23 January 2004 – In a thrilling final race today the fifty-eight strong Melges 24 Class at Terra Nova Trading Key West was decided in favour of Frenchman Sebastian Col sailing Partners & Partners with William Thomas, Christian Ponthieu, Thomas Allen and owner Philippe Ligot. With only five points separating Col and second placed Shark Kahn it was still wide open going into this final race and the spectator boats were out in force to watch them fight it out.
For the first time in nine starts the fleet got away clean with the wind offshore again at 020 degrees and 16 knots ensuring plenty of shifts to keep the sailors on their toes. Shark Kahn and Col set to before the start match racing for position on the line, as a result neither of them got a spectacular start although Col got the slight advantage coming off the line just to the left of centre.
The first beat was nip and tuck with Col working his way clear of the gaggle by the middle of the leg and stretching out a 50 yard lead by the weather mark ahead of Silvio Santoni from Italy, helming for Franco Maria Rao. Shark Kahn slotted into third from Maurice “Prof” O’Connell, helming for Enda O’Coineen and Des Faherty of Ireland with Philippe Kahn fifth and Bruce Ayres sixth. In the battle of the Ecklund & Melges brothers it was Sheldon & Hans who rounded first in seventh place with Jeff and Harry in ninth. Flavio Favini, helming for Switzerland’s Franco Rossini, split the Ecklunds in eighth.
Down the first run Col opened up a nice one minute lead whilst Shark closed up on Santoni with whom he rounded the leeward mark overlapped. O’Connell had dropped back to ninth leaving Philippe Kahn in fourth just ahead of Favini while Kristian Nergaard moved up from tenth to sixth. The Ecklunds rounded together in seventh and eighth with Jeff just getting the inside track as Sheldon had a minor fumble on the rounding loosing a few valuable feet.
On the second beat Col again pulled away from the pursuing pack while Shark battled his way past Santoni. Philippe Kahn and Favini held their fourth and fifth places and Jeff Ecklund and O’Connell overtook Nergaard for sixth and seventh.
By the end of the second run Col had almost two minutes lead and the spectators definitely thought it was all over. Philippe Kahn had overtaken Santoni and rounded just behind Shark who had a minor horlicks with the kite, just rescued last minute by some very smart crew work. Santoni now sat in fourth from O’Connell, Favini and Jeff Ecklund with Sheldon Ecklund pulling back to eighth just behind his brother.
As they set up off the last beat both the Kahns got the better of a left-hander and suddenly Shark was right back on Col’s tail, closely pursued by his father Philippe. A tacking duel ensued and two thirds of the way up the beat Shark finally got through. Philippe meanwhile was also catching up and Col found himself the meat in a Kahn sandwich as the three boats ground out tack after tack on the approach to the line. Despite constant pressure from Col, Shark crossed just ahead with Philippe third from Santoni. In the battle of the Ecklunds is was Jeff who got race honours in fifth from Favini, Sheldon Ecklund, Nergaard, O’Connell and Paul Brotherton, who pulled up to tenth on the final run.
Speaking after racing Col confirmed that it had been a tough but rewarding day – “For us it was the start that was most difficult. We had a good battle with Shark and were quite happy with how we came out. On the final beat we missed a shift and he got passed us, but with the five point lead we were reasonably relaxed. As always Key West has been great and we are delighted to win. Our next goal is the Melges 24 World Championship in Marstrand in August where we hope to challenge Shark for the World title.”
In the overall standings Sebastian Col and Philippe Ligot’s P&P Team win by four points from Shark Kahn with Kristian Nergaard third and Flavio Favini fourth. His tenth in the final race was enough to secure Paul Brotherton, helming the Terra Nova Trading Team for Scotland’s Ian Cleaver, fifth overall while Philippe Kahn had to be happy with sixth. The war between the Ecklund and Melges brothers was eventually won by Jeff and Harry in seventh overall with Sheldon and Hans just trailing them in eighth. Silvo Santoni was ninth and Bruce Ayres tenth.
As usual Peter Craig’s Premiere Racing Team have provided the Melges 24 class with an outstanding opening event for their year. Particular thanks must go to PRO David Brennan and his team who provided perfect racing every day and to all the event sponsors, including Terra Nova Trading and Nautica.