Wednesday, January 21, 2009

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For Immediate Release – January 20 , 2009

“Another Fantastic Day of Sailing in Key West”
World Class Competition and Great Breeze
By Bill Wagner

Key West, Fla - Mother Nature changed her mind and smiled on Acura Key West 2009 today. Advance forecasts called for extreme winds, but instead a consistent 15-20 knot north-northwesterly enabled this high-powered international fleet to enjoy two great races.

“Another fantastic day of sailing in Key West. Days like this are why we come here. The conditions were outstanding,” Melges 24 skipper Riccardo Simoneschi said.

Simoneschi is a two-time winner of Acura Key West, presented by Nautica. The Italian skipper posted a solid line of 4-3 on Tuesday and holds third place overall in Melges 24, largest class in the regatta with 33 boats.

Former Olympic medalist Charlie McKee is calling tactics for Simoneschi, who is 10 points off the very hot pace being set by his countrymen on UKA UKA Racing. Skipper Lorenzo Bressani has won three of four races so far, an impressive feat in the highly-competitive class.

“They are tough to beat. They are fast and smart, which is a winning combination,” said McKee, whose brother Charlie is trimming on UKA UKA Racing. “We are getting better with each race and hopefully we can remain in contention.”

Blu Moon, skippered by Franco Rossini of Switzerland, finished second in both races and won the day. He also received Tuesday’s Sperry Top-Sider Boat of the Day honors, awarded to the winner of the day’s most competitive class. Three-time Olympian Chris Rast is tactician aboard Blu Moon, which stands second in the overall standings – two points behind UKA UKA Racing.

Another Italian team continued its impressive performance in the professional-laden Farr 40 class. Mascalzone Latino, owned and driven by Vincenzo Onorato, has won three of four races with the other result being a second. Briton Adrian Stead has been on fire calling tactics for the three-time defending world champs, who hold a comfortable six-point lead over Acura Key West 2008 winner Barking Mad.

“We are sailing well, but obviously not nearly as well as they are,” said Terry Hutchinson, tactician for owner Jim Richardson aboard Barking Mad.

Hutchinson was just named Rolex Yachtsman of the Year by US Sailing, but is not afraid to admit that he can pick up a few subtle nuances from a team that is clearly at the top of its game.

“We have learned heaps in two days just from watching Mascalzone… how their sails are set up, how they are driving, what they are doing tactically,” he said. “It’s not over yet. There are still a lot of races left. We just have to keep chipping away and hope we’re in range going into the last day.”

Fort Lauderdale resident Jeff Ecklund and his team aboard Star maintained their lead in Melges 32, the other large grand prix one-design class filled with big-name tacticians. Star, like UKA UKA Racing and Mascalzone Latino, has won three of four races held so far. However, a 10th out of 20 boats in Race 3 hurt Star’s cumulative score, which is two points better than second-place Red (Joe Woods, Great Britain).

“It’s a tough fleet with real tight racing. Small mistakes can lead to big losses,” said Star tactician Harry Melges, whose family-owned company builds both the Melges 24 and 32.

IRC 2 is loaded with innovative new designs that are giving each other some real competition. Cool Breeze, a brand new Mills 43 owned by John Cooper of Cane Hill, MO, won Race 4 to vault from third to first in the 13-boat fleet.

An indication of how close the top boats are in IRC 2 comes from the fact a mere 18 second separated the top four finishers in Race 3. Soozal, one of three King 40-footers that are making their competitive debut in Key West, finished second in Race 3 by just seven seconds behind the J/44 Gold Digger (James Bishop).

“The racing in this class has been unbelievable. There are a lot of very good boats that are evenly matched,” Soozal skipper Daniel Woolery said.

Action is heating up in IRC 1 as well after Rosebud/Team DYT stretched its legs and showed its prowess in the heavy air. The STP 65-footer, largest entry in the regatta, won Race 3 then finished second in Race 4 by 34 seconds on corrected time. Ran, a TP52 owned by Niklas Zennstrom of Hamble, Great Britain, now has an impressive line of 1-1-2-1.

“It was a great day of racing for our team, although I’m disappointed we didn’t win the second race as well,” said Malcolm Park, main trimmer on Rosebud/Team DYT. “We’re stronger than the TP 52s going upwind and we had two of those legs today.”

Massachusetts-based owner Roger Sturgeon and his 16-man crew must beat the four 52-footers on its course by nearly six minutes in order to overcome its handicap. “This is a tight course for a boat this big and it’s hard to get her around the cans,” said Park, noting that Rosebud has some draft restrictions. “(Monday) was a learning experience for us in terms of figuring out where we can go. Today’s course was a little more open, both in terms of draft and length.”

PHRF 3 leader Tangent, a Cape Fear 38 owned by Gerry Taylor of Annapolis, Md., is the only boat in the entire fleet that has won all four races. Tangent, the cruising version of the design, is heavier than most of its competitors in the class and thus welcomed the strong breeze.

“We are definitely loving the conditions. When the wind is up, we are smiling,” said Taylor, whose team won Race 3 by just one second over fellow Annapolis entry L’Outrage, which has been runner-up in all four races.

“It certainly eases the pressure when you get off to a good start like this. We are feeling more relaxed and confident each day,” added Taylor, who placed second in class at Acura Key West 2008.

XS, a Robinson 41 that had been leading PHRF 1 after Monday’s action, dropped its rig in Race 3. Owner Douglas Fisher said gear failure was more to blame than the strong wind.

Racing continues tomorrow. Wednesday is sponsored by Mount Gay Rum® - the sailors’ favorite.

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