"This is definitely a big breakthrough for us. Winning a major event such as this is a big confidence boost. Now that we have finally won, we know that we can do it again," Teasing Machine crew member Eric de Turckheim said.
Owner Helmut Jahn and the boys on Flash Gordon also made a bit of a breakthrough by capturing the Farr 40 class by a mere point over the Italian entry Nerone. It marked the first victory in an international regatta for the Chicago-based syndicate, which previously won the Farr 40 North American Championship that had no foreign entries.
"This is by far the biggest win we've had in this class," Jahn said. "It is a very important step in the right direction for our programme."
Teasing Machine took first place in four of 10 races and held off strong closing charges by Full Throttle and Star top a talent-laden fleet of 23 Melges 32s. Veteran North Sails professional Andreas Josenhans spent three days prior to the regatta coaching the French team, which was disappointed with its 13th place finish at Key West 2010 in mid January.
"We have been working hard for a year now and we are starting to understand how to make the boat go," de Turckheim said. "The Melges 32 is not an easy boat to sail and it took some time to figure some things out. Working with AJ was helpful because he was able to pinpoint some of our weaknesses and shows us how to improve."
Cruette, a former Corinthian class champion in the Melges 24 class, was particularly pleased since he was able to share this victory with a loyal team of close friends from the seaside port of La Rochelle, including tactician Christian Ponthieu. "The whole crew is very happy. We have been sailing together a long time and this is one of our greatest accomplishments."
Several members of the Flash Gordon team, notably jib-spinnaker trimmer Dave Gerber and coach Ed Adams, have been with Jahn for nearly two decades. San Diego-based professional Bill Hardesty came aboard as tactician two years ago and has helped elevate the crew performance, evidenced by the fact Flash's only two Farr 40 victories have come in the past six months.
"We have learned to not worry about the big picture and to focus on the next task. You focus on getting a good start, then a good mark rounding and a good spinnaker set and so on," Hardesty said.
Hardesty had stated on Saturday night that the first race on Sunday would be critical. Flash Gordon got off the line in good shape, hit the first shift, rounded the top mark in first place and covered the fleet nicely en route to getting the gun in race nine. "All week the left side had been better early in the day. We wanted to get a clean lane and go left, and thankfully we were able to execute the plan," he said.
Evan Jahn steered the boat during starts and upwind before turning the wheel over to his father for the downwind legs. Helmut Jahn passed two boats on the first run of Race 10 and that would prove crucial considering Nerone notched a bullet to pull within a point.
"Things just came together nicely. We had a bad result in the third race [ninth], but we fought back and continued to climb in the standings - from fifth to third to second to first," Jahn said.
It was close but no cigar for skipper Massimo Mezzaroma, tactician Vasco Vascotto and the rest of the crew on Nerone, which won four races and finished second in two others.
"It's tough because we sailed so well in so many races. The second day was a big disaster and really set us back," said Nerone crew member Massimo Bortoletto, referring to results of 10th and seventh on Friday. "We fought until the very end and finished strong. We were happy because we had good speed and crew work."
Nerone did capture the Florida Grand Prix title, which is awarded based on the combined results from Premiere Racing's two winter regattas. The Italian boat placed third at Key West 2010 and totaled 81 points - 13 better than Barking Mad of Jim Richardson (USA).
A familiar name but a class newcomer was runner-up in the Melges 32 fleet. John Porter, who has crewed for his brother Brian on the family's Melges 24, steered Full Throttle to a pair of bullets and five other Top 5 finishes in totaling 50 points - four more than Teasing Machine.
Seattle-based professional Jonathan McKee called tactics for Porter, who took delivery of his brand new boat a few weeks ago. Two other renowned pros - Federico Michetti of Melges Boatworks Europe and Andy Burdick - served as jib trimmer and strategist.
"I've been thinking about getting one of these 32s for a couple years. I'm 55 years old now and felt It was time to stop hiking out for my brother and sail my own boat," said Porter, who had sons Vincent (main) and Corbett (floater) as part of the crew. "We're just super happy to do this well in our first event. I had a lot of good sailors on my boat and they deserve all the credit."
Star, skippered by Jeff Ecklund with pros Jeff Madrigali and Harry Melges in the afterguard, also scored 50 points, but lost the tiebreaker to Full Throttle. Ecklund, a resident of Fort Lauderdale, said the 2010 Miami Grand Prix may have set a new standard for competition in the Melges 32.
"This might have been the tightest, toughest fleet of boats in class history. There were a lot of talented teams here and everyone came out with their guns blazing," said Ecklund, who saluted the Teasing Machine crew for finding a way to go from 13th in Key West to atop the podium.
"That is a team that has really come together and improved very quickly. They obviously found something special and performed very well all four days."
Skipper Jim Bishop completed a wire-to-wire win in IRC class with a first and a second in Sunday's two races. The Rhode Island skipper steered his 20-year-old J and 44 to victory in five races and finished no worse than second in totalling 19 points. Decision, a TP52 owned by Stephen Murray of New Orleans, closed the regatta with a bullet and overtook the J/125 Stark Raving Mad of James Madden (USA) for second.
"It's absolutely fabulous," an ecstatic Bishop said of the victory. "We had an excellent crew and great preparation, and were fortunate to get the type of conditions that favor this boat. We need a breeze and it blew pretty strong for this entire regatta."
Organizers with Premiere Racing had no trouble completing the 10-race series as winds rarely dropped below 10 knots and often reached the upper teens. Principal Race Officer Dave Brennan and team set terrific courses and it was notable that there was not a single protest.
"South Beach once again delivered the conditions it's known for, the competition in all three classes was tremendous and the race committee work was flawless as usual," event director Peter Craig said following the awards ceremony at Miami Beach Marina. "Combine all those factors and that explains why there are so many smiling faces around here."
Results, photos and more at: www.premiere-racing.com