Early lead for the Steam

Bill Wagner reports on Acura Miami Race Week

Friday March 10th 2006, Author: Bill Wagner, Location: United States
Nobody knows better than Jeff Rubin and Rich Shellow what fantastic sailing conditions Miami Beach can deliver. The co-owners of the Tripp 33 Triptease are Miami residents who race here year-round.

As Rubin and Shellow can atest, Miami Beach was at its best on Thursday. Sunny skies, warm weather and big breeze - Chamber of Commerce conditions - greeted the 142 boats competing in Acura Miami Race Week 2006.

"It was absolutely awesome out there today. We had a lot of fun," Shellow said. "Getting to sail in 20 knot winds, 80 degrees and big waves... what more can you ask for?"

All the professional sailors in the Farr 40 class certainly enjoyed the opening act of the four-day regatta, organized by Premiere Racing. Division 2 principal race officer John Craig set long courses which made for a full and satisfying day of racing.

Skipper Eivind Astrup and his crew aboard Norwegian Steam were exhausted but in good spirits after taking the early lead. Norwegian Steam stormed into the lead on the initial downwind leg en route to winning Race 2 then followed with a second in Race 3. "We are very pleased with how we sailed today, especially downwind. That is where we made huge gains," said Astrup, an Oslo resident.

Astrup had high praise for tactician Morten Henriksen, who is a high-level hockey coach back home in Norway. "Part of the game is to build a team, just like in soccer or any other sport. Morten has a good eye for how the crew works together and knows how to make adjustments." Norwegian Steam holds a three-point lead over Opus One (Wolfgang Stolz, Koenigstein, Germany) and Nerone (Massimo Mezzaroma, Punta Ala, Italy), which are tied with 14 points.

"It is never good to lead the regatta on the first day. There is only one way to go after that," said Astrup, who nonetheless was thrilled to pick up the Industry Partner Boat of the Day honor.

Twins, the French entry led by skipper Erik Maris and tactician Phillipe Mourniac, is three points behind in fourth. "Our speed is good, we were able to gain some boats in a couple races. We are in a good mood today. It's always nice to be (in contention), but there is a long way to go," Mourniac said. "The level of competition is so strong. You can be the top boat one race, the bottom boat the next."

Mascalzone Latino, the Italian entry that won Acura Key West 2006, stands sixth - within easy striking distance of the leaders. Three-time America's Cup champion Russell Coutts is calling tactics for skipper Vincenzo Onorato. "We didn't feel completely comfortable today," said Onorato, who was not complaining. "We are still happy - it is freezing back in Italy and we are sailing in warm weather and nice breeze."

In IRC 1, the Ker 55 Aera and the Swan 601 Moneypenny continued their remarkably close duel that began in Key West. So close were the boats that Aera won the class while Moneypenny captured the inaugural U.S. IRC Championship, which was scored by a complex formula.

It was more of the same Thursday as skipper Nick Lykiardopulo led Aera to victory in two races and second in the other. Moneypenny put up a 1-2-2 line and trails by a mere point in the overall standings. "Both boats are well prepared and well sailed. They are faster in certain conditions and we are faster in others," said Jez Fanstone, helmsman aboard Aera.

Lykiardopulo has been sailing with his core crew for a decade. Fanstone, skipper of the Volvo Ocean Race entry Team News Corp in 2001-2002, and navigator Hugh Agnew are among a handful of regulars who also raced a Swan 46 and Bashford 41 with Lykiardopulo. "It's like family, really," Fanstone said.

Rum at Six gave a strong performance in the seven-boat J/105 class, posting a pair of bullets and a second. However, skipper Worth Harris can't rest on his laurels since Kevin Grainger and Gumption 3 also had a good day and trail by just one point in the overall standings.

"We've sailed against Gumption a lot and they are good. It's going to be a good battle," said Harris, a Beaufort, N.C. resident who placed ninth at this regatta a year ago. Asked the reason behind the team's improved performance, one crew member deadpanned: "We're drinking more beer."

Racing on Biscayne Bay for the smaller boats begins Friday and features the two largest classes at Acura Miami Race Week 2006. Local skippers Scott Piper and Buddy Cribb are among the favorites in the 29-boat Etchells fleet after placing second and third at this regatta last year. Riccardo Simoneschi and his Nautica team will be a key player in the 26-entry Melges 24 class after finishing fourth in a loaded field at Acura Key West 2006.

Rubin and Shellow flashed their local knowledge in getting Triptease off to a strong start. The Tripp 33 notched a bullet in Race 1 and stands fourth overall in PHRF 3 after three starts were held on Thursday.

Scott Taylor's B-32 Defiance leads PHRF 3 by one point over while Robert Hibdon's SR 33 Temptress. "It's a competitive class, but I think Defiance is starting to show it's the boat to beat," Shellow said.

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