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19 January 2007, 09:37 am
Down To The Wire
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Acura Key West 2007
Key West, Florida, USA

The racing at Acura Key West is heading towards a grand finale in Florida, USA, with 12 titles to be decided in the final race. Just one example of the tight racing came in the IRC 1 class, as Dan MEYERS (USA) stood on the dock in front of the Westin Hotel and simply shook his head when asked how close the competition has been.
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MEYERS and his crew aboard Numbers have engaged in a battle royale with Edgar CATO (USA) and the Hissar team with the two Farr designed 60 footers sailing around the course in constant contact.

'It's been absolutely fantastic racing. We have battled back-and-forth all week and we have to do it one more day,' said MEYERS, who steered Numbers to a pair of bullets on Thursday to take a two point lead over Hissar.

Hard Fought Wins

Those victories did not come easy as CATO was breathing down the back of his Newport neighbour all the way to the finish. 'These two boats are incredibly even. They go the same speed and have similar calibre crews. We had a race today in which the lead changed hands twice in the last 60 seconds.'

IRC 1 is among 12 classes still in doubt going into the final day of Acura Key West 2007, presented by Nautica. Organizers with Premiere Racing are planning to start one race on Friday and it will be do or die for MEYERS and many other skippers.

'It's all on, winner-take-all. There's nothing better than to have a great regatta like this go right down to the wire,' said MEYERS, who did not hesitate when asked what Numbers' approach will be in the ninth and final race. 'For us, it's two words: Sail clean. We can't worry about Hissar or any other boat. We just have to sail the best we can and let the chips fall where they may.'

Only two points separate the first and second place boats in IRC 2 and 3 as well. In the J/109 class, Tastes Like Chicken and Current Obsession are only one point apart. Surprisingly, the Farr 40s are one of the only five classes already determined after four days of racing.

Alinghi Wins Farr 40s

Skipper Ernesto BERTARELLI (SUI) steered Alinghi to its fourth victory of the series on Thursday to clinch overall victory in Farr 40. The team from Geneva, Switzerland holds an insurmountable 20 point lead over Flash Gordon 5 in the 17 boat class.

Alinghi does not need to leave the dock on Friday, but tactician Brad BUTTERWORTH (NZL) said the team is inclined to go out on the water one last time.

'We came here to go sailing so why not do as much as we can,' BUTTERWORTH said. 'It would be nice to end the regatta on a good note. I guess we'll see what the boss thinks.'

BERTARELLI came to Key West with five members of his America's Cup crew, figuring warm and sunny Florida would provide a nice break from preparations to defend the Auld Mug. BUTTERWORTH praised the trimming of Lorenzo MAZZA (ITA) and Warwick FLEURY (NZL) and said Pieter VAN NIEWUENHUYZEN (NED) is such a good bowman 'it's like having two guys up there'.

However, six other members of the crew were not professionals - per class rules - and had to blend in with the Cup sailors. 'This crew had never sailed as a group so we weren't sure how it would go. It turns out we worked very well together,' BUTTERWORTH said.

High Intensity

While the boys on Alinghi can relax tomorrow, the intensity will be high in most of the other professional-laden, grand prix classes. Magic Glove, Colm BARRINGTON's (IRL) brand new Ker 50, will try to protect a narrow advantage over the TP52s Samba Pa Ti of John KILROY (USA) and Windquest of Doug DEVOS (USA).

'It's anybody's regatta at this stage. Three boats are still very much in the hunt,' said BARRINGTON, an Irishman making his Key West debut. 'We've really got to sail our own race because our rating is so much different than the Transpacs. We've looked at the numbers and considered all the scenarios. We know what we have to do, now we just have to go out and do it.'

Esmeralda, a newly launched Club Swan 42 owned by Japanese industrialist Makoto UEMATSU, has finished first in five races and second in three others yet still only leads Spirit of Malouen, 9 to 11. Tactician Ken READ (USA) said Esmeralda cannot let up now, although this regatta has been a success regardless.

'We came into this regatta with the plan of learning the boat and getting it set up properly. We had no expectations results wise, so this is a pleasant surprise,' said READ, a North Sails executive. 'We have some specially-designed IRC rocket ships in this class while we're set up completely in one-design trim. It appears this is a one-design that the IRC rule likes.'

Melges 24 Wide Open

It's still wide open in the talent-laden Melges 24 class, largest of the regatta with 47 boats. Joe Fly, the Italian entry owned by Giovanni MASPERO (ITA), increased its lead over Dave ULLMAN's (USA) Pegasus 505 to five points, but things can change quickly in such a huge fleet. Franco ROSSINI's (SUI) Blu Moon is one of three other boats still in striking distance.

'Today we just tried to control our closest competition - Pegasus and Blu Moon. We tacked whenever they did,' Joe Fly helmsman Gabrio ZANDONA (ITA) said. 'We are out in front with one race to go. That is a good position to be in.'

Convexity, skippered by Donald WILSON (USA) of Chicago, made a major move in the 33 boat J/105 class - cutting a 19 point deficit to Masquerade down to four. WILSON placed second in race 8 while Thomas COATES (USA) and the Masquerade crew suffered a 24th in race 7 to tighten the standings.

'I definitely feel we have a good chance to win the regatta. We are right there with Masquerade in terms of boat speed,' WILSON said. 'We will try to continue do the same stuff we've been doing and see what happens.'

Southern Sun Boat Of The Day

Southern Sun, the Australian entry skippered by Bruce EDDINGTON (AUS), took over the lead in Mumm 30 class with a strong performance on Thursday. Tactician Tim DAVIS (AUS) made some great calls on wind shifts as Southern Sun posted a first and a second to take a four point lead over Mean Machine. That effort also earned Southern Sun the Industry Partner Boat of the Day award.

'I think Tim is an exceptional tactician and that has been evident this week. He's called the shifts very well and has gotten us out of jail a number of times,' EDDINGTON said. 'Tomorrow is a big day as we know anything can happen in sailboat racing. Our worst result so far is a fifth so that is encouraging. We just can't make any major mistakes.'

Claudio RECCHI (ITA) and his Italian team aboard Let's Roll clinched victory in Melges 32 class with a first and a second on Thursday. Crew member Topo DICAPRIO (ITA) got tossed in the water upon return to the dock and it was smiles all around for Italians, who dominated a very strong 20 boat fleet on the strength of four bullets.

'We are quite pleased because the top five boats were all very tough,' said RECCHI, who is a whopping 17 points ahead of New Wave, co-owned by Michael CARROLL and Marty KULLMAN (USA).

However, the Let's Roll crew has agreed to go sailing on Friday because RECCHI is hopeful of earning the Acura Boat of the Week honour.

OBERG After National Title

Similarly, Bobby OBERG (USA) and his crew aboard NKE Electronics intend to do race 9 despite having clinched PHRF 3 class. OBERG, who counts all first and second place finishes, has his sights set on the PHRF National Championship.

NKE Electronics, one of five Beneteau 10R designs that are making their Key West debut, is tied with John EDWARDS' (USA) Rhumb Punch in the standings. The championship, a new addition to the regatta, is determined by a combination of average corrected speed and class competitiveness.

Rhumb Punch, a J/29 that has sealed victory in PHRF 5, has a slight edge in terms of average corrected speed. However, a smaller time disparity between the first and fifth place boats in PHRF 3 benefits NKE Electronics.

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.

Premier Racing (As Amended By ISAF). Image, Action from Florida:© Tim Wilkes/www,timwilkes.com
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