If you thought the first three days of racing at the 2008 Rolex Big Boat Series in San Francisco were intense, well just wait until Sunday — overall leader Michael Illbruck on GER-401 Pinta and John Porter on USA-32 Full Throttle are seated first and second with 17 points a piece. All eyes will be on the Melges 32 fleet, six points separate first through fifth on the scoreboard and as only one race will be held, only one winner will be determined.
Illbruck has put together a multi-national team for his first visit to the Big Boat series in ten years. The multi-national team prepared by calling on the experience from crew members such as Don Cowie and Grant Loretz and new views by bringing in Trevor Baylis to provide local coaching, on recommendation from Illbruck's close friend John Kostecki.
'I am the only German and there are six Kiwis,' continued Illbruck. 'We have strong roots in New Zealand. My father sailed with Kiwis and we had eight Kiwis on the Volvo Ocean Race boat. But really, it is more than just sailing. They are friends and I appreciate what they have done for us over the years. They are simply good sailors, the mood is always good, never down.'
The excitement of the third day of racing was apparent as all the teams enjoyed a light 5-8 knots of breeze, sunshine and flat seas for the first start. The teams headed upwind favoring the left early on, then looking a bit scattered with the breeze filling in fast. Philippe Kahn on USA-166 Pegasus 32 put local knowledge to good use rounding the top mark first, followed by a strong Illbruck in second.
Kahn with a clean set found himself several boat lengths ahead of the fleet. As Illbruck rounded, he fumble on the set helping Kahn's cause. Porter was a close third. The three took it to the bottom mark with Illbruck constantly looking for a passing lane, but his patience served him well. Kahn maintained the lead upwind, bringing the fleet a tight four wide into the mark, Kahn still holding his own, Illbruck right on his transom then Giovanni Maspero on ITA-999 Joe Fly.
Porter and Joe Woods GBR-700 Red stirred the pot and made things even more interesting as the two charged in on port, tacking to starboard just in front of the oncoming back pack for a fourth and fifth place rounding respectively. Downwind Illbruck turned on the speed ultimately taking the lead from Kahn. Kahn stayed close but unable to regain the lead, settling for second. Woods nailed a solid third. Going into race two Illbruck had a firm grip on the lead some five points ahead of Porter for the start. The wind was on the up-and-up and a healthy 18-20 knots of wind pumping for the start. Don Jesberg on USA-162 Viva slid off the pin end paving a great lane on the outside. Illbruck, Porter and Woods looked up the middle for momentum. Kahn very aggressive on the left.
Further upwind the entire fleet periodically, when the opportunity presented itself bullied Illbruck, pinning him to the corners. The level of intimidation delivered by the entire fleet, in particular Kahn, Porter and Woods was engineered specifically to wear on Illbruck's very confident Pinta Melges 32 team.
Around the top was Pieter Taselaar on USA-169 Bliksem and Kahn almost together. Jesberg and Porter fought for position jetting to the right, while Kahn hugged the shore for inside pressure. One of the most impressive views was Woods' downwind run on the city front screaming at 16 knots +.
On the right, Porter blasted downwind spoiling Woods' attempt to take over the lead by winning the gate. Back upwind it was all Porter and Woods in now what was a race of pure speed and endurance. It was a battle that just would not give until the finish line. Porter and Woods took it to the line with Porter ultimately taking the win.
Looking to Sunday's one and only race, six points separate first through fifth on the scoreboard. In other classes of boats and at this late date in the regatta, the regatta could be predicted but the strength, talent and ability to amaze and surprise is a key characteristic of the International Melges 32 Class. Melges 32 Positions after six races
1.) Michael Illbruck, Pinta; 3-4-2-1-1-6 = 17
2.) John Porter, Full Throttle; 1-3-3-4-5-1 = 17
3.) Joe Woods, Red; 4-7-1-2-3-2 = 19
4.) Pieter Taselaar, Bliksem; 2-2-4-3-6-3 = 20
5.) Philippe Kahn, Pegasus 32; 5-1-5-6-2-4 = 23
6.) Giovanni Maspero, Joe Fly; 7-5-6-8-4-8 = 38
7.) Don Jesberg, Viva; 6-8-7-10/RAF-7-5 = 43
8.) Stephen Pugh, Taboo; 9-6-8-5-8-7 = 43
9.) Caleb Everett/Andy Costello, Stewball; 8-9-9-7-9-10/DNF =52