by Bill Wagner
Acura Key West 2008
Action at Acura Key West 2008 was scheduled to begin on Monday, but high winds and heavy seas forced regatta organizers to abandon on all four courses without starting a race. Winds were still strong, but more manageable, on Tuesday – blowing steady between 17-20 knots out of the east. That enabled officials with Premiere Racing to complete three races for all classes – the first time that has happened in the 21-year history of the popular regatta.
As the results rolled in during the first day of racing there were a lot of familiar names finishing at the front.
Winners in the Melges 24 class included such perennial contenders as Franco Rossini and Riccardo Simoneschi. By day’s end, Masquerade was in her usual perch atop the J/105 class. Two-time defending world champion and past Key West winner Mascalzone Latino seized the early lead in Farr 40.
Dan Meyers, who has raced a variety of big boats in Key West, showed off his new Numbers while moving quickly to the top of IRC 1. Other opening day pacesetters with a history of success at Acura Key West include the J/80 Rumor and the Mumm 30 Groovederci.
However, there were also some newcomers atop the leader board after Day 1. No Naked Flames, a brand new Sllim 37 owned by Irish brothers Andrew and Carl Allen, performed well right of the box in taking the lead in IRC 2. Stark Raving Mad, James Madden’s new J/125, also posted superb results while showing it could be the boat to beat in PHRF 1. Meanwhile, the Swan 42 class made its one-design debut at Acura Key West with Tiburon, owned by Mark Watson of Newport, R.I.,
Mascalzone Latino, skippered by Vincenzo Onorato of Italy, put forth an impressive performance in seizing the overall lead in Farr 40 class on the first day of racing while also earning the Sperry Top-Sider Boat of the Day honor.
Acura Key West 2008
America’s Cup veteran Adrian Stead called tactics for Onorato, who steered Mascalzone Latino to a pair of seconds and a third place finish in three races on Tuesday. Barking Mad (Jim Richardson, Newport, R.I.) and Mean Machine (Peter de Ridder, Monaco) are tied for second with 10 points, three behind the Italian entry.
“Leading after the first day means nothing. Obviously, we really want to lead after the last day,” said Onorato, who won Farr 40 class at Key West in 2006. “For the morale of the crew, it is nice to start off well.”
Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark had a solid opening day with a pair of Top 10 finishes and stands 11th overall in the highly-competitive 25-boat fleet. Defending Key West champion Alinghi, the Swiss boat skippered by Ernesto Bertarelli, had a tough opening day and stands 13th overall.
That Alinghi, the two-time America’s Cup winner, could suffer a pair of back-of-the-fleet finishes shows how strong the Farr 40 class has become, Onorato said.
“This is the second year that we have come to this regatta in the role of world champion and that is a lot of pressure. It is hard to maintain that high standard in this class because the level of competition is always going up,” Onorato said. “You have to come to these regattas mentally prepared and your team must constantly improve.”
Numbers, the second largest boat in the entire 262-boat fleet, had a superb day in grabbing the lead in IRC 1 class. The Judel/Vrolijk 66-footer, owned by Dan Meyers of Newport, R.I., won two races and was runner-up in the other.
“We’re still trying to figure out how to push the boat around the course better,” said Meyers, who took delivery of the new design in the fall. “Our crew work was okay today. We had a couple problems at the leeward mark roundings. That is something we need to work on as the week progresses.”
Blu Moon, a Swiss entry skippered by Franco Rossini, built a relatively comfortable nine-point lead in Melges 24 class – largest of the regatta with 46 boats. Flavio Favini steered Blu Moon to a tremendous line of 1-1-2 for a cumulative score of four points.
Dave Ullman, a four-time winner of Acura Key West, is lurking in third place. Simoneschi, sailing a chartered Melges 24 for his regular sponsor Giacomel Audi Racing, won the third race and cannot be discounted.
“We are still figuring out how to tune the boat. We had problems with boat speed in the first race, but had it set up better by the third race,” Simoneschi said. “We had very good sailing conditions today. It was really fun going downwind with the big waves making for fantastic surfing.”
Masquerade, skippered by San Francisco native Thomas Coates, is seeking to win J/105 class for an unprecedented fourth straight year. Coates and his veteran crew of West Coast sailors, got off to a good start with a pair of bullets sandwiched around a third. However, Brian Keane and his Massachusetts-based team on Savasana, also had an outstanding day and are just three points behind.
“We liked our starts and had the boat going fairly fast, but the competition is fierce once again and we’ll have our work cut out for us to maintain that lead,” Coates said.
No Naked Flames was commissioned by the Allan brothers for the purpose of being part of the Irish team for the 2008 Commodore’s Cup. It was designed by Mark Mills and has America’s Cup veteran Chris Main on the helm.
“Considering that today was the first time we have ever hoisted the spinnaker on this boat, we are obviously quite happy with our results,” Main said of a stellar line of 1-4-2 that gave No Naked Flames a tiebreaker advantage over the Swan 45 Murka 2. “For the first day of our first regatta, it is really pleasing to be leading the class. If we can continue to get good starts and fine-tune our crew work throughout the week, we will be fine.”
“To get in three races at a regatta of this size and a venue of this nature can be a daunting challenge. That is a significant number of classes on four separate courses and requires precision race committee work,” event director Peter Craig said. “Factor in that we have to hear protests and hand out awards at 6:30… it makes three races in one day quite a feat.”
Craig had high praise for regatta scorers Tom Fisher and Jeff Johnson, who had to sort through three races worth of results involving 262 boats under a severe time crunch so the nightly awards ceremony could start on time.
Results at Premiere-Racing.com