Sunny skies and 20-knot winds made for a perfect ending to Acura Key West in Florida.
The emotion was palpable as Barking Mad owner Jim RICHARDSON and tactician Terry HUTCHINSON
embraced in a huge, heartfelt bear hug. Groovederci skipper Deneen DEMOURKAS
sported a huge smile and giggled as she climbed back on the dock after being thrown in the water by jubilant crew members. Numbers owner Dan MEYERS wore a look of complete satisfaction as he leaned against the lifeline in the stern of his state-of-the-art race boat at the end of a long week. Those are the undeniable signs of victory.
Acura Key West 2008, presented by Nautica, was among the strangest and most challenging in the 21-year history of the regatta. However, what the sailors, especially the winners, will remember is a spectacular final day of racing and the final results.
"I think the race committee did an amazing job this week. To hold eight races in three days is really quite amazing,"
said Thomas COATES, winner of J/105 class aboard Masquerade. "It was a tough situation with too much wind on one day and too little wind on others. Peter CRAIG and his team made the right decisions all week as far as when to send us out and when to keep us ashore, when to race and when not to race."
Things didn't look good on Wednesday night after two of the initial three days of the regatta were cancelled due to bad conditions. Making matters worse was the fact the forecast for Thursday was for a second straight day of light, fickle breeze. However, Mother Nature did an about face and brought a solid 12-knot northerly that enabled organizers with Premiere Racing to get in two races on Thursday. Things got even better on Friday with a northeasterly bringing 16-20 knot winds that allowed for three more races to be held.
"This was a classic Key West day. It was breeze on with warm weather and sunshine. You couldn't have asked for a better final day,"
Melges 24 winner Dave ULLMAN
CRAIG, who has been event director for the past 15 years, was pleased the action-packed final days transformed the regatta into a rousing success.
"I think the sailors tend to forget what happened early in the week and remember what happened at the end. We did well in that regard because the racing the last two days was outstanding,"
CRAIG said. "It was Chamber of Commerce conditions today so I would think we sent everyone home happy."
RICHARDSON used the word "ecstatic" to describe his reaction to winning Farr 40 class for the first time in 11 trips to Key West. The Boston resident and crew of Barking Mad accomplished that feat in dramatic fashion, winning the eighth and final race to capture a tiebreaker with Mascalzone Latino. Because the Farr 40 class had seven different winners during the week and the point spread among the top boats was so narrow, Barking Mad earned the prestigious Acura Trophy as Boat of the Week.
"It's hard to win any regatta in this class and it has been especially difficult for us to win this particular regatta,"
said RICHARDSON, who has been second in Key West on several occasions. Mascalzone Latino, the two-time defending World Champion owned by Vincenzo ONORATO
of Italy, led Barking Mad by one point going into the final race. RICHARDSON got a great start and sailed at the front of the 25-boat fleet throughout, passing Mean Machine to move into first place on the final downwind leg then holding off a hard-charging Mascalzone Latino. Both boats finished with 29 points, but Barking Mad won the tiebreaker by virtue of having more first place finishes.
"Vincenzo has a great programme and a terrific crew. To be able to beat those guys in such a hard-fought regatta is very gratifying,"
RICHARDSON said. HUTCHINSON, tactician for Emirates Team New Zealand in the last America's Cup, has been sailing with RICHARDSON for nearly a decade and understood how much this victory meant to him. The two men have become extremely close over the years with RICHARDSON serving as the godfather for HUTCHINSON's youngest child.
"Jim has won just about every major event in this class and Key West was the final piece of the puzzle. It's nice to see good things happen to good people,"
Seven of ten crew members aboard Barking Mad were sick all week with a nasty stomach bug. HUTCHINSON also had to train a new bow team on the fly. "We had some unique challenges this week and we overcame them. For the team to gut it out and fight hard from start to finish was real rewarding,"
Defending Key West champion Alinghi, skippered by Ernesto BERTARELLI
, finished ninth. The Swiss syndicate that is two-time winner of the America's Cup, started slow and was never really in contention. HRH Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark steered his Farr 40 Nanoq to a very respectable 11th place result. His Royal Highness was pleased to have improved two places from last year and vowed to return.
"We always enjoy coming to Key West. It is much nicer here than it is in Denmark during January,"
he said. "The wind and the weather here are generally quite good."
Competition was also extremely close in Melges 32 class, which saw a significant increase in entries and calibre of competition at Acura Key West 2008. Star, skippered by Jeff ECKLUND
of Ft. Lauderdale, finished fifth or better in six of seven races that counted in edging New Wave by two points and capturing the Midwinter Championship.
"The class is getting better and better all the time and this was probably the most competitive regatta we've ever had,"
said ECKLUND, who had boatbuilder Harry MELGES
aboard as tactician. "All the top teams are going really fast and you've got to be on your game at all times. I think the key was that we had terrific boat preparation and awesome crew work all week."
Demourkas led the M30 class from start to finish in winning Key West for the second time in four years. Scott NIXON
of the Quantum loft in Annapolis called tactics for DEMOURKAS, a Santa Barbara resident who won three races and finished no worse than fourth in the other five.
"We were doing it the hard way all week. We had to work our way up from the back of the fleet in a bunch of races, but we kept fighting. The team did an excellent job. I'm very proud of them,"
ULLMAN put together a tremendous final day to fourth to first in Melges 24 class, largest of the regatta with 46 boats. The California sailmaker steered Pegasus 505 to a stellar line of 1,2,1 on Friday to finish three points ahead of week-long leader Blu Moon (Franco ROSSINI, Switzerland).
"Our team likes sailing in the breeze. We are happy whenever it gets above 15 knots,"
said ULLMAN, who has won Melges 24 class five times in Key West. "Obviously, we had a great all-around day. We started well in all three races, sailed at the front and were never really in trouble."
(tactician), Brian HUTCHINSON
(bow), Andy ESCORT (jib) and Pablo SALDANO (traveler) comprised the crew for the 62 year old ULLMAN, who counted no result worse than a sixth in capturing the Midwinter Championship for the class.
COATES completed an incredible accomplishment by winning J/105 class for the fourth consecutive year at Acura Key West and also garnering the Midwinter Championship. The San Francisco native and his team on Masquerade won five of eight races and led the 34-boat after each day of the regatta and finished with a low score of 13 points - an incredible 42 points better than runner-up Eclipse (Damian EMERY
"This regatta always attracts the top programs in our class so we certainly are very pleased to have won here four years in a row,"
COATES said. "I think it looks a lot more lopsided than it really was. We trailed boats in every race and were challenged considerably."
IRC 1 class was comprised of the ten largest boats in the regatta and MEYERS' new Judel/Vrolijk 66-footer proved the most consistent of them all. America's Cup veteran Hamish PEPPER
called tactics for Meyers, who won five of eight races in compiling a low score of ten points - four better than runner-up Flash Glove, a TP52 owned by Colm BARRINGTON
Acura Key West - www.premiere-racing.com/keywest08/pages/KW08_entry_information.htm