjoy January sailing in subtropical waters, reliable breezes and fierce competition. Competitors are racing Atlantic Ocean courses just off Key West's shore and inside the continental United States' only living coral barrier reef.

After Wednesday's races, defending champion Bella Mente, skippered by Hap Fauth of Minneapolis, has the lead in the Maxi 72 class.

Fauth, with tactician Terry Hutchinson of Harwood, Maryland, won the first two of three races Wednesday and finished the third in second.

Bella Mente, the Maxi 72 world champion, is two points ahead of Caol Ila R, helmed by Malta skipper Alex Schaerer.

In the IRC 1 class, Steve Benjamin of Norwalk, Connecticut, the 2015 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year, has Spookie two-and-a-half points ahead of Quantum Racing, owned by Doug DeVos of Ada, Michigan.

Calvi Network, skippered by Italy's Carlo Alberini, leads the 54-boat J/70 class.

The Florida Keys News Bureau contributed to this report.

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