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19 January 2009, 02:42 pm
Strong Fleet Set to Get Underway for 22nd Edition Of Acura Key West 2009
Spectacular racing at Acura Key West
Acura Key West is all set for 2009

Acura Key West Race Week 2009

The tradition of excellence continues at Acura Key West, with a strong fleet lining up for the 22nd edition of one of the USA's premier sailing events.
"Blue sky, aqua-colored water, palm trees and 75-degree weather - what's not to enjoy?" asked Annapolis, Maryland sailor Bruce GARDNER. "Key West continues to be one of the premiere events in the country. It has the best competition available because teams go all out to win. A win in Key West has always been and will always be a real feather in your cap."

GARDNER dismisses all the doom and gloom talk about reduced entries at this year's regatta by saying, "Key West is still Key West." L'Outrage is one of seven entries in PHRF 3 and GARDNER said a class victory at Acura Key West 2009, presented by Nautica, would be just as satisfying as years past. GARDNER has been competing in the renowned race week for a dozen years aboard his Beneteau 10-meter. He has experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat - capturing PHRF Boat of the Week honours in 2000 and sitting out the entire regatta in 2008 after breaking his rig.

Through ups and downs, GARDNER and his crew have come to love their January foray to the southernmost tip of the continental United States. They weren't about to let a global economic crisis interfere with their annual winter getaway to Key West.

"There was never a second thought for me and my crew. We started planning for this year as soon as last year's regatta was over," GARDNER said. "The economy is definitely having an effect on sailboat racing as in every other area of life. However, just because some people think the sky is falling, we are not going to hide in the bar."

Another star-studded fleet of sailors from across the country and around the world has descended upon the Conch Republic for the 22nd edition of this winter classic. Three-time Farr 40 world champion Mascalzone Latino, Melges 32 Gold Cup winner New Wave and Melges 24 world champion UKA UKA Racing are just a few of the notable entries on the scratch sheet.

While the total of 155 entries in 13 classes spread over three divisions is down from previous years, event director Peter CRAIG said the level of participation is really quite remarkable considering the economy. "Key West traditionally attracts top tier programs and this year is no exception," said CRAIG, president of Premiere Racing. "Given the global economic issues, it's extremely gratifying to see the number and quality of programmes that will be racing in Key West."

Both IRC classes have actually seen an increase in entries with a slew of new designs adding further intrigue to a fleet filled with international flavour. IRC 1 is headlined by Roger STURGEON's STP 65-footer Rosebud, largest entry at Acura Key West 2009. The Massachusetts-based yacht, overall IRC winner in the 2008 Sydney-Hobart Race, will be challenged by three TP52 designs along with the Judel-Vrolijk 52 Anema & Core (Ennio STAFFINI, Annapolis) and the year-old Marten 49 Pace (Johnny VINCENT and Simon TATE, London). IRC 2 is the largest it has ever been in Key West with 13 entries, half of which are brand new designs. There are three King 40-footers, designed by Mark MILLS and built by Summit Yachts. One of them is owned by Houston resident Jim HIGHTOWER, who has enjoyed much success at Key West aboard his various boats named Hot Ticket. MILLS also designed the IRC 43 Cool Breeze, which will make its debut for owner John COOPER (Cane Hill, Missouri). Finally, there are also a couple Santa Cruz 37-footers, which were awarded Performance Boat of the Year by Sail Magazine.

"IRC 2 is going to be very, very competitive. We are looking forward to some great racing and are anxious to see how our boat performs against some of the new designs," said Robin TEAM, who skippered his J/122 Teamwork to fourth place in class and a Boat of the Day honour last year. "Those Santa Cruz 37s look hot floating at the dock so we expect them to be hot out on the race course," added TEAM. The Beaufort, N.C. resident has been competing in Key West since 1994. "Key West has the best sailors in the world and the best conditions in the world and that is why it's the best racing in the world," said TEAM, a class winner in 2003 aboard his J/120 of the same name.

Melges 24 is again the largest class in the regatta with 33 boats, many of which hail from European ports in Italy, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden and Germany. Among the notable foreign entries are reigning World Champion UKA UKA Racing (Lorenzo BRESSANI, Italy), 2008 world rankings leader Blu Moon (Franco ROSSINI, Switzerland) along with 2006 and 2007 Acura Key West winner Giacomel Audi Racing (Riccardo SIMONESCHI, Italy).Top American entries include Full Throttle (Brian PORTER, Lake Geneva, WI), Bailout (Vince BRUN, San Diego, CA) and Monsoon (Bruce AYRES, Newport Beach, CA). AYRES, who competes with an all-amateur crew and captured class honours at Acura Key West in 1998, figures the competition will be fierce as usual.

"The quantity may not be the same as years past but the quality sure is. All the top teams are here," AYRES said. "It will be a challenge just to get into the top 10 in this fleet." One of the world's hottest classes is the rapidly-developing Melges 32, which will have 20 entries featuring a bevy of big-name tacticians on the start line in Key West. Star, skippered by Jeff ECKLUND of Fort Lauderdale with boat builder Harry MELGES calling tactics, is back to defend its regatta title. One of the more notable newcomers to the class is War Canoe, owned by John DANE of Pass Christian, Missouri. DANE represented the USA in Star class at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in China.

Marty KULLMAN, who co-owns New Wave along with fellow Clearwater (FL) resident Michael CARROLL, said the bar has been raised big-time. Quantum professional Scott NIXON will call tactics on New Wave, which finished second to Star by a mere two points at Acura Key West 2008 before going on to capture the Gold Cup. "The overall talent in this class is coming up very quickly. You look at the scratch sheet and see top pros calling tactics on just about every boat," said KULLMAN, rattling off names such as Mark REYNOLDS, Morgan REESER, Steve BENJAMIN and Charlie OGLETREE.

Of course, the standard-bearer among grand prix, professional-laden classes in Key West has long been the Farr 40, which boasts an impressive line up of 12 boats. Mascalzone Latino, owned by Vincenzo ONORATO of Napoli, Italy, is riding a remarkable run of three straight world crowns. Barking Mad, skippered by Jim RICHARDSON of Newport, R.I., won both Acura Key West and the Acura Miami Grand Prix in 2008. Goombay Smash, a relative class newcomer steered by Doug DOUGLASS, captured the North American Championship off Miami in November.

"We have another great fleet here in Key West, which has always been one of the favourite events for Farr 40 owners. It doesn't get any better than Key West in terms of organization both on and off the water," said RICHARDSON, the class president. RICHARDSON is fortunate to have one of the world's finest tacticians in Terry HUTCHINSON, who was recently selected as US SAILING's Rolex Yachtsman of the Year. The Annapolis-based professional has been competing in Key West since 1991 and could not imagine being anywhere else in January.

"This truly is one of the greatest regattas in the world and to me it's the perfect winter break. It has steadily evolved over the years into an extremely high-level event in all respects," HUTCHINSON said. "What I find neat about Key West is that there is a place for the ultra-serious, grand prix programs as well as the more relaxed club-based programs. Both types of teams can come here and find fantastic racing while at the same time having a lot of fun."

Race Week News, Results and more at www.Premiere-Racing.com

Bill Wagner
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