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15 December 2005, 09:13 am
SPITHILL Takes Over Top Spot
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Corum Melges 24 World Championship 2005
Key Largo, Florida, USA

In Key Largo, USA, Luna Rossa skipper James SPITHILL (AUS) has taken the lead of the Corum Melges 24 World Championship, with a bullet in yesterday's final race giving his team a one point advantage over Gabriele BENUSSI (ITA) and Marrachech Express.
Two Italian sailing teams are leading the 99 boat fleet after four intense days of racing at Ocean Reef Club. A mostly professional crew of international sailors led by America's Cup skipper and ISAF Match Racing World Champion, SPITHILL, has claimed the number one position with two days of competition remaining whilst a largely amateur crew, sailing together for the first time and led by pro skipper BENUSSI, is clinging to second place overall, just a faction off the pace.

Conditions inside the reef off the northern end of Key Largo were ideal with a sunny sky, and slight chop stirred by a brisk ten-knot easterly breeze

SPITHILL is sailing with American brothers Jonathan and Charlie MCKEE, from Seattle, Washington. Both MCKEES are double Olympic sailing medallists. A fourth crew member is Manuel MODENA, a 49er sailor from Italy's Lake Garda. All four sailors are part of the Italian challenge and not surprisingly they have named their chartered boat Luna Rossa.

The 'secret weapon' aboard Luna Rossa is their fifth man - eleven year old Mac AGNESE, an Optimist sailor from Ft. Lauderdale, drafted because he is a light, nimble and knowledgeable sailor who brings their crew weight up to the maximum allowed 750 pounds. The crew first sailed together in Key West last winter when they took a second place in the Melges 24 class.

'Mac's a great little kid,' said SPITHILL, who is only 14 years older than his youngest crew man. 'He trims the traveler that controls the position of the mainsail and is an extra hand to speed up all of our maneuvers. He's just as committed and as involved as the rest of us. I think we're learning more from him than he's learning from us.'

AGNESE's tutors certainly have the experience. SPITHILL skippered his first America's Cup challenge for his native Australia at the tender age of 19. The MCKEE brothers, Jonathan, 43, and Charlie, 45, are on their third America's Cup challenge, delight in the challenge of campaigning the notoriously skittish Sydney 18 foot skiffs, and share four Olympic medals between them. Jonathan won his gold medal in the Flying Dutchman class in 1984, while Charlie took a bronze in 470 dinghies in 1988. They sailed their 49er to a third place bronze in Sydney in 2000, and won the 49er World Championship one year later.

The second place boat, Marrachech Express, steered by professional sailor BENUSSI and crewed by a group of amateur sailors from Trieste, continued its strong performance yesterday but dropped to second place after SPITHILL, who after two irst-to-finish guns on Tuesday, ran away from the fleet for a comfortable victory in the last race yesterday.

BENUSSI has won a total of nine Italian Championships, two European Championships and three Worlds. He was third in the J/24 Worlds in 2003 and has featured prominently in a number of ocean racing campaigns in IMS boats.

Top Ten Results After Eight Races

Pos Nation Boat Owner Helm R1 R2 R3 R4 R5 R6 R7 R8 Pts
1 USA Luna Rossa James SPITHILL James SPITHILL 5 12 (25) 7 1 1 8 1 35
2 ITA Marrachech Express Vladimiro MRVCIC Gabriele BENUSSI (35) 1 3 2 4 9 7 10 36
3 USA Pegasus 505 David ULLMAN David ULLMAN 6 (41) 7 1 5 3 28 11 61
4 USA Mfatic Neil SULLIVAN Morgan REESER 2 8 1 17 (20) 8 11 16 63
5 USA Full Throttle Brian PORTER Brian PORTER 26 2 11 4 7 18 (47) ZFP 3 71
6 USA Pegasus 492 Samuel KAHN Samuel KAHN 19 3 4 (48) 30 6 5 9 76
7 ITA Joe Fly Giovanni MASPERO Gabrio ZANDONA 11 (35) 22 5 3 5 32 ZFP 2 80
8 FRA Partner & Partners Philippe LIGOT Francois BRENAC 22 14 18 3 11 11 (59) ZFP 19 98
9 ITA Ale Ali Ezio AMADORI Nicola CELON 1 22 16 15 29 10 9 (66) ZFP 102
10 USA Fusion M Doug DEVOS John BERTRAND 9 15 (46) 22 22 4 36 ZFP 5 113
Keith Taylor (As Amended By ISAF). Image, The Action gets underway in Key Largo yesterday:© Tim Wilkes - www.timwilkes.com
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