There was much rejoicing around the Conch Republic on Thursday. The wind gods smiled on Acura Key West 2008, presented by Nautica, delivering excellent racing conditions and bringing much joy to both competitors and organizers.
Early forecasts for Thursday were not favorable and talk on the dock was that another day of racing might be lost. Racing had been abandoned on Monday because of too much wind and Wednesday as a result of too little.
However, event director Peter Craig emerged from an early morning meeting with his four principal race officers with encouraging news. Commanders’ Weather, which has been spot-on all week, issued a forecast for building breezes in the afternoon and the Premiere Racing team believed it could conduct at least once race.
Craig wisely held the fleet of 262 boats onshore in the morning while waiting for updated information. Since the forecast still looked promising at noon, the AP Flag (postponement) came down and the armada of racing boats was sent out to the Atlantic Ocean.
Lo and behold, conditions proved even better than expected with the wind starting at 5-8 knots from the southwest then clocking around to the north and increasing to 12 knots. That allowed for two races on all four courses and resulted in an awful lot of happy faces when the boats returned to port.
“What a surprise! We had very nice sailing conditions today, the best we’ve had all week,” said Dave Ullman, who holds fourth place in Melges 24 class. “It didn’t look promising last night, but if any of us could really predict the weather we would be in a different business.”
There was minimal shakeup in the standings with the lead changing hands in only five of 16 classes. However, the difference between the first and second boat in the other 11 classes is six points or less and things could change dramatically before this series concludes. It sets the stage for an historic final day at Acura Key West 2008 with organizers moving the first gun up one hour and planning to conduct three races.
For two decades, there have been very few three-race days at Key West. Now, in the 21st season of the largest winter regatta in North America, there could possibly be a pair of three-race days. Prospects of that happening are quite great as the forecast is for 15-20 knot winds on Friday.
“It’s the first time we had no racing on Monday and it’s the first time we’ve had more than one race on Friday,” Craig said. “This has been, without question, the most challenging week weather-wise in my 15 years of running this regatta. To be able to race on three days and quite possibly get in eight races is rather incredible considering the circumstances, and ultimately I think the competitors will go home happy.”
There was a change atop the ultra-competitive Farr 40 class with Barking Mad jumping from third to first on the strength of a bullet in yesterday’s second race. Skipper Jim Richardson has finished sixth or better in the 25-boat fleet for all five races and now holds a four-point advantage over opening day leader Mascalzone Latino.
'We had a good day. We didn’t do anything fancy, sailed fairly conservatively in the race we won,” said Terry Hutchinson, tactician aboard Barking Mad.
Hutchinson, an Annapolis resident who was tactician for runner-up Emirates Team New Zealand in the last America’s Cup, said anything could happen with three races being held on Friday.
“Obviously, I’d rather be where we are at the moment, but at the same time we have to sail very well tomorrow in order to hold this lead,” he said.
Mascalzone Latino, the two-time defending world champion owned by Vincenzo Onorato, was still first overall after placing second in Race 4, but was over the starting line early in Race 5 and wound up 12th.
Twins, skippered by Erik Maris of France, also had a solid day with finishes of first and third to move into third place in the overall standings. “The regatta is very tight and we are pleased to be in contention. Barking Mad and Mascalzone Latino are the best boats – very fast, consistent and strong tactically. It will be difficult for us to stay with them,” said Maris, seeking his first Farr 40 victory in four trips to Key West.
Groovederci, skippered by Deneen Demourkas of Santa Barbara, Cal., maintained its lead in M30 class after getting the gun in Race 5. Demourkas, class winner at Key West in 2005, said her team sits atop the standings in spite of itself.
“We’ve done everything the hard way. We’re not going the right way and we’ve had some boat-handling issues,” she said. “We have really put ourselves through the ringer. Fortunately, we have recovered from all our mistakes and have managed to hang on.”
Thursday marked the 10th wedding anniversary for John and Deneen Demourkas, who have both been skippering separate entries in Key West for years. John, who is sailing a Farr 40 also known as Groovederci, wisely booked dinner reservations at Louis’ Backyard, one of the most popular restaurants in town.
Blu Moon, the Swiss entry skippered by Franco Rossini, remained atop the Melges 24 class by counter-balancing an 18th in Race 4 with a victory in Race 5. Helmsman Flavio Favini said the team will be hard-pressed to hold off the likes of WTF (Alan Field), Tresvailles.com (Benoit Charon), Pegasus 505 (Ullman) and Full Throttle (Brian Porter), all of whom are within striking distance.
“There is still a long way to go and things can change quickly in this fleet… as we showed today,” Favini said. “Tomorrow should be windy and we are looking forward to some great racing.”
Jeff Ecklund sailed Star to a first and a third yesterday to take over the lead in Melges 32 class, which has proven incredibly competitive at Acura Key West 2008. Ecklund and tactician Harry Melges have been sailing together for 15 years and certainly found the chemistry on Thursday.
“We had a great day and it felt good. The wind conditions were to our liking and we found some special speed,” said Ecklund, a Ft. Lauderdale resident. “Hopefully, we can find the same groove tomorrow and keep our nose clean. This is the strongest field we’ve ever seen in the Melges 32 and it is still anybody’s event.”
Samba Pa Ti, a TP52 owned by California native John Kilroy Jr., vaulted from third to first in the overall standings of IRC 1 – another class comprised entirely of professional crews. Kilroy posted a pair of seconds on Thursday and has now finished no worse than third through five races.
Two teams have built comfortable leads going into the final day. Masquerade, skippered by Thomas Coates of San Francisco, holds a seven-point cushion in J/105 and is closing on a fourth straight title in that 34-boat class. Rumor, skippered by John Storck Jr. of Huntington, NY, has notched bullets in three of five races and now leads J/80 class by 11 points. PHRF National Championship Standings
1, Bad Girl, J/100, Robert Armstrong, St. Croix, 19.4 points
2, Emocean, J/120, Will Hanckel, Charleston, S.C., 19.0
3, One Up, Wyliecat 30, Lincoln Schoenberger, Bridgeport, Conn. 18.7
4, Temptress, SR-33, Robert Hibdon, Charleston, S.C., 18.6
5, Britsar, Tartan 10, Ken Schram, Detroit, Mich., 18.2
6, Stark Raving Mad, J/125, James Madden, Newport Beach, Cal., 18.00 Full Results:
Division 1 - Farr 40, Melges 32, M 30
Division 2 - IRC 1, Swan 42, PHRF 1, IRC 2, PHRF 2)
Division 3 – Melges 24, J/105, J/80
Division 4 – Corsair 28R, PHRF 3, PHRF 4, PHRF 5, PHRF 6