The breeze, following blasts to 25 knots that overpowered some competitors early in the week, was a satisfying 14 knots for the 10 o'clock starts up and down the four courses along the south side of the island. But then it steadily dissolved into the day's second race until all the cool and calculating world-class minds were at their wits' ends.
Chris BUSCH, a former Key West winner sailing his 1D35, Wild Thing, from San Diego, said, 'It was frustrating for everybody. It's tough mentally when you have to keep trying to figure it out all the time. We're not used to that stuff at Key West.'
That said, Busch followed a fourth place in the first race with a win in the second to lead by two points with the ninth and final race scheduled Friday. His team's performance earned them Industry Partners Boat of the Day honours for the 295-boat fleet.
Busch felt blessed. 'The top four finished within 30 seconds,' he said. 'The only difference was that we got a little puff at the end. We would have been happy with fourth.'
Miami's Kevin Burnham, who with Texas' Paul Foerster won America's only Olympic sailing gold medal last summer, is sailing on Pegasus Racing's contending Melges 24, which went from a first to a 24th on the day. 'It was worse than Athens,' Burnham said. 'There was a huge right shift on the last [upwind leg]. We were caught on the wrong side of that.' But his boat is only one point behind Maspero GIOVANNI'S frontrunning Joe Fly, of Canottieri Lecco, Italy.
A new threat is Australia's James SPITHILL, sailing with double Olympic medalists Jonathan and Charlie MCKEE of Seattle. Spithill and the McKee brothers are members of Italy's Luna Rossa America's Cup team. They suddenly became contenders Thursday when they not only notched fifth- and seventh-place finishes but, after seven races, were allowed to discard their worst score: 59 points for starting over the line in the first race Monday.
The crew also includes 10-year-old Mac AGNESE of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., a member of the U.S. Optimist Dinghy Association Development Team. His 60 pounds hardly count against the class weight limit.
Spithill said, 'We've sailed pretty well since we've been under the gun with our discard used up. We've just had to keep out of trouble. Nothing like doing it the hard way.'
Deneen DEMOURKAS of Santa Barbara, sailing her Mumm 30, Groovederci, extended her lead in the Mumm 30s, despite an 11th-place finish that broke her string of all firsts and seconds. But she said with exhaustion, 'Lord, it was frustrating. Somehow we managed to gain points.'
Germany's Hasso PLATTNER, steeled for a final Farr 40 dogfight Friday after a third and first Thursday, said, 'Why we won over Mean Machine and Barking Mad, I don't know. In [only] 3½ knots of wind, with shifts and puffs, it was luck.'
Plattner, with Russell COUTTS at his side, leads Holland's Peter de RIDDER on Mean Machine by one point; current world champion Jim RICHARDSON'S Barking Mad of Newport, R.I., is another five points back.
And if that's what the leaders say, how do to the others feel?
Well, Richard BERGMANN of San Diego, two-time defending champion in the J/105 class, is out of the chase this time but said, 'It's a beautiful day, good competition and the California boats are going good. It's still the best regatta.'
Another Californian, Thomas COATES of San Francisco, has clinched the J/105 victory after winning his third of eight races. Winners in seven other of the 21 classes also are determined.
Joe Fly, with Gabrio ZANDONA at the tiller, would probably be the happiest boat here even if it weren't leading. The Italians, guided by American tactician Morgan LARSON of Santa Cruz, Calif., have smiled their way through the week, even after their two worst races Thursday-join the club-with a 21 and eighth. They held onto their slim lead by tossing the 21.
The Pegasus team is composed of Burnham, fellow Olympic medalist Freddy LÖÖF of Sweden, helmsman Bill HARDESTY of San Diego, four-time collegiate all-American Mark IVEY of Newport Beach, Calif. and one female member, Midge TANDY of Florida.
Spithill's team shares fourth place with Neil SULLIVAN'S M-Fatic from Annapolis, driven by yet another Olympic medalist, Morgan REESER. After a fourth and third, Reeser said, 'We wanted a light and squirrelly day to make something happen.'
The lesson there is to be careful what you wish for. The forecast for Friday indicates more of the same.
Barking Mad and M-Fatic form the USA East team that has taken a tight grip on the International Team Competition with a 12-point lead over Italy's entry of Franco ROSSINI'S Melges 24, Blu Moon, and Vincenzo ONORATO'S Farr 40, Mascalzone Latino.