Some Overall Winners Emerge on Day 4

KEY WEST, Fla.-On Monday and Tuesday, Rick Schaffer's J/80 team proved they are fast in the breeze, winning the first three races in the 16-boat class. On Thursday they showed they're no slouches in the light air either, placing fifth and first in a dying northerly, winning the day, and locking up first place overall with a race to spare. "In the first race we took a penalty turn," said trimmer Joe Sircely, "and had a great downwind to catch up. In the second race, basically we started in the right spot, caught the first shift and protected the lead. The breeze was dying and we just connected the dots." Sircely gave much of the credit for the win to tactician David Hiebert. Schaffer's team, from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, has been sailing together for four years and Sircely said their teamwork was a key to their three bullets in the 20- to 30-knot winds earlier in the week. "We loved it," he said. "That's our breeze. Because we've been together for so long, we can really capitalize on our boathandling . It was also great to do well in the dying breeze." For Sircely, who went up on stage to collect the hardware, it was an especially sweet day as it was also his daughter Claire's first birthday. If Schaffer's team doesn't sail tomorrow's scheduled final race, they could end up tied on points with Mac Kilpatrick's Sooner Magic. But with five firsts, Schaffer's team will win the tie-breaker. Currently lying third in the J/80 class is John Storck Jr.'s Rumor. Another team that doesn't have to hit the water tomorrow is Thomas Coates Masquerade crew. Like Schaffer's crew, Coates and his team opened the regatta with a pair of firsts, strung together some consistent finishes in the middle of the regatta and then sealed the overall title in the 40-boat J/105 class with a win in Race 8. Thomas Carruthers' Invisible is in second. The third class in Division 3 is the 58-boat Melges 24 class, and in this group, the overall title is very much up for grabs. Maspero Giovanni's Joe Fly is in first, but only by a point over Bill Hardesty on Pegasus 575. Also within striking distance, four points back are James Spithill and Neil Sullivan. For only the second time since it was launched, Makoto Uematsu's Esmeralda was beaten in a race by another Transpac 52. In fact, the green machine finished third in its TP 52 subclass in today's first race, with Roger Sturgeon's Rosebud and Michael Brennan's Sjambok crossing the line first and second. But the big winner in PHRF 1 was, for the second straight day, Tom Hill on Titan 12. After winning all three races on Wednesday, Hill took a first and a third on Thursday to win the day and move within 5 points of Esmeralda. "It's just been so good, it's unbelievable," said Hill. "The crew have got the boat so hooked up. And it's been such pleasant sailing, but it's easy to say that when you win a few races." Hill said he felt his team was sailing a little defensively in the big winds on Monday and Tuesday, but they were really firing on all cylinders in the moderate conditions on Wednesday and Thursday. "We've had extremely good starts," said Hill. "Tactician Ben Mitchell has put us in incredible position. Once we're through with that, we're out there by ourselves." Titan 12, a 75-foot Reichel/Pugh design, is far and away the fastest boat in the regatta, owing the next fastest boat, Bill Alcott's Equation, 36 seconds a mile. Key West Race Week will come to a close on Friday. Most classes are scheduled for one race, but a few are still two short of the nine-race goal. Winds are forecasted to be light. For complete results, www.premiere-racing.com.