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25 January 2009, 05:19 pm
Picture Perfect Conclusion to Acura Key West
Racing at Key West
Racing at Key West

Acura Key West Race Week 2009

Winning in Key West always brings broad smiles to the faces of skippers and results in much rejoicing among crew members and this was certainly the case on Friday following a week long hard fought 10-race series on the waters off the Conch Republic.
At the docks in front of the Schooner Wharf on Saturday, Italian owner Vincenzo ONORATO was overjoyed about capturing Farr 40 class after a classic final day duel with long-time rivals Barking Mad and Joe Fly.

"This is absolutely beautiful. We are extremely happy," ONORATO said. "My only regret is that I will not be able to get drunk with my crew tonight."

ONORATO had to fly out immediately after racing in order to get home to Napoli in time to see his eight year old daughter perform in a show on Sunday morning. Tactician Adrian STEAD (GBR) said the rest of the team would hoist a couple extra cold ones in honour of their skipper, who steered Mascalzone Latino to first place in the final race to clinch overall victory at Acura Key West 2009, presented by Nautica.

"It was a story of fantastic teamwork and never giving up. We had a weird day on Wednesday that set us back, but we kept our heads together and finished strong," said STEAD, noting that Mascalzone Latino responded to finishes of ninth and 10th with a line of 3,2,2,1 in the final four races.

Injury and illness forced Mascalzone Latino to constantly rotate sailors. There were at least two members of the regular crew missing every day of the regatta, but the replacements performed well.

"We rounded the first weather mark in fifth place in both races today and came back to finish first and second. That shows the sort of fight in this team," STEAD said. Mascalzone Latino and Barking Mad, skippered by Jim RICHARDSON (USA) were tied with 31 points apiece entering the 10th and final race of the regatta. Joe Fly, another Italian entry owned by Giovanni MASPERO (ITA), was just one point behind.

"It all came down to the last beat and Barking Mad chose to go hard left while Joe Fly went hard right. We knew if we covered Barking Mad we could be no worse than second so that is what we did. It was desperately close racing and we were fortunate enough to win both the race and the regatta," STEAD said.

Jeff ECKLUND (USA) and his motor yacht Starlight are regular sights at Acura Key West. Docked at The Galleon alongside ECKLUND's sailboat, members of the Star crew celebrated on deck after pulling out a tough victory in Melges 32 class. Star endured a difficult Thursday with results of 11th and 12th and found itself tied with Red of Joe WOODS (GBR) going into last two races. ECKLUND and tactician Harry MELGES (USA) made the right calls as Star posted a fourth and a second to beat Red by nine points.

"We made it difficult on ourselves with that one bad day. We had to come out today and get the job done and we did," said ECKLUND, who repeated as Melges 32 champion at Acura Key West. ECKLUND, who has been semi retired for several years since making a fortune as a commodities trader in Chicago, was thrilled to learn that Star had been selected as Acura Boat of the Week. Melges 32 was deemed the most closely contested of the regatta with the top six finishers separated by only 17 points. ECKLUND, 46, grew up racing Scows on the Great Lakes with Buddy MELGES and his son Harry, whose family-owned company builds both the Melges 32, 24 and the hot new 20. Harry MELGES, who is now president and CEO of Melges Boatworks, serves as tactician on Star.

"It would be hard to do this without Harry. He is one of the best sailors in the world and I'm fortunate to have him by my side," said ECKLUND, who began steering his own boat about six years ago.

UKA UKA Racing concluded an impressive regatta with a third and a fourth on Friday to secure the title in Melges 24 class, largest of the regatta with 33 boats. Skipper Lorenzo BRESSANI (ITA) and crew were simply brilliant, winning four races and placing no worse than fifth in compiling 20 points - seven better than the Swiss entry Blu Moon, owned by Franco ROSSINI (SUI). American professional Jonathan MCKEE, an Olympic gold medallist, called tactics aboard UKA UKA Racing, the reigning World Champion which led the regatta from start to finish. Vitesse skipper Jon HALBERT (USA) rewarded his crew with lunch at the Conch Republic Restaurant after winning the very evenly-matched Swan 42 class. Three different boats led the regatta at various points and all six boats were always bunched together at mark roundings. Quantum professional Farley FONTENOT (USA) called tactics on Vitesse, which entered Friday a point behind Arethusa of Phil LOTZ (USA), but beat its top challenger in both races.

