It was beautiful, warm and sunny by the time the fleet of 134 boats headed out to the race course to begin Key West 2011, presented by Nautica and the sailors forgot the tropical torrents that had them worried overnight. Mother Nature was smiling on the popular annual regatta and the nice weather coupled with 12-14 knot southerly winds enabled organizers to complete two races on the opening day.
'We really lucked out today because that line of thunderstorms was about 15 miles west of the racing area,' said Brad Read, tactician aboard Titan. 'If those storms had hit, the conditions would have been terrible. Instead, we had an absolutely great day of racing.'
Read and the rest of the crew aboard Titan had good reason to be happy after seizing the early lead in the Mini Maxi class. Past America's Cup champion Bill Koch has chartered the Reichel-Pugh 72-footer and steered her to first and second place finishes on Monday.
'We were able to get off the line and control our own destiny. Bill did a great job on the starts. We had a small hole to wiggle through and he put the boat exactly where it needed to be,' Read said.
Koch's team in Key West includes many of the sailors who were aboard America3 when it captured the 1992 America's Cup, including Mike Toppa, Larry Mialik, Peter Grubb and Art Price. That core group also sailed with Koch on his series of boats named Matador and didn't take long to regain the old chemistry.
Bella Mente, a Reichel-Pugh 69 owned by Hap Fauth of Minneapolis, won Race 1 and is just two points behind Titan. 'The boys on Bella Mente are very good. We will need to sail perfect to beat them this week,' Read said. Berthed on the other end of the docks in front of the Westin Hotel was Goombay Smash, which jumped out on top in the 21-boat Melges 32 class. Skipper William Douglass, a newcomer to the class, got the gun in Race 2 to take a tiebreaker with skipper Alex Jackson's Leenabarca.
'We got off the line in good shape and had good enough boat speed to stay with the lead pack,' said Annapolis-based professional Chris Larson, who is calling tactics aboard Goombay Smash. 'I thought we had a good feel for the tactical situation of the day. We did a good job of changing gears in changing conditions.'
Douglass, a resident of Stamford, Conn., is only sailing his second Melges 32 regatta after debuting in the class at the world championships in September. Douglass, who placed an impressive seventh at the worlds, is showing he is a quick learner in earning Nautica Watches Boat of the Day.
'I'm not surprised we're doing well. Dougie is a strong helmsman and he's got a solid team,' said Larson, noting that Douglass has extensive experience competing in the highly-competitive Farr 40 class.
Blu Moon, owned by Franco Rossini of Switzerland, is the early leader in Melges 24 class - largest of the regatta with 22 boats. Helmsman Flavio Favini steered Blu Moon to finishes of first and second.
'We woke up this morning and it was pouring rain so we were worried we wouldn't be able to go sailing,' said Favini, the two time Key West champion. 'It turned out to be a nice day and we got two good races.'
Favini put Blu Moon in good position with two strong starts and skillfully avoided the marine vegetation that was floating around the course. 'The weeds were a big issue, but we managed to keep them off the boat. This is a great fleet with high level of competition and we are happy to have a good day to start off.'
Team Aqua has the oldest boat in the professional-laden RP44 class, but you would never have known based off Monday's result. Helmsman Don Wilson and tactician Cameron Appleton did a terrific job of playing the shifts throughout the day and posted a pair of bullets.
'There were quite a few opportunities to make gains with the differences in pressure on each side of the race course. We made some good decisions that paid off,' Appleton said. 'Don deserves a lot of credit because he really had to concentrate all day.'
Mascalzone Latino, the Italian syndicate that is Challenger of Record for the next America's Cup and skippered by Vincenzo Onorato, also had a strong day and narrowly missed winning the second race after finishing overlapped with Team Aqua.
'That was fun and showed how close in performance these boats can be,' Appleton said.
Glenn Darden and the Le Tigre team, defending regatta champion in J/80 class, picked up where they left off last year. The Forth Worth, Texas boat won both races on Monday as it seeks a repeat. Ullman Sails professional Max Skelley is calling tactics aboard Le Tigre, which Darden co-owns with Reese Hillard.
'It was a fun day on the water,' Darden said. 'We seemed to have a slight speed edge in the medium air and lumpy conditions.'
Masquerade, which did not compete at Key West the past two years, has returned to reassert its dominance in J/105 class. Skipper Thomas Coates and his San Francisco crew, which captured class honors here from 2006 through 2008, opened this year's regatta with a first and second.
Full Results at Event website