Game On at Key West Race Week

The Commander's Weather forecast for the first day of Key West Race Week was ominous: "Average wind speeds will be 24-to-30 knots with a few gusts of 30-to-32 knots." Exciting for some of the well prepared programs participating in the regatta, but more than a little intimidating for the rest of the fleet. Knowing that the forecast model called for diminishing breeze later in the day, the race committee held the 295-boat fleet at the dock until noon. At 11:45, a VHF radio announcement from the race committee was broadcast: racing was on, except for a few classes (Mumm 30s, Corsair 28s, and PHRF 3, the sportboat class). The rest of the fleet saddled up and headed out to the turbulent waters off Key West. It was worth the wait; as predicted, the wind began to diminish, but there was still plenty of breeze for the classes that raced. In Division 2, PHRF 1, the Transpac 52 Esmeralda, staffed by Ken Read and the cream of the professional raceboat circuit, racing with a PHRF rating of -75, took first, despite a strong performance by the TP 52 Sjambok, which has John Kostecki aboard, and finished only 28 seconds back. Esmeralda finished over 6 minutes behind line honors winner, Tom Hill's Reichel/Pugh 75 Titan, which sailed with a reef in the main for most of the day, while Bill Allcott's Andrews 68 Equation took the day off. In third was Roger Sturgeon's TP 52 Rosebud. Kevin Burnham, Olympic gold medal winner in the 470 class and 2004 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year, sailed aboard the Melges 24 Pegasus 575, steered by Bill Hardesty replacing regular helmsman Samuel Kahn for Race Week. "We have to remember he's still in high school, and he has to get ready for the Miami Olympic Classes regatta on his 49er," said Burnham about Kahn's absence. Despite a collision with another Melges that left two holes in Pegasus 575, Team Pegasus won the day. "I sit on the rail, trim main before the start, and help tactician Freddy Loof," said Burnham, "Freddy does about 99-percent of the tactics, and I help with the rest. This is the first time I've been involved with a keelboat that's so well thought out and put together. It's just like an America's Cup campaign." Samuel Kahn's father, Phillipe, finished a respectable sixth in the 17-boat Farr 40 fleet, which was topped by John Coumantaros' Bambakou, the winner of a final neck-to-neck battle with Farr 40 world champion Barking Mad. Peter DeRidder's Mean Machine placed third. Andrzej Rojek's Swan 45 Better Than topped the hotly contested 6-boat class on the same circle. Other winners included Pretty Woman, a Beneteau First 47 in PHRF 2, the Andrews 38 Pamlico in PHRF 4, the J/120 Avra, the J/109 Rush, the 1D35 Extreme, the Beneteau1st 10m, in PHRF 5, the Swan 40 Whirlwind in PHRF 6, the J/27 Amethyst in PHRF 7, the S2 7.9 Island Flyer, the perennial Tartan Ten competitor Liquor Box (which finished over three minutes before the next T-Ten), the J/29 Hustler, and the C&C 99 TAM. In the 40-boat J/105 class, Tom Coates and his Masquerade crew won, as did the crew of the J/80 C'Est Nasty. Among those wishing to race on Monday was Hall Spars' Phil Garland, sailing as tactician on George Isdale's brand-new, Roger Martin-designed Diode 36 Rampant. "We weren't too happy about not racing," said Garland. "We sailed on Sunday, which was just as windy, and hit 15 knots, and we wanted to sail today" Garland's ride has an interesting feature, a keel that can be rotated off centerline as needed. "We can dial in more lift by rotating the keel two or three degrees," said Garland. "The boat's only been sailed about five times before it came down here, so we're not sure what we're capable of." With a lighter forecast of up to 25 knots of breeze for Tuesday, they'll probably get a good idea of where they stand against what Garland acknowledges as their competition in PHRF 3-Jeff Ecklund's Melges 32 Star, Rick Orchard's Farr 36 Grins, and John Dane's Melges 30 Tiburon.