It is three days into a five-day Key West regatta - normally the time when the contenders are separated from the pretenders.
With six races completed and four more to be contested at Key West 2010, presented by Nautica, the big picture is taking shape under sunny skies.
Barking Mad tactician Terry Hutchinson
was intently reviewing the scoreboard after racing on Wednesday when he was asked if the American entry was a contender or a pretender in the 19-boat Farr 40 class.
"Probably somewhere in between the two at this point, but if we don't get our act together and start sailing better we'll be in the pretender category," said Hutchinson, shaking his head about several missed opportunities that have Barking Mad in fifth place overall.
Skipper Giovanni Maspero
and the crew on Joe Fly increased their lead in the Farr 40 class to five points over fellow Italian entry Nerone (Massimo Mezzaroma
) on the strength of a 5-2 line on Wednesday.
"I think we are sailing fairly well. We have not won a race yet, which is a bit painful since we have been leading at times on the course," Joe Fly tactician Francesco Bruni
said. "We cannot complain when we have a five-point lead with four races to go. The owner is steering the boat very well around the course and we are very happy with our boat speed."
Plenty, owned by Alex Roepers of New York, posted its second victory of the series on Wednesday and moved from sixth to third in the overall standings.
Hutchinson, the 2008 US Rolex Yachtsman of the Year, was frustrated because Barking Mad had the lead midway through race five and wound up finishing seventh. Skipper Jim Richardson and team are tied with the German entry Struntje Light (Wolfgang Schaefer) on points - just two out of third and 10 behind the leader.
"Joe Fly is sailing very well so they certainly look like the boat to beat, but there are still plenty of points on the table and things could change quite a bit between now and Friday afternoon," Hutchinson said. "We just have to keep chipping away and hope we get some better karma."
Bella Mente, the Reichel-Pugh 69 owned by Hap Fauth of Newport, stretched its winning streak to five with a bullet in the opening race on Wednesday and holds a commanding eight-point lead in IRC 1.
"I'm very pleased. We have won every start except one and the crew has been just superb in its execution," Fauth said.
Kelvin Harrup and Eric Doyle are combining on tactics while Sean Clarkson (main) and Brett Jones (jib and spinnaker) are the lead trimmers aboard Bella Mente, which would probably have to fall apart to lose the regatta at this stage. Fauth did not want to hear any of that talk.
"Sure we could be beaten. This will be a boat race right up until the end," he said emphatically. "It was tough out there today. The wind was up and down and clocked hard right then back left a bit. The TP52s came to the finish line on a much stronger breeze and two of them beat us on corrected time. Things could change quickly if the TP52s get the type of conditions in which they excel."
Decision, a TP52 owned by Stephen Murray of New Orleans, became the first IRC 1 entry other than Bella Mente to win a race when it corrected to first in race six. Interlodge, a TP52 owned by Austin Fragomen of New York, has finished second in four of six races and heads the pack in what appears to be a battle to be runner-up to Bella Mente.
"Bella Mente is very fast and very well-sailed so it will be tough to beat," Fragomen said. "We're most interested in winning the sub-class of TP52s, but obviously while we're doing that we would like to contend for the overall class victory."
Bill Lynn, a professional based in Marblehead, Mass., is calling tactics on Interlodge while Pete McCloskey (main) and Dave Armitage (jib) are primary trimmers. This is only the second regatta for Interlodge since Fragomen took ownership of the Judel-Vrolijk design, which was launched in 2006.
"We are still figuring out the boat so it's great to be able to line up against three other TPs and gauge our performance. We are getting a little better every day."
John Kilroy steered Samba Pa Ti to victory in second start on Wednesday to extend his lead in Melges 32 class, largest of the regatta with 22 boats. Completion of six races allowed each boat to drop its worst result and Samba Pa Ti tossed a 14th suffered in race one.
Star received redress for race five after winning a protest, moving skipper Jeff Ecklund and team up to second place with a score of 29.4 - six-tenths of a point ahead of Ramrod (Rod Jabin, Annapolis). Jabin was a bit downcast on the dock after suffering an 18th in race five.
"I'm disappointed on a personal level because we were sailing in second and got wrapped up with the IRC 1 boats at a mark rounding and lost about 16 places," Jabin said. "Tomorrow is going to be critical because we've already sailed our throw-out so every race is a keeper from here on out. We've just got to keep fighting."
Perhaps the most surprising entry in Melges 32 is Yasha Samurai, a newcomer to the highly-competitive, professional-laden class. Owner Yukihiro Ishida of Tokyo, Japan, vaulted from 11th to fifth in the overall standings after winning race five and dropping a 16th from race two and was selected as Mount Gay Rum Boat of the Day.
"To be fifth in this fleet with a new team is downright amazing, but I don't pay much attention to scores at this point of a regatta," said Charlie McKee
, tactician aboard Yasha Samurai. "We had some good fortune today, but the breeze is supposed to build tomorrow and that could present some challenges."
This is only the second Melges 32 event for Ishida, who has sailed Swan designs in Europe and a J/24 back in Japan. McKee, a Seattle native who owns a couple Olympic bronze medals, brings a positive, upbeat attitude as tactician. British pro Gerry Mitchell and Snipe standout Takumi Nakamura are serving as trimmers.
"[Ishida] is having a lot of fun and has very good concentration when steering the boat," McKee said. "He is very much a student of the sport. He thinks about the races overnight, analyzes things and comes back the next day with a lot of questions."
It continues to be a three-way battle between UKA UKA Racing (Lorenzo Santini, Italy), Blu Moon (Franco Rossini, Switzerland) and WTF (Alan Field, USA) with only three points separating those top contenders.
Helmsman Lorenzo Bressani won race five and added a third in race six to take sole possession of first place with a low score of nine points. Flavio Favini steered Blu Moon to the exact same results (3, 1) on Wednesday and moved into second with 11 points. Field, from Marina Del Rey, Cal., kept pace with a second and a fourth and has 12 total points.
Follow all the grand prix action, racing excitement, and results at www.Premiere-Racing.com