Tie breaks at Acura Miami Race Week

Bill Wagner reports from the final day's racing

Monday March 13th 2006, Author: Bill Wagner, Location: United States
There's nothing more thrilling than to have a major sailing regatta come down to the last race of the last day. That proved the case in multiple classes at Acura Miami Race Week.

Just ask Eamon Conneely, owner of the Irish TP 52 Patches. Conneely and crew captured the inaugural Rolex TP52 Global Championship in dramatic fashion, placing second in the 10th and final race to overtake Pegasus 52. Pegasus, skippered by Philippe Kahn of Waikiki, Hawaii, entered the day leading by three quarters of a point and wound up 1¼ points behind after finishing one place behind Patches in both races on Sunday.

Actually, the IRC 1 class was closer as the Swan 601 Moneypenny nipped the Ker 55 Aera by tiebreaker after both boats totaled 13 points. Owner Jim Swartz and his team aboard the recently launched Moneypenny broke the deadlock by winning the last race. "It reinforces what I was saying about how close the IRC rule has gotten these two boats," said Moneypenny navigator Mark Rudiger, part of an all-star afterguard that included helmsman Mike Toppa and tactician Gary Weisman.

Things were tense on the Farr 40 dock as a result of a protest involving on-water winner Heartbreaker. Skipper Robert Hughes vaulted from third to first on the last day, edging week-long leader Norwegian Steam by a mere point. However, the Italian entry Nerone protested Heartbreaker for tacking too close in Race 10 and that led to an uneasy two-hour period of waiting for the outcome.

Hughes, who owns an employee benefits company in Grand Rapids, Mich., was ecstatic when word came the protest had been dismissed. "To win a biggie like this is incredible. I'll be walking on the tips of my toes for a week," said Hughes, who took home the Acura Trophy as overall Boat of the Week and the Baxter Trophy as top performing Farr 40.

Tactician Bill Hardesty and trimmer Wally Cross were key crew members for Hughes, a two-time winner of Farr 40 Nationals. Heartbreaker stood third, six points behind Norwegian Steam and five astern of Mascalzone Latino going into Race 10. Hughes admitted his team benefited from a tacking duel between the Norwegians and Italians, who finished ninth and 11th in the last race.

"We got a great start and sailed our own race while those two covered each other. It worked out perfectly," Hughes said. "One of the reasons we were going so fast is because the crew hiked so hard. ”

Five other classes were decided by two points or less with all but one coming down to the last race. Skipper Rick Wesslund and El Ocaso led PHRF 2 from start to finish, but almost suffered disaster at the end. The San Francisco-based J/120 was winning Race 10 when a lifeline broke and dumped two crew members overboard.

"By the time we stopped and picked them up we were in last place. Fortunately, we were able to claw our way back to fourth," said Wesslund, a resident of Tiburon, Cal.
El Ocaso, which won five of the initial six races, held off hard-charging Peregrine by one point and was rewarded with the City of Miami Trophy as PHRF Boat of the Week. "We felt really good about the way we sailed early in the week, but we faced some challenges the last two days. The level of competition got better each day and we feel fortunate to win."

Wesslund had high praise for Acura Miami Race Week, which has been dubbed the "SORC Renaissance." Organizers with Premiere Racing have revamped the renowned regatta, providing more professional management on and off the water.

"I sailed this regatta four years ago and wasn't happy with the way things were run so I didn't return. Premiere has made this a high-quality event again in every aspect. We will definitely be back next year," Wesslund said.

There figures to be more Melges 32s in Miami come 2007 after a strong debut showing this week. Brothers Brian and John Porter got the gun in half the races in leading Full Throttle to a one-point victory over Rick Orchard and Grins. "It was great racing all week. The boats are a blast and very evenly-matched," said John Porter, who steered while getting tactical calls from his brother.

The Porters, who grew up sailing on Lake Geneva in Wisconsin, have enjoyed tremendous success in Melges 24 class the last decade. They thoroughly enjoy the larger Melges and predict rapid growth for the new fleet.

"This was our first time on the 32 and we had a lot of fun. We had a little difficulty figuring out when to heat it up going downwind. We broached a couple times and dropped the spinnaker once," John Porter said.

A tiebreaker was also required in PHRF 3, where Scott Taylor's B-32 Defiance and Jeff Rubin's Tripp 33 Triptease scored 19 points apiece. Peter de Ridder's Mean Machine and Deneen Demourkas' Groovederci traded first and second places in Mumm 30 with the former ultimately winning by two points.

No skipper was happier than Gordon Ettie, a Miami resident who has been trying to win this regatta since it was known as the Southern Ocean Racing Conference. Ettie, an equity investor who authored the book Demystifying Business with Cookies and Elephants, finally broke through with his Swan 40 Sazerac.

"We've come in second in this regatta so many times. I went all out to win it this year," said Ettie, who topped PHRF 4 by two points.

One of the more impressive victories came in J/105 as skipper Worth Harris steered Rum at Six to first or second in nine of 10 starts. "It was all in the crew work. We go around the corners fast," said Harris, a beer distributor from Beaufort, N.C.

However, it was another J/105, Philip Lotz's Indefatigable, that picked up the Acura Boat of the Day award after posting a pair of bullets on Sunday.

There was terrific action on the Biscayne Bay course, which featured the regatta's two largest classes. Italian skipper Riccardo Simoneschi gave a command performance in the 25-boat Melges 24 class while Massachusetts sailmaker Jud Smith was equally dominant in the 28-entry Etchells class.

Smith, who was sailing with his 17- and 16-year-old daughters, finished first or second in five of the initial seven starts and was able to sit out the final race and still win by 11 points. "Racing was a lot closer than the results would indicate. This was a strong fleet and the competition was very good," said Smith, a legendary figure in the venerable class.

Simoneschi was simply on fire after finishing third in Race 1. He reeled off a string of seven straight bullets, much to the amazement of top-notch competitors such as John Pollard and Argyle Campbell.

Simoneschi was one of six winners of the Acura Grand Prix Trophy, awarded for combined excellence at the two winters regattas organized by Premiere Racing.
Other boats that posted the top combined scores at Acura Key West 2006 and Acura Miami Race Week were Groovederci, the TP52 Stay Calm (Stuart Robinson, Royal Thames, UK), Farr 40 Mascalzone Latino (Vincenzo Onorato, Napoli, Italy), J/105 Gumption 3 (Kevin Grainger, Rye, NY), Swan 45 Goombay Smash (William Douglass, Newport, RI).

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