Winners return

Rich Roberts looks at the form leading into day one of Terra Nova Key West race week

Monday January 19th 2004, Author: Rich Roberts, Location: United States
She's been rocked and rolled and bashed by a boom, but the tough little lady from Santa Barbara, Calif. is back for Terra Nova Trading Key West 2004, presented by Nautica, as the defending champion in the slambang international Farr 40 class.

"That sounds really good!" Alexandra Geremia said. "It has been pretty wild."

Her Crocodile Rock, with co-owner Scott Harris of San Diego at the helm and North Sails' Vince Brun calling tactics, is one of a dozen returning class winners and 301 boats overall scheduled to start five days of racing Monday at 10 a.m., conditions permitting - and conditions could be exhilarating.

The North Sails weather briefing by meteorologist Chris Bedford offered this week-long synopsis: "The cold front marching east across the Gulf of Mexico Sunday night is forecast to move through during the day on Monday. After an unsettled day with multiple shifts and an increase in pressure from the NW on Monday, conditions should settle with high pressure moving north of Florida Tuesday through Wednesday.

"After moderate winds continue through Tuesday, lighter conditions are forecast for Wednesday and most of Thursday before the next front arrives and brings potentially strong NW winds on Friday."

Hang on-it could be the best test of sailing anywhere in the world this week.

More than 3,000 sailors have come from 18 countries and 32 states to this quaint little island town that is the southernmost point in the continental United States. The schedule calls for nine races in each of the 10 one-design and 11 PHRF handicap classes. Four race courses are spread out over 10 miles along the south side of the island between the beach and a reef five miles offshore that minimizes the influence of the Gulf Stream flowing west to east.

This year's event, the 17th in the series now organised by Premiere Racing, Inc., will mark the debuts of the Swan 45s and C&C 99s, who have massed enough boats to rate as classes of their own - and, especially for the Swans, that's class with a capital C. As in the Farr 40 and some other one-design classes, owners must drive. The crew lists of the nine Nautor-built luxury racers are sprinkled with talent such as Ed Baird, Brad Read, Murray Jones, Dee Smith, Howie Shiebler, Butch Ulmer, Steve Benjamin, Kevin Burnham and Leonardo Ferragamo, the Nautor Swan boss who is skipper of Courdileone.

That world-class name-dropping rivals the line-up of tacticians in the Farr 40s, which includes, besides Brun, Robbie Haines, Terry Hutchinson, Adrian Stead, Chris Larson, Kimo Worthington, Eric Doyle, Tom Whidden and John Cutler. Hutchinson will be working with his right arm in a sling after suffering an elbow injury in his Star boat last weekend.

Also, two America's Cup principals - Alinghi tactician Brad Butterworth and Oracle helmsman Peter Holmberg, now with Alinghi - are tacticians for Daniel Meyers' Taylor 49, Numbers 97, in PHRF 2 and Tom Hill's R/P 75, Titan 12, in PHRF 1, respectively.

With its 2003 victory, Geremia's Crocodile Rock ended Atalanti XII's three-year win streak. Greek businessman George Andreadis is back hoping to reclaim honours, but the fleet is traditionally a wide-open scramble. At last year's class Worlds in Sardinia, for example, Geremia was struck on the head when rival Barking Mad's boom swept the deck of her boat.

"It just grazed me," she said. "Didn't bleed much. But we lost our lifelines and had a couple of little holes in the boat. We still had two firsts and a second for the week. We're back here with the same crew, same everything. We think we're better after another year of sailing."

Another headliner returning is Richard Bergmann's well-traveled Zuni Bear from San Diego, winner of the rambunctious J/105 class and the Terra Nova Trading Trophy as Boat of the Week for winning the most competitive class last year.

Other 2003 one-design winners back on the scene: Franco Rossini's Melges 24, Blu Mun, from Switzerland, driven by former world champion Flavio Favini of Italy. The talent runs deep in the 58-boat fleet, including the current 14-year-old world champ, Samuel (Shark) Kahn of Santa Cruz, Calif., and Dawn Riley, with an all-woman crew from Detroit.

In other classes there are Bob and Doug Harkrider's Corsair 28R trimaran, Bad Boys, from Belvedere, SC, Craig and Martha White's J/80, Warrior, from Ft. Worth, Texas, John Edwards' J/29, Rhumb Punch, from Solomon, MD. Chuck Simon and Bill Buckles' Tartan 10, Liquor Box, a hometown Key West entry.

The PHRF winners are also returning: Roger Sturgeon's Transpac 52, Rosebud, from San Francisco, in PHRF 1, New Wave, Michael Carroll's Henderson 30 from Clearwater, FL, in PHRF 4 and Jeff Gastreau and Brian Lees' Nelson/Marek 30, Invincible, from Annapolis, which won PHRF 7 last year and is in PHRF 9 this time. There is also Jim Hightower's Farr 37, Hot Ticket, from Houston, Tex., in PHRF 8 and Rumblefisch, Peter Fischel's J/24 that has been chartered by Chuck Collins of Charleston, S.C. this year, in PHRF 10.

Collins laughed when he said, "I don't think it will be a repeat this year. All of us are pretty unfamiliar with a J/24. A C&C 40 is our normal boat."

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