Key West Race Week 2011 gets thrilling finish

Key West Race Week victory literally came down to the last leg of the last race for many of the grand prix classes at Key West 2011, presented by Nautica.

No class was more exciting than the RC44, which Mascalzone Latino captured via tiebreaker over Team Aqua by winning the final race. Skipper Vincenzo Onorato and crew not only got the gun in Race 10, but also managed to put a boat between themselves and Team Aqua to forge the tie with 22 total points apiece. The Italian team was declared the victor by virtue of having more first place finishes than the American syndicate.

'This is wonderful! It's like a date with a beautiful woman,' an elated Onorato said upon returning to the dock at Historic Seaport. 'It's always a pleasure to win in Key West. This is one of my favorite places in the world to sail.'

Mascalzone Latino has been selected as Challenger of Record for the 34th America's Cup. In an interesting twist, the RC44 was co-designed by Russell Coutts, skipper and CEO of current America's Cup holder Oracle Racing.

Coutts was skippering his own entry in RC44 class at Key West 2011 and placed third overall. The New Zealand native was the first to congratulate Onorato, smiling and jokingly stating 'You got lucky you son of a gun.'

Mascalzone Latino went from the agony of defeat to the thrill of victory after placing last in Race 9. Tactician Francesco Bruni quickly realized the Italian team had to win Race 10 and have Team Aqua finish third or lower.

'We knew it was a difficult situation and it didn't help that we got a bad start (in Race 10),' Bruni said. 'Everyone went right so we decided to try the middle and had a little luck that enabled us to get back into the race.'

Mascalzone Latino was leading on the second upwind beat when it pulled the move that ultimately won the regatta. Oracle Racing was struggling to free itself from a crab pot and that allowed Team Aqua to briefly move into second. Bruni wisely dropped back and engaged Team Aqua in a tacking duel, which gave Oracle time to get back to speed and regain second place.

'We decided to slow down and help Oracle. We made a few tacks on Aqua,' Bruni said. 'Anyone would have done the same. That is just part of racing tactics.'

Over the docks in front of the Westin Hotel, Vela Veloce skipper Richard Oland sported a Cheshire Cat grin after snatching victory away from Anema & Core in the last race. The Canadian-based Southern Cross 52 trailed the Annapolis-based Judel Vrolijk 52 by two points going into Race 10, but wound up winning by one point after posting a bullet and watching Anema & Core place fourth.

'We knew we had to win the last race and put two boats between us and Anema & Core. We just kept our cool and didn't make any mistakes in that last race,' said Oland, who resides in Saint John, New Brunswick. 'It was a very close, competitive class and we are very happy to come out on top.'

Richard Clarke served as helmsman while fellow professional Stu Bannatyne called tactics aboard Vela Veloce, which closed the regatta with back-to-back bullets. Vela Veloce made its debut at Key West 2010 and placed last in IRC 1 so to come back a year later and win IRC 2 was quite satisfying.

'The boat was brand new last year and we were still learning how to sail her. Since then we have made a lot of improvements in the boat and put together a much better crew,' Oland said. 'It involved a lot of hard work, but winning a regatta such as this makes it well worth it.'

Boston resident Dan Meyers was equally exuberant after skippering Numbers to victory in IRC 1 class. The JV 66 won Friday's initial race then held on for a one-point victory over Shockwave (George Sakellaris, Newport, R.I.) after placing fourth in the last two races.

'This is a fantastic regatta, without question the best in the United States. Any time you win here you have accomplished something special,' Meyers said. 'We had picture-perfect conditions this week and the race committee work was terrific. The way they snapped off three races today was very impressive.'

Four-time America's Cup winner Brad Butterworth called tactics for Meyers, whose all-star crew also included recent America's Cup Hall of Fame inductees Simon Daubney, Warwick Fleury and Dean Phipps as trimmers. In a unique twist, renowned 54-year-old bowman Jerry Kirby was setting and dousing the spinnaker while his 21-year-old son Rome steered Numbers downwind.

'All the boats in this class are remarkably close in performance. This could easily have gone another way and I'd have to say that our crew work was the difference,' Meyers said.

Melges 32 was another grand prix class that came down to the wire with skipper William Douglass and the Goombay Smash registering a narrow two-point victory over Warpath. Three boats - Goombay Smash, Warpath (Steve Howe, Portland, Ore.) and Leenabarca (Alex Jackson, Riverside, Conn.) - were tied atop the standings with two races to go. Goombay Smash closed with strong finishes of fifth and sixth while Warpath and Leenabarca both endured double-digit results that had to be discarded.

'Warpath was over early in the second race and that changed the story with them. We then turned our sights to Leenabarca, and fortunately we were able to sail better than them in the last race,' Goombay Smash tactician Chris Larson said. 'All in all it was a tough regatta and I'm super proud of the team for pulling it out under pressure.'

Douglass, a resident of Stamford, Conn., was competing in just his second Melges 32 regatta. He has been to Key West seven times before as skipper of a Swan 45 and Farr 40, but had never captured class honors.

'It was a battle the whole way and we feel very good to come away with the win,' Douglass said. 'Chris Larson did a great job. He was patient and allowed our boat speed to take over.'

There was much less suspense in the Melges 24 class as Blu Moon, owned by Franco Rossini of Switzerland, clinched victory by winning Race 8 then placing fourth in Race 9. Helmsman Flavio Favini wound up winning three races and placing fourth or better in four others and that consistency enabled Blu Moon to sit out the final race. That commanding performance in a very competitive class earned Blu Moon the prestigious Boat of the Week honor.

Jim Richardson and the Barking Mad team completed an impressive wire-to-wire win in Farr 30 class by posting a strong line of 2-2-3 on Friday. Amateur Marty Kullman called tactics while pros Skip Baxter and Morgan Trubovich trimmed the sails for Richardson, who placed first or second in eight of 10 races in the five-day series.

'Marty did a terrific job of putting us in the right place throughout the regatta while Morgan and Skip always know how to make the boat go fast. We also have an outstanding bowman in Curtis Florence,' Richardson said. 'Our crew work was top-notch the whole week and that made my job easy.'

Skipper Brian Keane and his team aboard Savasana put forth a powerful performance in winning the always competitive J/105 class by 15 points. Savasana wound up winning six of 10 races, including all three that were held on Friday.

'We are pretty fired up. Sweeping the day is a great way to close out the event,' Keane said. 'I think our speed was competitive, but the real key was that we made smart decisions and didn't make many mistakes.'

Tonnerre de Breskens 3, a Ker 46 owned by Peter Vroon of The Netherlands, won nine of 10 races in running away with victory in IRC 2 class. British pro Kevin George called tactics aboard Tonnerre, which finished with a whopping 18-point advantage over runner-up Antilope (Grand Soleil 43, Willem Wester, Great Britain).

Key West local Steve Burns and his team aboard the Capo 26 You Bad Girl notched an equally dominant victory in PHRF 3, winning nine races and placing second in the other. Tom Reese Youngstown, Ohio) sailed his Corsair 28 to first or second place in all 10 races to win the Multihull division by three points over sister ship Evolution (Kathryn Garlick, Terra Ceia, Fla.).

Finally, Glenn Darden and his Texas team aboard Le Tigre placed first or second place in nine of 10 races en route to winning the 16-boat J/80 class for the second straight year. Darden also took home The Marlow Trophy for capturing the class Midwinter Championship.

Key West Race Week

Key West Race Week