16 October 2003 – If you’d told us six days ago that a fourteen year old kid would have Harry Melges on the ropes going into the final day of the Audi Melges 24 World Championship in San Francisco we’d have politely laughed you out of court. Today we have egg on our faces and Shark Kahn and his Pegasus 1 crew of Richard Clarke, Mark Christensen, Brian Hutchenson and Brian Lee have Harry Melges, Jeff Ecklund, Hans Melges and Steve Inman well and truly worried.
Today’s two races brought thrills and spills as Melges and Kahn both found themselves down in the cheap seats for a change. After yesterday’s shifts the wind was rock steady at 225 and racing got underway at lunch time in 6 knots, which increased to around 16 knots by the end of race eight.
The first start was fraught and Harry Melges ended up wallowing in the third row as the fleet, and his main rival, sped off up the beat. After a first mark rounding at 29th Melges spent the race playing catch up to eventually finish 11th. Kahn meanwhile was once again showing that he is not to be trifled with and took second place on the first lap behind Paul Brotherton, helming for Ian Cleaver. By the second windward mark Kahn had the lead and eventually won by nearly two minutes. Brotherton duelled with Kerry Poe for second as Brian Porter, Flavio Favini, helming for Franco Rossini, Egidio Babbi and Sebastian Col made heavy work out of fourth, eventually crossing the finish line in that order within seconds.
In race eight it was Kahn’s turn to find himself out in the cold. Having put in a respectable beat he looked set for a top ten first rounding as he approached on port. Unfortunately the starboard layline was full to bursting and couldn’t find a slot until the low 20s. If his older and more experienced rivals hoped this would leave the youngster dazed and confused they were to be sadly disappointed and Kahn simply dug in and worked his tail off, finally finishing sixteeth. Up ahead Melges was fairing only a little better, his first mark rounding of tenth seemed solid enough and with his legendary speed the spectators fully expected him to storm his way to the front. By the second windward mark he was up to seventh but he lost again on the second run and found himself back in tenth, eventually just pipping Sebastian Col on the finish line for eight. At the front of the fleet reigning Melges 24 European Champion Luca Santella, helming Giovani Maspero’s Joe Fly Team, took the tape for only the second time this regatta winning the race by a over a minute. Brian Porter eventually took second after some fun and games with Dave Ullman. Don Jesberg was fourth while Sheldon Ecklund and local hero Seadon Wijsen struggled over fifth with Ecklund finally getting it. Rob Greenhalgh, helming for Paul Lovejoy, came in seventh just ahead of Melges.
Going into the final day Shark Kahn now leads on 17 points with Harry Melges just one point behind him. Brian Porter (42 points) and Luca Santella (47 points) are set for an equally tight battle for third place. Since Cedric Pouligny and Morgan Reeser swopped helm/tactician roles the P&P Team have seen an significant improvement in their fortunes and they are now lying fifth overall (65 points) ahead of Egidio Babbi (71 points), Rob Greenhalgh (72 points), Dave Ullman (74 points), Paul Brotherton (78 points) and Jamie Lea (84 points).
The leaders were not the only ones to have an eventful day. The most serious incident was a leeward mark collision in race eight between Keith Grzelak and Denise Surtees which left Grzelak with a large hole in the port quarter and Surtees with a broken pole. Fortunately Grzelak’s crew were able to stuff the hole with a sail bag and keep the boat fully heeled to starboard for the tow home. Martin Wedge was the other high profile casualty when he lost his rig in race eight and found himself forming an interesting obstruction on the second down wind leg. Fortunately the St Francis Yacht Club safety team swung into immediate action in both cases escorting everyone safely to the dock.
Two final races are schedule for tomorrow, although the fact that racing is already postponed until noon and no races can be started after two pm will make for a tight programme.