A fleet of 260 boats carrying more than 2,000 sailors enjoyed sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s all five days of the regatta, organized by Premiere Racing. Adding to the spectacular scene were top-notch sailing conditions - steady 10-14 knot winds and flat water off the Conch Republic.
'This was the perfect Key West. We had terrific weather, wonderful conditions, fantastic race management and tremendous competition,' IRC 1 champion Dan MEYERS (USA) said. 'Hats off to Peter CRAIG and his entire team for giving us sailors another great regatta.'
MEYERS and his high-level crew aboard Numbers won a week-long battle with Edgar CATO (USA) and Hissar. The two Farr-designed 60 footers entered the ninth and final race separated by just two points and predictably engaged in a match race duel.
Hissar led until the second downwind leg, but Numbers rolled over its rival and held the lead during the upwind finish. 'It basically took until the last leeward mark rounding. There were a heap of tacks and gybes thrown in today to keep everyone on their toes. It was a heck of a lot of fun,' MEYERS said.
Hamish PEPPER (NZL), an America's Cup winner with Team New Zealand and the reigning Star World Champion, called tactics aboard Numbers. MEYERS had high praise for his entire crew, which also included such Volvo Ocean Race and America's Cup veterans as John BARNETT (USA), Tim DAWSON (USA), Jerry KIRBY (USA), John MACGOWAN (USA) and Erle WILLIAMS (USA).
'I cannot express how grateful I am to the crew. We had one guy fly in from Dubai, another from Spain. Guys came from New Zealand and California,' MEYERS said. 'To see the smiles on their faces at the end of the week is very rewarding. We try to have a relaxed atmosphere onboard and I think everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves.'
IRC 2 class also came down to the last race with skipper Colm BARRINGTON (IRL) steering Magic Glove to a second place finish in race 9 to secure overall victory. The good-natured Irishman was making his Key West debut with a recently-launched Ker 50 and placed first or second in six of nine races against a loaded fleet.
'I am absolutely ecstatic about this result,' BARRINGTON said. 'We made a lot of changes to the boat over the last few months. We tweaked the rig and got some different sails and it all seemed to work out.'
Robert GREENHALGH (GBR), a member of the victorious ABN AMRO crew in the last Volvo Ocean Race, called tactics aboard Magic Glove, which opened the regatta with a sixth then reeled off three straight bullets. Samba Pa Ti and Windquest, a pair of TP 52s, placed second and third, respectively.
'We came out of the gate with an awful finish, but Robert kept us on the right track and we were fairly consistent the rest of the way,' BARRINGTON said. 'It was interesting because the TP52s are so much lighter and quicker. We had to really focus on staying close and saving our time on them.'
Magic Glove managed to do exactly that on Friday, finishing second behind Samba Pa Ti on corrected time. 'Today was champagne sailing in every respect. You're out there on emerald waters with the sun shining brightly and the wind blowing strong. It's all quite breathtaking.'
Italian skipper Riccardo SIMONESCHI (ITA) and his crew aboard Giacomel Audi Racing captured the highly-competitive Melges 24 class in dramatic fashion. SIMONESCHI got the gun in race 9 to vault from fourth to first in the 47 boat fleet, largest of the regatta.
'We got a great start and our tactics were almost perfect,' said SIMONESCHI, who rounded the first windward mark in first place and extended the lead to 400 meters by the finish.
SIMONESCHI's decisive move in the standings - going from eight points down to a five point victory - also earned Giacomel Audi Racing the prestigious Acura Trophy as Boat of the Week. Officials with Premiere Racing determined that the Melges 24 class featured the closest, most competitive racing over the course of the week.
'It was a nice comeback. We started a little slow, but got better as the week went along,' said SIMONESCHI, who counted all single-digit finishes. 'When you are racing in a class that is this big and this close, things can change quickly. We maintained our focus and improved a couple places every day.'
Giacomel Audi Racing stood in eighth place after two days of racing, but steady clawed its way up the leaderboard. Snatching overall victory in the final race was a fitting turnaround for SIMONESCHI, who led going into the last day and finished fourth at Acura Key West 2006.
Matteo IVALDI (ITA) served as tactician for the Italian team, which launched a brand new boat for this regatta and spent the first couple days tuning the rig. Week-long leader Joe Fly found trouble on Friday as helmsman Gabrio ZANDONA (ITA) was forced to perform two penalty turns for hitting a mark and finished 14th. California sailmaker Dave ULLMAN (USA) started the day in second, but was over early at the start and wound up 12th in the last race. Those disappointing results left Joe Fly five points behind in second and Pegasus 505 in fourth overall.
Mumm 30 is another grand prix class that was decided on the final day. Southern Sun, the Australian entry skippered by Bruce EDDINGTON (AUS), held onto its lead by the skin of its teeth. Dutchman Peter DE RIDDER and the Mean Machine crew did all they could to put the pressure on Aussies by winning race 9.
Southern Sun was in sixth place with 100 meters remaining on the last leg, but picked off a boat and placed fifth - good enough to finished tied with Mean Machine on points. EDDINGTON won the tiebreaker by virtue of posting more first place results in the regatta.
