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20 January 2009, 03:01 pm
Overseas Entries Seize the Day In Key West
Spectacular racing at Acura Key West
Racing is underway at Acura Key West

Acura Key West Race Week 2009

The opening day of Acura Key West 2009, presented by Nautica, showcased the international flavour of the event with foreign entries seizing the early lead in four of the grand prix classes.
Italian entries set the pace in a pair of the premier one-design fleets while British teams surged to the front of two top tier handicap classes.

Competition in North America's largest winter regatta got underway in ideal conditions with strong westerly winds allowing organizers to hold two races. An ominous squall put a brief damper on the proceedings, but moved through quickly and allowed the action to continue under sunny skies.

"It was Chamber of Commerce type of weather out there today. We had picture-perfect conditions, which is always a great way to start," said Dave BRENNAN, Principal Race Officer on Division 2. Vincenzo ONORATO (ITA) and his team aboard Mascalzone Latino overcame the unexpected loss of three sailors to win both races and the Nautica Watches Boat of the Day in the Farr 40 class. Two crew members took ill while another suffered an injury in practice - forcing the three-time defending world champions to scramble. One substitute was flown in from Italy while the team coach and chef filled the other vacancies onboard.

British-born tactician Adrian STEAD said Elena FREZZA was the hero of the day, showing she could sail just as well as she could cook. "I think she brought us good luck," STEAD said. "We are really pleased with our performance today considering the circumstances. This is certainly a good start to the regatta."

ONORATO, a businessman from Napoli, Italy, recently took delivery of a brand new Farr 40 that is making its debut in Key West. "It certainly looks like a good boat based off today's results," said ONORATO, who captured class honours at Acura Key West 2006.

Joining ONORATO on the podium for Nautica Watches Day was fellow Italian skipper Lorenzo BRESSANI, who steered UKA UKA Racing to a pair of bullets in Melges 24 class - largest of the regatta with 33 boats. Gabriele BENUSSI is calling tactics while two-time USA Olympian Jonathan MCKEE is serving as trimmer aboard UKA UKA Racing, the reigning World Champion. MCKEE is taking a break from his duties in the after-guard of Puma Racing, one of the top contenders in the Volvo Ocean Race.

"We had a little problem with our starts in both races, but fortunately the boat is very, very fast and we were able to come back quickly," BRESSANI said. "We have been training a lot and have got the boat going super fast while our crew works very smoothly."

UKA UKA Racing has by far the youngest crew member of the professional-laden Melges 24 class in 15-year-old bowman Matteo SPRECACENERE. "Keep an eye on Matteo. He will be a champion one day," BRESSANI predicted.

Both IRC classes have seen an increase in entries this year and the British showed their colours on Monday. Skipper Tim POWELL steered the Reichel-Pugh-designed Ran to a pair of first place finishes in IRC 1 while owner Tony BUCKINGHAM and his team aboard Ngoni seized the early lead in IRC 2 on the strength of a 1-2 line.

Ran is the former Patches, which enjoyed much success under the ownership of Eamon CONNEELY (IRL). Niklas ZENNSTROM of Hamble, Great Britain acquired the boat along with many the former Patches crew, including POWELL.

"We had good starts in both races and our tactician Jeremy ROBINSON did a fine job of calling the shifts and keeping us in phase," POWELL said. "It feels good to get off to a great start and now the challenge is to keep it going."

Fort Lauderdale resident Jeff ECKLUND represented the USA well, winning both races in Melges 32 class, which has seen a significant increase in overall talent attending Acura Key West this year. Harry MELGES, whose family-owned company builds the up-and-coming sport boats, is tactician aboard Star - the defending regatta champ.

"We had good speed and that enabled us to rebound from average to bad starts," said ECKLUND, who chose the right side of the course in race two and benefited from being the first boat to pick up the wind shift.

"It was a beautiful day to go sailing and we're happy to put up a couple good numbers to get things going. However, I'm not celebrating anything yet. It's a long week and anything can happen. We just have to be smart and be conservative."

Competitors in the J/105 class were surprised to show up on the race course Monday and not see Masquerade, the four-time defending champion in Key West. San Francisco owner Thomas COATES and team were an unexpected no-show, leaving a dozen boats to battle for the now-vacant title.

Eclipse, owned by Damian EMERY of Mount Sinai, N.Y., came out on top after a tight day of racing thanks to a first and a second. However, Max Power (Gerrit SCHULZE, Cape May, N.J.) and Savasana (Brian KEANE, Marion, Mass.) trail the frontrunner by just one and two points, respectively.

"We had some decent boat speed today and didn't make many mistakes," said EMERY, who placed second last year, but was disappointed to learn of Masquerade's absence. "We always like to face the best competition so we miss them. Fortunately, there are still some very good boats out there."

Other one-design boats that swept first place in both races yesterday were the Swan 42 Celeritas (Malcolm GEFTER, Newport, R.I.) and the J/80 Rumor (John STORCK Jr., Huntington, N.Y.). Another double winner among handicap classes was the Cape Fear 38 Tangent (Gerry TAYLOR, Annapolis, Md.) in PHRF 3.

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

Bill Wagner
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