After the intense frustration of day one when a lack of wind meant no races were completed at all the Melges 24 fleet was raring to go for day two.
Fortunately Key West delivered the conditions for which it is rightly famous and three great races were achieved in a steady 8-12 knot wind with only a small chop.
On the first start the majority opted for the right hand side of the two-part line and picked the shifts up the centre of the course. By the weather mark Laurent Pages had managed to eak out a couple of boat lengths lead from Jamie Lea with Tony Wetherall, Argyle Campbell, Stuart Rix, Morgan Reeser, Harry Melges, Vince Brun and Benoit Charon following him in. The fleet was still well bunched resulting in some interesting mark rounding incidents and lots of business for the on the water judges.
The Melges 24 Class has introduced on the water judging (now standard at all their international championships) to Key West Race Week for the first time and the umpires had plenty to keep them busy today. One of the most frequent penalty calls was for infringement of the class bowsprit rule, which requires that the bowsprit only be extended when the spinnaker is being flow.
By the end of the first run Pages and Lea had developed a reasonable gap between them and the front of the pack. Campbell rounded third while Melges had pulled up from 7th to 4th, Wetherall dropped into 5th ahead of Brun and Tony Wattson worked his way up from 11th to 7th.
Although Pages and Lea were safely out on their own at the front of the fleet there were some fantastic battles taking place at the front of the pack. Melges, Campbell and Brun fought tooth and nail on the second lap with the final finishing order being Brun 1st, Melges 2nd and Campbell 3rd. One of the most interesting performances of race one came from Canadian Kate Mullin, she rounded the first mark down in the teens but doggedly fought her way up through the fleet to finish 6th overall, just ahead of Wetherall, Rix and Reeser. Philippe Kahn also put in a good stead performance to take 10th.
Weather wise race two was more of the same with the centre left favoured up the first beat. Doug Fisher put in his first appearance at the front of the fleet to lead round mark one with Reeser, Kent Haegar, Lea, Brun, Brian Porter, Melges and Flavio Favini hot on his tail. By the bottom of the run Reeser had passed him and Porter had pulled up into 5th with Melges 6th, Favini 7th and Brun dropping back to 8th. Reeser hung onto his lead for the final lap as Lea, Haegar and Fisher fought for 2nd, 3rd and 4th respectively. Melges overtook porter for 5th, Brun gained one to take 6th head of Pages and Cedric Pouligny as Favini dropped to 11th.
As the conditions were near perfect the race committee elected to run a third race to help make up for yesterdays lost time. The breeze was up slightly and everyone was in agreement that this was the right decision. "The race management has been phenomenal, good lines, good courses at just the right length and everything pulled together as quickly as possible" commented IMCA Class Chairman Tom Freytag.
Race three threw up the most unexpected results of the day as a result of a big shift on the first beat. Several of the previous front runners were caught out although Favini took full advantage of it to lead at the first mark ahead of Markus Brennecke. Robert Tennant, Don Jesberg, Steve Suddath, Miles Martschink, Sean Scarborough and John Demourkas followed him in leaving Lea down in 11th, Reeser 13th and the rest of the previous front runners down in the clag.
Favini increased his lead on every subsequent leg whilst behind him there were some desperate teams working the shifts for all they were worth to make up lost ground. By the 2nd windward mark Tennant was in 2nd, Lea had made it up to 3rd, Reeser was in 6th and Brennecke had dropped to 8th.
Favini took the race by a country mile from Tennant. There was a battle royal between Jesberg and Lea for fourth with Jesberg just getting it on the line. Demourkas took 5th whilst Reeser had made up to 5th just ahead of Melges.
Overall a fantastic day's sailing for this huge fleet of Melges 24s, the biggest ever assembled in the United States. Jamie Lea was by far the most consistent of the day. He and his team of owner Richard Thompson, Jim Schwerdt and Nigel Young have been amongst the top performers on the international circuit in the last year and are currently joint leaders of the World Ranking Series with Laurent Pages.
"The race management was excellent, the lines were square and the course length was perfect at around 1.5 miles allowing the fleet to separate. We had about five or six people we knew would form our main competition including Vince Brun, Laurant, Harry Melges and Morgan and it was them we were sailing with most of the day. We managed to get consistent starts and work our way through the fleet and we rounded in the top ten at every first mark. Looking ahead we've just got to keep an eye on the overall points so we know who our main competition is and make sure we don't do anything stupid." commented Lea immediately after racing.
Looking ahead to day two Lea leads by 7 points from Melges and Morgan who are tied for third. There are a lot of good sailors out there on the course and in a fleet of this size anything can happen so consistency will be the name of the game.