324 boats are entered in 18 classes to compete in Key West Race Week, taking place in Florida, USA.
The total is only two fewer than last year's record of 326 and is topped by 78 Melges 24s-the largest one-design class ever at Key West-contesting their 2001 world championship, which was postponed from November at Ft. Lauderdale.
Conditions promise to be as baffling as ever, even for some of the best sailors in the world. San Diego's Bill Bennett, navigator for Robert Hughes' Farr 40, Heartbreaker, said, "When you go to San Francisco you know exactly what you're going to get. When you go to San Diego you know what you're going to get. Here you get everything."
The four race courses are set in an east-west line between the south-facing beach and a reef 5-to-6 miles offshore, and each has its own conditions. The Gulf Stream flows through the shoals at speeds up to 2 knots.
Heartbreaker's navigator, Terry Hutchinson of Annapolis, was asked what the prevailing wind was.
"You'd like to think there was one," he said. "On our race course there is a lot of current to factor in. Even when it's only a half to three-quarters of a knot, that's enough to make a difference in light air."
That's why most teams try to sail conservatively in the early days. "Our goal is to average in the top five," Hutchinson said. "Then we'll see how things look."
The Melges 24s started getting semi-serious Sunday with a practice race, won by Doug Fisher of Sarasota, Fla. Winds were only 5-10 knots, a condition that is expected to continue Monday before the warm and humid high-pressure ridge hanging over the area gives way to a cooler front bringing stronger winds down from the northern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday. The Melgeses will run 10 races through the week, the other classes eight. Racing is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. daily.
Harry Melges III, son of Buddy and president of Melges Boat Works of Zenda, Wis., would like to repeat his dominating performance of last year but faces an armada of world-class opponents, led by San Diego veteran Vince Brun, who won the first two Melges world titles in 1998 and '99. Brun missed 2000 while winning the Etchells Worlds, and 2000 champion Giorgio Zuccoli of Italy was lost to cancer 10 months ago. Most of the other class's international elite are entered, except for Dave Ullman, a member of the Oracle America's Cup campaign currently training in New Zealand.
Other one-design classes are Farr 40, with 25 boats; J/105, 28; J/80, 22; Mumm 30, 20; J/29, 17; 1D35, 15, and-making their Key West debut-13 F-28R catamarans. Two J/80 crews will be selected from the top finishers to represent the U.S. in the ISAF World Sailing Games at Marseilles, France June 29-July 11. The top North American finisher will receive a free charter in the J/80 Worlds at La Rochelle, France. There are nine PHRF classes.
In the absence of the Admiral's Cup last year, Premiere Racing again offers its own version of an international fleet racing championship: the International Team Competition for the Terra Nova Trading Trophy. Eleven teams are entered, each sailing a Farr 40, Mumm 30 and Melges 24. Two boats and 30 per cent of the crew must be from the designated country.
The Farr 40s, which the owners must drive but can hire up to four professionals as crew, have their customary roster of celebrity tacticians, including Hutchinson, Robbie Haines, Chris Larsen, Ed Baird, Tony Rey, Ed Adams, Thierry Peponnet and John Kolius. Haines is back aboard Greek businessman George Andreadis' Atalanti XI, which has finished first the last two years and won the Yachting Magazine Trophy as Boat of the Week last year.
Other defending champions: George Collins' Farr 52, Chessie Racing, from Annapolis, in PHRF 1; Marty Fisher's PHRF Boat of the Week J/145, Strabo, Annapolis, PHRF-2; Michael Gray's Melges 30, Tiburon, Metairie, La., PHRF 3; Gordon Shiff's Mumm 36, The Wall, Tampa, Fla., PHRF 4; Richard Hallett's Custom 27, Family Wagon, Casco Bay, Maine; Peter DeBeukelaer's Tripp 26, Dream Cookie, Jackson, Miss., PHRF 9 (in PHRF 8 this year); Robert Johnstone's Tern V, Charleston, S.C., in J/105; Kerry Klingler's 352, Larchmont, N.Y., in J/80, and Bodo and Nick von der Wense's Turbo Duck, Annapolis, in Mumm 30.
Makoto Uematsu of Tokyo has left the IMS title up for grabs among six boats. He sold his Farr 50 Esmeralda and will be racing a Mumm 30 of the same name.