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22 January 2004, 09:38 am
The French Poised To Go Shark Hunting
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© Rick Tomlinson

Key West Race Week
Key West, Florida

To those who think Samuel (Shark) KAHN had an off-day at Terra Nova Trading Key West 2004, presented by Nautica, on Wednesday with 14 and 10-place finishes, think again.
The 14-year-old Melges 24 World Champion twice spotted his 57 rivals an advantage by having to return to the line after crossing before the starting horn---but finished the day by increasing his lead from 12 to 14 points.

"Stuff happens," said Mark REYNOLDS, coach of the Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Team Pegasus. "They did a great job coming back."

But a moment of reckoning is due on Thursday. The worst stuff that happened to most of the 301 boats from 18 countries and 32 states will be forgiven when the discard rule kicks in after the seventh race---a blessed event, especially for the French.

Philippe LIGOT'S P&P Sailing Team, with former European champion Sebastian Cdol driving, has won half the Melges 24 races this week but remained out of the lead pack while carrying a 59-point burden for failing to return after an overanxious start of their own on Monday. If they and the Shark both discarded their worst scores now, the French would lead with 11 points to Kahn's 24. But there is still a lot of sailing to do.

Only the Division 1 boats---Farr 40s, Swan 45s and Mumm 30s---must count all of their races of the nine scheduled through Friday, so the Farr 40s especially seem destined to continue as a dogfight. 'Crocodile Rock', Alexandra GEREMIA and Scott HARRIS' defending champion from Santa Barbara, California, is the third leader in three days---without winning a race.

The secret is that it's the only one of the 23 boats without a double-digit finish, the same formula that won for them a year ago---a title last year and in first place again without running a race the last two years.

Fred and Steve HOWE'S 'Warpath', the co-leader from San Diego a day earlier, has a clear handle on the situation after finishing first and 19 in Wednesday's fluky moderate winds.

Steve HOWE, the younger family partner who drives, said, "It was shifty out there . . . hard to stay in phase [with the wind shifts]. In the first race we were definitely in phase and in the second race we couldn't get into phase. Today was a good example of what it's like in this class. It could be worse."

'Warpath' shares third place with Jim RICHARDSON'S 'Barking Mad', Newport, R.I., five points off the pace, with a reborn John MACLAURIN, the 70-year-old veteran from L.A., holding 'Pendragon V' on a role only 1.8 points out of first place.

A similar scrap is going on among the biggest boats in PHRF 1, where three rivals are within five points of Clay DEUTSCH'S Swan 68, 'Chippewa', sailing their handicaps for all they're worth against the fastest rated pair. Tom HILL'S R/P 75 'Titan' and Bill ALCOTT'S Andrews 68 'Equation' are running an easy 1-2 boat-for-boat consistently but finding it difficult to cover from so far ahead.

With the clock calculations, Roger STURGEON'S San Francisco-based Transpac 52, 'Rosebud', scored a first and fourth Wednesday to win Mount Gay Rum Boat of the Day honours---extending a sweep this week for West Coast boats, although owner Roger STURGEON has lived in Ft. Lauderdale the last two years.

"We feel like the most improved boat this week," said Sturgeon, who won the class last year and is in third place now. "It isn't quite as easy as last year. This is harder than most one-design racing. The adrenaline pumping is what it's all about. Win or lose, it's just a blast."

Other significant performances came from American multihull icon Randy SMYTH, who drove Ken WINTERS' Corsair 28R trimaran 'Rocketeer' II past Bob and Doug HARKRIDER'S 'Bad Boys' into first place by two points, and Rich BERGMANN'S 'Zuni Bear', the 2003 Boat of the Week from San Diego that scored two firsts. That will all but wrap up the J/105 title again.

Then there is the Mumm 30 affair between John and Deneen DEMOURKAS, husband and wife, from Santa Barbara. After a few years of Deneen driving the family Farr 40, they now have separate boats---both winners Wednesday.

Although they're running third and fifth overall, John said, "It'll be a happy camp tonight."

Ross MACDONALD, a former world Star class champion from Vancouver, B.C., is calling tactics for John. "After a few days I started listening to Ross," John said.

Do they race each other?

John: "She was on my air today, so I don't know. Fact is, I don't have any concept of where she is."

Deneen: "We keep an eye on him. Gotta keep him under control."

Shark KAHN seemed not at all disappointed about his day. "Each race we passed a lot of boats . . . maybe 40 or so," he said. "But we shouldn't depend on that."

Father Philippe paid a more severe price, slipping from second to ninth place on a 30-22 day. When he jumped the start in the second race, he didn't hear his sail number hailed on the radio until he was so far up the course that he hoisted his spinnaker to go back downwind to re-start.

"That cost him about six minutes," Reynolds said.

Full results are available on the event website at the address below.
Rich Roberts (As Amended by ISAF)
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