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24 January 2003, 09:52 am
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© Walter Cooper

Key West Race Week
Florida

Big winds, collisions and a contentious crocodile have brought Terra Nova Trading Key West 2003 to its climax for Friday.
Big winds, collisions and a contentious crocodile have brought Terra Nova Trading Key West 2003 to its climax for Friday. A new weather front sweeping the southernmost corner of the country was forecast to hit town with winds up to 25 knots and accelerate the action into frenzy.

How rough was it Thursday? The grounds around the race jury tent looked like a Farr 40 class meeting afterward. The heaviest protest activity revolved around a three-way contretemps in which Jim Richardson's Barking Mad from Newport, R.I. claimed it was bitten by a denizen of a nearby swamp---namely, the Scott Harris/Alexandra Geremia Crocodile Rock from Santa Barbara, which wound up crunched between Barking Mad and Vincenzo Onorato's Breeze from Italy.

The race jury disagreed and Barking Mad was disqualified for failing to yield to Croc. Unlike the other three courses, there are no throwouts in Division 1, which also includes the 1D35s and Mumm 30s, so the jury's decision is not only final but sometimes fatal.

Before protests were resolved, Crocodile Rock, with two fourth places Thursday, was in first place by nine points over Barking Mad, which then fell to fourth as Croc walked away from the hearing with a near-insurmountable 20-point lead over John Kilroy's Samba Pa Ti. George Andreadis' Atalanti XII, looking for its fourth consecutive title here, was a distant third and all but out of the hunt.

Barking Mad, Crocodile Rock and Breeze were near the second windward mark in Thursday's second race, with Breeze on starboard tack and the other two on port. Barking Mad, windward of Croc by less than an arm's length, bore away to duck Breeze at about the same time Croc started to tack. Moments later, all three boats were three abreast, stalled head to wind and slamming sides.

Back on shore, the mood of Richardson's tactician, Volvo and America's Cup veteran Gavin Brady, was appropriate to the boat's name.

"Quite simply, Crocodile Rock put us and then the Italian boat in a situation where there was no way to avoid a serious collision," Brady said. "We were one foot apart and we were just dipping to duck the Italians and [Crocodile Rock] just spun up."

Crocodile Rock helmsman Scott Harris and tactician Vince Brun did not immediately comment, but two crew members and a sailor on another boat not involved in the incident said Crocodile Rock was forced to tack to avoid a collision with a second Italian boat, Bottadi Culo, which was following Breeze on the starboard tack layline.

A Croc crew member said his boat followed the rules because "we hailed Barking Mad for room to tack and then hailed them again. By then we didn't have any choice."

Nobody was seriously injured and the boats sustained superficial damage. Buddy Cribbs' 1D35, Victory, from Palm Beach, Fla., was not as lucky. Victory took what Cribbs called a "full-on T-bone" in the middle of its port side from Hugh O'Brien's Ripple, Stonington, Conn. A gaping hole was patched over with a heavy application of duct tape.

Cribbs' sail trimmer, Jon Rogers of San Diego, said, laughing, "I almost got killed today. When we were on the starboard tack layline. When they were 20 boat lengths away on port tack, I got a little nervous, and when they were six lengths away I yelled, 'Don't even think about it!' "

A chagrined O'Brien, who suffered a cut index finger, said, "We thought we had 'em [crossed]. We didn't have 'em. We withdrew. We had no leg to stand on."

David Kirk's Détente, Chicago, clinched the class with its fifth consecutive win, and Richard Perini's Foreign Affair from Sydney, Australia, has a vise grip on defending the Mumm 30 title he won last year.

In the International Team Competition for the Key West Trophy, there are 10 teams but only two contenders. Going into the last day, Italy's Breeze (Farr 40), Printel-Wind (Mumm 30) and Joe Fly (Melges 24) has gone from one point behind Germany's Struntje light, Rainbow and Blu Moon, respectively, to one point ahead, 84-85.

For the full class and team results, please see the event website at the address below.

Rich Roberts/ISAF News Editor
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