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5 December 2004, 11:40 am
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Key West
Key West, Florida

The Athens Olympics are a fond memory, the next America's Cup isn't until 2007 and it will be too cold next month to sail in most of the northern hemisphere, which leaves one prime destination for the world's best sailors.

Key West 2005 presented by Nautica is where gold medalist Kevin Burnham and Luna Rossa helmsman James Spithill, among other sailing celebrities, will be found Jan. 17-21, along with more than 300 other teams, if current entry projections play out.

The J/105s have already surpassed their Key West record turnout of 29 boats with 31 entered and 40 expected. So far there are 42 Melges 24s from coast to coast and seven countries, matching the number of PHRF entries. And there will be lots more before the deadline.

After winning the Olympic men's 470 class with helmsman Paul Foerster, Burnham became world-famous in photos of his back flip dive at the finish line-a 10.0 in Olympic scoring. At Key West he will join a crew on Rocketeer II, a Corsair 28R trimaran entered by Ken Winters of Dallas. Randy Smyth, America's foremost multihuller and a two-time Olympic silver medalist, will also be on board, with Charles Nethersole driving.

Burnham, a Miami resident, said Winters was a key supporter of him and Foerster. 'Ken had been helping Paul and me make ends meet for the Olympic campaign, but I could not sail with him at Key West last year so I contacted Randy. Randy was able to go sailing with my friend and find the crew, too. They all had a great time and are back again. This year I have been invited to join them. I am really looking forward to it. It is one of my favorite regattas.'

With the AC scene momentarily marking time, Spithill will sail a Melges 24. It's somewhat removed from the International America's Cup Class machine he now drives for the Italian syndicate, but the young Australian should feel right at home in one of the event's heavily international fleets.

Spithill and Jonathan McKee were with Seattle's OneWorld team in the last America's Cup and are now teammates with Luna Rossa.

'It is my first time in [a Melges 24],' said McKee, who owns Olympic bronze and silver medals. 'I am really excited. This is not official Luna Rossa business, just a fun event for us. Having said that, we are sailing with mostly Luna Rossa guys, including [brother] Charlie McKee and Manuel Modena, but also a young kid from Miami who sails Optimist.'

Besides the Melges 24s, the Swan 45s, Transpac 52s and Farr 40s also share in the universal zest of an entry list currently showing boats from two dozen countries and five of the seven continents. Only Antarctica has never been represented, but give it time.

Many of those will figure in the intense competition among teams for the International Team Trophy. Peter De Ridder's Mean Machine from Monaco won the Farr 40 class last January as part of the Europe B team that wrested the title from Italy's multi-year dominance.

Dec. 10 is the deadline for entry applications to avoid late fees. Final entry applications are due Dec. 27. The regatta is limited to the first 350 entries.

Entry information and current list, Notice and Conditions of Race, accommodations and much more at www.Premiere-Racing.com

Anticipated one-design classes include the Swan 45s, which debuted a year earlier; Transpac 52s, Farr 40s, Mumm 30s, 1D35s, J/105s, J/120s, J/109s, J/80s, J/29s, C&C 99s, Corsair 28Rs and the largest group of all, the Melges 24s.

One-off designs and others without the numbers to establish level classes will be assigned to the PHRF, IMS and IRC fleets that traditionally comprise about one-third of the turnout.

Key West 2005 sponsors are Nautica, Mount Gay Rum, B&G, Lewmar, Samson Rope Technologies, and the Florida Keys and Key West Tourist Development Council. The Historic Seaport is the Official Site.

Rich Roberts
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