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24 January 2002, 08:16 pm
Big Boats Crash In Strongest Breeze Yet
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Key West Race Week
Florida

While big winds often bring bad news, most sailors will welcome them and take their chances. Some paid the price at Terra Nova Trading/Yachting Key West Race Week Wednesday.
Foremost, there was the Titan XI-Decision collision in PHRF-1 class. Stephen Murray's Decision, an Andrews 70 from New Orleans, struck Tom Hill's Titan XI, an Andrews 68 from San Juan, P.R., near the windward mark on the first leg of the second race.

Decision, on port tack, tried to duck its rival but T-boned Titan XI smack on the middle T. Titan XI looked as if it had been cut almost halfway in two by a chainsaw.

"We thought we were going to sink," Hill said. "The regatta's over for us."

Well, not exactly. In what Titan XI helmsman Mark Ploch called "a very gracious offer," Murray put his boat, which suffered what was described as "superficial damage," at the disposal of Hill and his crew for the last two days of the regatta.

Madden Randle, Decision's navigator and boat captain, said, "We owed them the gesture. We probably made a mistake-well, we most certainly made a mistake in trying to duck them. We probably waited too long and were going too fast-10-plus knots by the time we collided."

Wednesday's breeze was up to 18 knots, strongest of the week. The F-28R trimarans loved every minute of it.

Although one of the class leaders, Doug Harkrider of Flowery Beach, Ga., had to drop out of the second race when the headboard on his main sail broke, he said with delight, "The conditions were perfect for multihulls. We can even use a little more [wind]. We don't start reefing until 25 knots."

Randy Smyth, America's No. 1 multihull sailor, certainly had no complaints, either. He won both of Wednesday's races to stretch his overall lead to four points with three races remaining.

A greater surprise was Flavio Favini's sweep of all three races against the rest of the best Melges 24 sailors in the 2001 World Championships. Favini, the IMS 50 world champion sailing for Switzerland, has won four in a row reaching back to Tuesday. With throwouts considered, Favini leads defending Key West champion Harry Melges of Lake Geneva, Wis., 15 points to 24, with four races remaining.

In the marquee class featuring celebrity tacticians, Atalanti XI, the double defending champion with Robbie Haines brainstorming behind owner/driver George Andreadis of Greece, slipped quietly into first place although it still hasn't finished better than third (3-7-4-4-3). Wednesday's winners were John Thomson's Solution and Jim Richardson's Barking Mad, but consistency is what counts there.

Consistently winning is even better. In the 1D35s, Chris and Kara Busch's Wild Thing from San Diego (1-2-1-1-1) now has an eight-point lead.

After three of five days, the only unbeaten boat left from the 324 entries from 33 states and 14 countries is Kerry Klingler's defending J/80 champion from Larchmont, N.Y., known only by its sail number, 395.

In IMS, Isam Kabbani's C/M 60, Rima, and George David's Nelson/Marek 49, Idler, remained tied for first place after swapping firsts and seconds-ditto Bill Alcott's Santa Cruz 70, Equation, and George Collins' Farr 52, Chessie Racing, in PHRF-1, as Titan XI and Decision went by the boards.

The hottest PHRF boats are Wairere, Trice and Chris Bouzaid's Thompson 30, with a 1-1-2-1-1 series going in PHRF-3, and Dream Cookie, Peter De Beukelaer's Tripp 26, in PHRF-8.

Richard Perini's Mumm 30 Foreign Affair from Sydney, Australia, won both of Wednesday's races to make it three in a row for a narrow lead.

It wasn't immediately clear how Decision would be scored with the Titan XI crew now in charge, but nobody seemed concerned, and hard feelings were minimal.

Hill, the owner of Titan XI, said, "I've run into boats myself, but it's really disappointing. It was a scary moment. The three of us in the back of the boat were ready to bail out."

Mark Ploch of Titan XI said, "I was at the helm. At a certain point it was, 'They're gonna hit us, and it's gonna hurt.' "

Decision's bow remained jammed in Titan XI's hull for more than a minute. The crippled boat, still heeling sharply to port, was taking on water at an alarming rate.

"His bow was pushing us sideways," Hill said. "We thought we were going to sink."

Randle took action on Decision. "I felt we were pushing the other boat under," he said. "I started the engine, grabbed the helm and backed the boat away."

Randle said the crash was the result of misjudgment by the unidentified helmsman-not Murray-and not because the crew failed to ease the main sheet, as Titan XI crew members at first suspected.

"The main was flagging when we hit them," Randle said.

Decision apparently would sail Thursday with most of the Titan XI crew and a half-dozen Decision people.

Full results from the event website.
Key West Race Week Press/News Editor
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