The fat lady is ready to sing at Key West Race Week, but not before one more blast of cold and powerful winds spreads across the Florida Keys Friday as the five-day regatta comes to a close. With winds likely over 20 knots headed down the state of Florida, even the class leaders with substantial point leads will have to be somewhat cautious and keep the keels down and rigs upright.
With 16 one-design, PHRF, and IMS divisions racing this premier winter regatta, only four teams can be assured of winning their divisions prior to the closing race Friday morning. Unbeaten through seven races-and uncatchable in the points standings-are Jeff Sampson's S2 7.9 Rugger (PHRF 8) and John Esposito's J/29 Hustler (PHRF 6). Irvine Laidlaw's CM60 Highland Fling leads the nine IMS boats by 11 points through Thursday, and the Antrim 27 Ultra Violet of Dave and Donna Prucnal lead their nine-boat PHRF 5 division by nine points and hold the tie-breaker advantage.
The Atalanti XI Farr 40 team extended their lead in one of the most competitive and most talented divisions-a division of one-design 40-footers which allows professionals on board, but the owner must drive. George Andreadis' Atalanti XI posted a 5-2 record in the breezy conditions Thursday and holds a 16-point lead. That's not a lock on the trophy, but with Olympian Robbie Haines calling tactics and a veteran core of crew aboard Atalanti XI, it's not likely they will beat themselves.
One of the crew who has raced aboard a number of the Atalanti series of boats with Andreadis is North sailmaker Ethan Bixby of St. Petersburg, FL.
"We've had some breaks, and we know how to change gears in the different conditions," Bixby said. "There are six core guys and three new guys on the boat here. There is a wide range in the level of the owners in this class, but George (Andreadis) is doing a great job driving."
The Sarasota, FL-based Henderson 30 Speed Racer, owned by the Liebel brothers Steve, Scott, and Chris, finished 2nd Thursday to put a 10-point gap between the Henderson 30 and its closest rival, Buddy Melges' Melges 32 Ceres Group. Reveling in the 12 to 17-knot breezes, the Henderson 30 sport boats reported downwind speeds over 15 knots on the windward/leeward courses.
Proving that even the best sailors in the world can get in trouble, Buddy managed to tangle with a starting line committee boat in the second race Thursday. The RC boat reported that Buddy's boat had several stanchions torn loose when the race boat hooked up with the anchor line and bowsprit of the much heavier powerboat.
Brian Porter put the throttle down in the Melges 24 class, opening up a five-point lead aboard Full Throttle with Harry Melges' Zenda Express holding onto the second spot in the 46-boat fleet with Argyle Campbell's RockN'Roll seven point behind Zenda Express.
Going into Thursday's races, the Doane Ltd. Partnership aboard the J/105 Flame had sailed five clean races, winning two and finishing in the top six in each of the other races. They trailed the class leader Plum Crazy by one point and had beaten Plum Crazy four out of five times boat for boat. A screwed up halyard in race one and being over the starting line early in race 2 dropped the Naples, FL-based Flame back to fourth overall and little chance of a class win.
The party tent at Key West Race Week is as much a part of the tradition of this event as any other. The noise level is deafening just from the exchange of war stories from the day's racing action. Videos of the races, particularly on windy days when spinnaker wraps and takedowns become a form of entertainment, bring sudden roars across the tent. Throw in two hours of gratis drinks and the tent experience is just that, an experience. Having said that, the mood Thursday night might have been just a notch more subdued as a five-day regatta was taking its toll and Thursday's races were incredibly physical. With a forecast of bigger wind and waves on the closing day, the party may have been put on hold for just one evening.
Overall leaders after four days:
|IMS||Highland Fling/Irving Laidlaw/CM60|
|PHRF 1||Chessie Racing/George Collins/Santa Cruz 70|
|Farr 40||Atalanti XI/George Andreadis|
|ID35||Heartbreaker/Robert L. Hughes|
|PHRF 2||Speed Racer/Liebel Brothers/Henderson 30|
|PHRF 3||White Trash/Greg Smith/Olson 40|
|J/105||Plum Crazy/Andrew Skibo|
|Mumm 30||Villede St. Raphael/Dick Jean Pierre|
|Melges 24||Brian Porter|
|PHRF 4||Snake Eyes/Tom Ballard/SR 33|
|PHRF 5||Ultra Violet/Dave & Donna Prucnal/Antrim 27|
|PHRF 6||Hustler/J. Esposito/J29|
|PHRF 7||L'Outrage/Bruce Gardner/Beneteau First 10|
|PHRF 8||Rugger/Jeff Sampson/S2 7.9|
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