'We have a new team with three young guys who are first timers to the Mumm 30. They all did a great job and we improved throughout the week,' said DE RIDDER, who has announced his intention to mount a Volvo Ocean Race campaign. 'I think our problem is that we didn't floss enough in the first couple races. There are huge patches of weed out there and you have to clear it on the runs.'
NKE Electronics, a Beneteau 10R skippered by Bobby OBERG (USA) of Annapolis, clinched PHRF 3 on Thursday and celebrated hard. OBERG, tactician Matt BECK (USA) and crew hit Duval Street hard until the wee hours of Friday morning, but drug themselves out of bed to go racing Friday because the PHRF National Championship was still on the line.
That decision proved wise as NKE Electronics wrapped up the championship by the narrowest of margins over Rhumb Punch, a J/29 owned by John and Linda EDWARDS (USA) of Solomon's Island.
Four PHRF class leaders entered the final race in contention for the title with a ties for first place and third. 'It was an interesting competition and an extremely close one,' said Bruce BINGMAN, chairman of the PHRF consortium, and the mastermind that produced the formula for the newly-created national championship. 'Both ties were broken on the water by the tiniest margin.'
OBERG, a 35 year old New Jersey native who sailed at St. Mary's College, was thrilled to pick up the inaugural PHRF National Championship.
'It's pretty exciting because 20 years from now, somebody is going to win this award and our name is going to be on there first,' OBERG said.
J/105 class was still in doubt going into Friday, but Thomas COATES (USA) and his team aboard Masquerade shut down any thoughts of a come-from-behind victory by Convexity. Veteran accountant Chris PERKINS (USA) made all the right tactical calls as Masquerade got the gun in race 9 to seal its third straight title in J/105 class here at Key West.
'We were talking on the way back to the dock and everyone agreed the competition here this year was better than it's ever been,' said COATES, a San Francisco resident. 'All the teams are further along on the learning curve. That makes this win even more special than the previous two.'
Convexity fouled another boat and was forced to perform a penalty turn, but skipper Donald Wilson still managed to fight his way back to fourth in the final race to finish seven points behind Masquerade.
'Our goal today was to sail our own race while also paying attention to where Convexity was at all times,' COATES said. 'This is a great way to finish the regatta. We are absolutely thrilled with the three-peat.'
Another hotly contested class was J/109 with Gary MOZER's (USA) Current Obsession winning a tiebreaker with Stephen TEDESCHI's (USA) Tastes Like Chicken. MOZER, from Long Beach, California, notched a third on Friday and thus was able to throw out a seventh from race 8 and deadlock TEDESCHI with 20 points. Current Obsession, which was making its Key West debut, was lifted to victory by back-to-back bullets in the sixth and seventh races.
Alinghi was still in its berth at The Galleon docks when the fleet left the harbour on Friday morning. Skipper Ernesto BERTARELLI (SUI) and crew clinched overall victory in the Farr 40 class on Thursday and decided to get a head start on returning to their America's Cup base in Dubai, UAE.
Alinghi, a Switzerland-flagged syndicate and current America's Cup holder, picked up some additional hardware on Friday despite not sailing. BERTARELLI's victory in the 17 boat Farr 40 class led Switzerland to victory in the International Team competition. Artemis, a Swan 601 owned by Torbjorn TORNQVIST (SWE), placed third in IRC 1 class while Franco ROSSINI's (SUI) Blu Moon took third in Melges 24 to complete a strong showing by Team Switzerland, which earned the Nautica Watches Trophy by a 4½ points over Team France.
El Ocaso, a J/120 owned by Rick WESSLUND (USA), was victorious in some incredibly close racing within PHRF 2 class on Friday. El Ocaso's performance in holding off overall class winner Cash Flow earned WESSLUND and crew the Acura Boat of the Day honour.
The Acura Grand Prix Awards - presented to the combined class winners of Acura Key West and the Acura Miami Grand Prix (on 8-11 March 2007) are destined to become some of the most sought after trophies on the international racing circuit. Perpetual awards are in the offing to the Farr 40, Mumm 30, Melges 32 and IRC big boat classes.
TV and Internet Productions will bring the racing excitement right into homes and offices around the world. Acura will sponsor a special daily internet production which will be available nightly on the official event web site and ESPN.com. Additionally a special Jobson Sailing production will be aired on ESPN 2, Sunday March 11 at 1:30 PM EST. View highlights from 2006 - applecart.tv/kw_preview.
Title Sponsor Acura is the Official Vehicle. Presenting Sponsor Nautica Watches is the Official Timekeeper. Day Sponsor Mount Gay® Rum is the Official Rum. Supporting sponsors are B&G (Official Marine Electronics), Everglades Boats (Official Mark Boat), Lewmar (Official Marine Hardware), New England Ropes (Official Rope), SLAM (Official Technical Gear), and Sperry Top-Sider (Official Footwear). Supplier Spaten is the Official Beer.
Acura Key West is also supported by The Florida Keys & Key West Tourism Council. The Historic Seaport at the Key West Bight is the Official Site.