Key West Report: Neighbors Get No Favors at Race Week

Longtime rivals clash around the leeward mark during a picture-perfect first day of racing at 2007 Acura Key West Race Week.

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Tim Wilkes/www.timwilkes.com [1] [1] Http://www.timwilkes.com

KEY WEST, Fla.-As the Rhode Island-based Farr 60s Hissar and Numbers rounded a leeward mark in the second race of Acura Key West Race Week separated by just a few feet, tacked, and engaged in a luffing duel, one can imagine there were at least a few sailors on each boat thinking, "Geez, we didn't need to travel 1,500 miles to do this; we could've stayed right home in Newport." However, that statement was surely soon followed by this addendum: "Not that I'm complaining, mind you."The two boats ruled the heavyweight IRC 1 division, a testament both to the versatility of the decade-old design and the owners' willingness to constantly tweak the boats. Daniel Meyers' Numbers won Race 1, with the Swan 601 Moneypenny in second and Edgar Cato's Hissar third. In the second race, it was Hissar taking the gun, with Numbers a minute in arrears in second. But during that leeward-mark luffing duel, Numbers felt Hissar encroached on its space and flew a flag. "When [the ratings] are close you're going to see each other," said Numbers tactician Hamish Pepper, "on the water a touch, or in the protest room."So it was that after battling around the course for two long races, the two teams-or at least the vital afterguard members of each team-met to conclude the day in the protest room next to the expansive tent off Caroline Street that is the center of the Key West Race Week social scene-a long way to go to protest your neighbor.But protest or no protest, good finishes or bad, today was a beautiful start to the 20th Key West Race Week. While the past two years have featured strong winds on the opening day, this year brought a balmy 8- to 12-knot easterly that invited white-skinned sailors to rip off their shirts and say, "C'mon sun, show me what you got." Hopefully anyone who took that challenge made sure to apply enough sun block. It was also the sort of day that can leave your skin feeling a little well-done, even if you take all the proper precautions.Each class got in the scheduled two races today. With nine races planned, and no throwouts allowed, it was impossible to win the regatta today. That said, a number of teams certainly put themselves in a strong position.In the Melges 24 class the key to a good day seemed quite simple: hail from a foreign country. The top five boats are all from outside the United States. In the regatta's biggest fleet, 47 boats, it was the veteran Joe Fly team of Giovanni Maspero that took the first-day lead with a first and a second. One point behind is Lars Horn Johannessen Siste Stein from Norway. Blu Moon, from Switzerland is third with Mojo from Great Britain fourth and Giacomel Audi Racing from Italy in fifth. The top American boat is Dave Ullman's Pegasus 505 in sixth with 13 points.Espen Stokkeland, sailing on Siste Stein, said there wasn't a foreign conspiracy afoot, just good solid sailing."Some of the boats just got a good start both races and also had good speed, sailed very conservatively," Stokkeland said. "We were fast right off the first starting line, having just shipped the boat over and trained one day. So we were very happy with the new sails."Stokkeland added that he felt the wind was fairly stable in terms of direction, but puffy and that for the Melges 24 teams, the key was the ability to shift gears often and fluidly.A couple of teams had an even better day than Stokkeland's crew, which finished third and first. Four teams won both their races including: Claudio Recchi's Melges 32 Let's Roll, Guilietti Armando Mumm 30 Hiroshi, Stephane Neve's Sinergia 40 Spirit of Malouen in IRC-2, and Charles Buckner's 1D48 Blue in PHRF 1.Tomorrow's weather is looking slightly unsettled, however, the forecast for the rest of the week seems to be more of the same, 10 to 15 knots from the east and northeast. And plenty of sunshine.For more results and photos, www.premiere-racing.com