21 January 2004 – It was a day of ups and downs in the Melges 24 fleet at Terra Nova Trading Key West today. The breeze was much shiftier and lighter than on the first two days and the change in conditions really put the sailors to the test.
Overnight leader Shark Kahn was among those called back and in the fifty eight boat fleet many thought that would be the they’d see of him. How wrong they were! By the first windward mark he was up into the forties and he just kept grinding away picking them off leg by leg ultimately finishing fourteenth – his worst result of the regatta to date.
As if that wasn’t enough he then went and did the same thing in race six. Again he rounded the first mark in the forties and again he and his crew of Team Captain Mark “Crusty” Christensen, Tactician Richard Clarke, Spinnaker/Jib trimmer Brian Hutchinson and Bow Brian Lee demonstrated that they are not only one of the fastest Melges 24 crews out there, but they’re pretty damn smart as well. By the second weather mark they were up to twelfth and they went on to take tenth place.
Yesterday’s big story was the battle between the fourteen year old Shark and his father Philippe, who was lying overall second overnight. Unfortunately for Philippe he had something of a disasterous day scoring 30, 20 which drops him down to ninth overall and out of the running for the 2004 Melges 24 title in Key West.
Away from the saga of the Kahn family the rest of the fleet was also enjoying two fantastic races. Race five started in 6-7 knots from 030 degrees with a large number of boats being called over in individual recall. Up the first beat those who picked the right found themselves on the loosing wicket and at the first mark it was Norway’s Kristian Nergaard who headed the fleet from Karen Gottwald, Sheldon Ecklund, Mike Dow, Sebastian Col, helming P&P Racing for Philppe Ligot from France and Paul Brotherton, helming for Ian Cleaver from Scotland. Down the run the wind started to back a little and although Nergaard hung onto his lead Col pulled up into second ahead of Ecklund whilst Gottwald dropped to fourth and Dow to fifth. Silvio Santoni, helming for Italian Melges 24 Class president Franco Maria Rao, came from ninth to six.
Up the second beat Col got through Nergaard rounding three boat lengths ahead. From there on in he extended his lead whilst Nergaard also pulled out from the pursuing pack. Behind them John Jennings, helming for Bob Dockery got the shifting breeze just right and came from nowhere to round the second windward mark third. Having got a top three position in his sights he wasn’t letting go and despite various pushes from the pack he defended successfully all the way to the finish. Behind him Brotherton eventually took fourth from Santoni. Ireland’s Maurice “Prof” O’Connell, helming his first Melges 24 regatta for owner Enda O’Coineen, was another who took full advantage of the shifting wind moving from the mid teens on the first beat up into sixth place just ahead of Sheldon Ecklund, Germany’s Dietrich Scheder and Gottwald.
By the start of race six the wind had gone all the way round to 350 degrees and had increased to 10-12 knots. Peter Stoneberg made the best job of judging the shifts up the first beat and was followed round the windward mark by Col, Ross Griffiths, Santoni, O’Connell, Sheldon Ecklund, Brotherton and Flavio Favini, helming for Switzerland’s Franco Rossini. Overnight sixth placed Bruce Ayres rounded in tenth just behind Scott Gregory, helming for Michael Schultz.
Down the first run Col got past Stoneberg, Santoni pulled up to third and Sheldon Ecklund moved into fourth just ahead of Griffith and O’Connell who were having a great toussle as they rounded. Favini had managed to overtake Brotherton for seventh and opened up some space by the leeward mark. Although Col took the right hand gate he tacked left relatively early in what proved to be a less than successful move dropping him back to seventh by the second weather mark. Stoneberg now led from Favini, Sheldon Ecklund, Brotherton, O’Connell and Ayres.
On the final lap it was Ayres who spotted another big backing shift first and proving that not only can he spot a shift but that he also knows what to do with it he promptly sailed himself into first place. On the dock after racing Ayres was typically understated commenting “It went right a little bit and worked down to the right and that was it!”. As they battled with the shifts, the rest of the fleet was changing places with every tack and gybe. In the end it was Brotherton who took second from Sheldon Ecklund with Britain’s Stuart Simpson coming from eleventh to fourth ahead of Sean Scarborough, Col and Favini. Unfortunately Stoneberg found himself on the wrong side of the shift and dropped into eighth in front of Santoni and Shark Kahn.
In tonight’s overall standings Shark Kahn still leads on 38 points from Flavio Favini on 52, Kristian Nergaard 60 and Bruce Ayres 61. Brothers Sheldon and Jeff Ecklund are now in fifth and sixth places with 63 and 66 points respectively. Sebastian Col is in seventh on 70 points but his scoreline includes an OCS of 59 points so the introduction of a discard after race seven tomorrow will definitely put the cat among the pigeons!