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23 January 2004, 11:55 am
Melges Match Race?
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Key West Race Week
Key West, Florida

Three boats have clinched class championships with a race to spare in Terra Nova Trading Key West 2004, presented by Nautica, but centre stage is set for a fiery final act in the internationally spiced Farr 40 and Melges 24 classes today.
The top five of 23 Farr 40s are within two points, precariously led by Crocodile Rock. Alexandra GEREMIA and Scott HARRIS' defending champion from Santa Barbara has no wins but a one-point lead. Jim RICHARDSON'S Barking Mad, Newport, R.I., and Peter De RIDDER'S Dutch entry, Mean Machine, share second, with Steve and Fred HOWE'S Warpath, San Diego, and Marc EWING'S Riot, Northeast Harbour, Maine, another point back.

Geremia said, "It'll probably be an exciting day tomorrow."

How the day will go between France's Sebastian COL and California's 14-year-old world champion, Samuel (Shark) KAHN, to settle the Melges 24 issue is anyone's guess. Although Kahn won both races on a windy Thursday, Col, helmsman for Philippe LIGOT'S P&P Sailing Team, discarded his 59-point second race and leads by five points coming into the ninth and final go-round. Nobody else can catch them.

"Tomorrow we can match race," said Col, 26, the 2002 European rankings champion, 2003 U.S. national champion and strategist for France's Le Defi Challenge in the last America's Cup. "I'm very confident with my match racing because I'm match racing all the time. He's very fast but we can sail fast, too. If I was in his place I would match race us, especially on the start."</>

Les Crouch of San Diego, Mike ROSE of Kemah, Tex. and Michael Gray of New ORLEANS will be more laid back. Crouch's R/P 43 Storm, Rose's J/133 Raincloud and Gray's Melges 30 Tiburon have first place secured in PHRF 2, 3 and 4, respectively.

Thursday's sidelights included an America's Cup veteran, Peter HOLMBERG, going overboard off Tom HILL'S R/P 75 Titan, the largest boat in the regatta, and Joerg ESDOM'S J/105 Kincsem from Rye, N.Y. losing its mast in a collision with a non-regatta powerboat while returning to port after winning the last race.

Holmberg suffered a sprained left ankle but none of Kincsem's crew was injured, although they'll be unable to sail without a mast Friday. An unidentified woman on the powerboat was treated for a head injury.

Meanwhile, the California roll continued for Boat of the Day honours. Tom COATES' J/105 Masquerade from San Francisco made it 4-for-4 on Lewmar Day after first and fourth places and is six points behind a familiar California foe, Rich BERGMANN'S frontrunning Zuni Bear.

Crocodile Rock finished seventh and 13 on Thursday, its first double-digit finish, but hung onto the lead. Tactician Vince BRUN said,
"It's like a basketball game in this class. The first part is just showtime. The last five minutes is when everything happens."

And what will Brun's game plan be?

"You can't say you're going to cover this guy or that guy,"</> he said. "You just do the best you can. Can we do it? We've done it before."

Steve HOWE of Warpath said, "It seems like the regatta's just starting tomorrow. We'll watch our competition and sail as aggressively or conservatively as we have to."

And is he up for it?

"It's why we're here," he said with a big smile. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else right now."

Barking Mad won Thursday's second race after a 15 in the first when it had to do a 720-degree penalty turn for rear-ending Eric Moog's Dynamo. The first race went to three-time Key West champion George ANDREADIS' Atalanti XII, the only boat besides Warpath to win two races.

Young Kahn said the team's video showed that he jumped the starting horn only once, not twice, the previous day when he scored 14 and 10 places. Be that as it may, "We were just a little more conservative today. Richard [Clarke] called brilliant tactics. We were always lifted upwind and headed downwind."

He and Col each have three wins, so if Kahn wins the finale and Col goes sixth or worse, Kahn will win on a tiebreaker. If Kahn finishes five places better but doesn't win the race, Col wins the tiebreaker with one second place to Kahn's none.

One thing is certain: Kahn's crew will have been thoroughly primed by Team Pegasus Coach Mark REYNOLDS, a tactical master with two gold and one silver Olympic medals and two world Star class championships. Whether the game plan involves Kahn's father Philippe, currently seventh after a second and a sixth Thursday, remains to be seen.

Holm berg's strategy on Titan is clear. "I won't be running to the front [of the boat]," he said.

That's what got him into trouble Thursday. When the spinnaker takedown went awry at the first leeward mark in the first race, he dashed forward to help sort it out. It was Titan's second such incident in two days. Bowman Ken NEVOR went swimming Tuesday.

"A rope got wrapped around my ankle," Holmberg said, "and as it started coming taut from the spinnaker dragging behind us [I realized] it was going to drag me through the stanchions, [so] I jumped over the side."

Fortunately, someone then cut the line and Holmberg was fished out by a mark boat and returned to Titan, where crewmate Chris DOSCHER applied first aid. Holmberg later was taken to an emergency hospital, where X-rays showed no fracture, but he has rope burns and a serious sprain. He planned to sail Friday with his ankle heavily wrapped.
Rick Roberts (As Amended By ISAF News Editor)
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