22 January 2004 – With just one more day to go, the fight for supremacy in the Melges 24 fleet at Terra Nova Trading Key West 2004 is going to go all the way. Day four saw the race committee run two more excellent races despite a second day of shifty offshore winds of 12-16 knots. The completion of race seven today meant that the discard came into play and suddenly its all change on the leader board. Overnight leader Shark Kahn scored two impressive bullets today but this wasn’t enough to hold onto the lead. France’s Sebastian Col, helming for Philippe Ligot’s P&P Team scored 7, 3 but by dropping their 59 point OCS score they now lead by five points from Shark.
At the start of race seven the wind was from 010 degrees at around 16 knots. Yet again, although the fleet got away first time there were a lot of individual recalls although none of the major protagonists were caught out this time. Off the right hand end of the line Jeff Ecklund got an excellent start and he and his crew of Harry Melges, Bill Freytag and US Skiing Gold Medallist John Moseley seemed to have hit the hyper space button as they pulled out six boat lengths on their nearest rivals in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately being fast on the right suddenly looked less promising when the breeze backed to 350 degrees half way up the beat. Shark Kahn on the other hand had come out of the shift just nicely thank you and just rounded first from Norway’s Kristian Nergaard. Paul Brotherton, helming for Scotland’s Ian Cleaver, and Silvio Santoni, helming for Italy’s Franco Maria Rao, rounded together with Brotherton just getting the inside advantage. Hard on their tails was Sebastian Col, Mike Budd, Mike Dow and Philippe Kahn whilst Jeff Ecklund had to be happy with eleventh.
As they set off down the run the wind had come back a bit to due north but was still flicking around all over the show. Shark had opened up nicely by the leeward mark whilst Brotherton had pulled up to second. After a very mediocre day yesterday Philippe Kahn was clearly determined that although he’s now out of the running for the overall title he has no intention of going quietly and a couple of judicious gybes moved him into third ahead of Col, Nergaard, Budd and Santoni.
The second beat was no less tricky and whilst Shark Kahn pulled out almost a minute’s lead Philippe managed to get past Brotherton. Nergaard came back to fourth whilst Jeff Ecklund came from tenth to fifth ahead of Santoni and Dow who rounded neck and neck just in front of Col who’d dropped to eighth. Behind this group there was now something of a gap back to the pack, which was lead by Budd.
On the final run to the finish Philippe was determined not to let his fourteen year old son have it all his own way and he did an impressive job of closing down that huge lead. Fortunately for Shark the run just wasn’t quite long enough for his Dad to get past him and he won by around five boat lengths. Nergaard eventually got the better of Brotherton while Jeff Ecklund hung onto his fifith. Flavio Favini, helming for Switzerland’s Franco Maria Rao, put in a late charge to come from tenth to six with Col seventh and Santoni eighth.
At the start of race eight we had 12-14 knots from 350 degrees and yet again the fleet got away at the first attempt but with a large number of individual recalls. Col took off for the right hand corner whilst the others opted for the more conservative approach. Yet again the wind took a hit left and yet again it was Shark Kahn who made the most of it, this time with Favini rounding overlapped inside him at the mark. Sheldon Ecklund and Nergaard had a similar tiff for third with Bruce Ayres in fifth from Sean Scarborough and Brotherton. Col came round ninth whilst Philippe Kahn was fifteenth. On the first run to a relaid leeward mark Shark opened up a little on Favini and Nergaard and all three boats pulled out some significant distance on the pack. At the mark it was Ayres who headed the pack from Col, Britain’s John Pollard and Scarborough. Philippe Kahn meanwhile picked some nice moves to come from fifteenth to eighth ahead of Brotherton and Sheldon Ecklund.
On the final two legs of the race Shark Kahn and Favini just stretched away from the competition. Shark had Favini happily under control and his better boat speed allowed him to just keep eking out the yards, eventually finishing almost three minutes clear. Behind them Nergaard must have thought he was a pretty sure thing for third but Col had other ideas, shutting down the distance between them on the run and then finally taking him on the beat. After the leaders there was a big gap back to the pack, which was chopping and changing places constantly. Brotherton eventually took fifth from Philippe Kahn, Ayres and Santoni. The Kahns aren’t the only ones with a little family rivalry going on out here and the Ecklund/Melges brotherly war went Sheldon and Hans’s way this race but only just with Jeff and Harry right behind them in eighth and nine respectively.
In the overall standings Sebastian Col is on 21 points, five ahead of Shark Kahn. Kristian Nergaard is third with 42 from Flavio Favini 46, Paul Brotherton 47, Sheldon Ecklund 53, Philippe Kahn 56, Bruce Ayres 58,Jeff Ecklund 64 and Silvio Santoni 70. Tomorrow’s final race is sure to bring another great spectacle as the overall standings and title are decided, the Ecklund and Melges brothers slug it out for family supremacy and Philippe Kahn has one last go at besting his son Shark. Joking about ending up on the loosing end of this family rivalry after racing today Philippe commented – “I’ve offered him unlimited pocket money to buy drugs, drink and women, but heck it’s just not working!”.