"It was crazy how close the racing was all week. We won or lost five races by 30 seconds or less," HALBERT said. HALBERT, from Dallas, Texas, has heard about the annual race week off Key West ever since he began sailing. He has skippered an entry here the past six years and said it was "absolutely fantastic" to finally win the prestigious regatta.

"I've been dying to win this event practically my entire adult life. This is very, very rewarding… definitely one of the highlights of my sailing career," HALBERT said.

Daniel WOOLERY (USA) and the team aboard Soozal relaxed in the cockpit of the brand new King 40 at the dock in front of Turtle Kraals after capturing IRC 2 class. Veteran professional Robbie HAINES (USA) called tactics on Soozal, a Mark MILLS design that finished first or second in nine of 10 races. "The racing was super hard all week. It was a dogfight every day and we were lucky to have Robbie, who is just a master at calling the shifts. You can have the fastest boat in the world, but it doesn't matter if you're on the wrong side of the course," said WOOLERY, a resident of Point Richmond, Calfornia.

"Ultimately, I would credit our preparation. Scott EASON and I spent six weeks in Palm Beach and never saw anything but Crackerboy Boatworks, West Marine, Home Depot and the Comfort Inn. We made sure the boat was right from front to back," added WOOLERY.

Ran, a TP52 owned by Niklas ZENNSTROM of Great Britain, put forth a commanding performance in IRC 1 - winning six races and leading from start to finish. French Olympic medallist Thierry PEPONNET called tactics for helmsman Tim POWELL (USA).

"We just have a really good team that has been together a year and knows the boat very well, knows how to make her go fast," POWELL said. "It was a fantastic week of sailing. You really couldn't ask for any better conditions. Niklas really enjoyed himself and is looking forward to coming back next year."

Rhumb Punch capped an incredible comeback in Farr 30 class, rallying from fourth place on Wednesday to overall victory. It was the second Acura Key West crown for the husband-wife team of John and Linda EDWARDS (USA), who captured J/29 class in 2007. "We had to beat Kinetic in both races today and we got it done. We had a couple brutal two-mile tacking duels with those guys, but everybody on the crew gave me 100 percent today," John EDWARDS said. "We are a veteran team that knows how hard it is to win a class in Key West. This is a real special victory and we're going to enjoy it."

EDWARDS said the Rhumb Punch team is already anxiously looking forward to the 23rd edition of the renowned regatta. The family-based team has been coming to Key West since 2000 and hope they have another 10 years in them. "There is absolutely no question we are coming back. This is the best regatta we've ever been involved with. The racing is always awesome and the night life is rocking. I can't think of any other regatta that has the complete package like this one," EDWARDS said.

Premiere Racing president Peter CRAIG said that plans for Acura Key West 2010 are already underway. It will be held no matter what transpires with the economy and entries.

"This week was typical of the reliable wind conditions we get here. Ten races over five days is one of the main reasons why sailors come to Key West. They know they are going to go racing every day," CRAIG said. "To end on a picture-perfect day with solid breeze, not a cloud in the sky and the weather warming up was very fitting."

CRAIG said Premiere Racing has already heard from several Key West regulars who did not make this year's event due to the economic downturn. "They all universally assure they will be back next year. It had to be painful for them to following the regatta on the internet and see the fleet racing in such superb conditions."

You didn't have to be a winner to have a great time at Acura Key West 2009, presented by Nautica. Team Barbarians, skippered by Stuart SIMPSON of the Great Britain, finished ninth in Melges 32 class. However, The Barbarians routinely won the party and thoroughly enjoyed the calibre of competition and conditions.

"Absolutely, 100%," SIMPSON said when asked if he would be returning to the regatta. "Yacht racing off Key West is simply the best way to spend the third week of January. Christmas is over and it's depressing sitting around waiting for the credit card bills to come in. It's much better to take vacation and come down here for some sun, some fun and some great, great sailing."

Full results at www.premiere-racing.com
Bill Wagner
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