Surprise win for Warpath
|They came from far and wide to Miami Beach and all went home happy. Sailors from 11 different countries traveled to South Florida seeking great sailing conditions and world-class racing. The 2007 Acura Miami Grand Prix delivered on both counts.
Sunny skies, temperatures in the 80s and double-digit breezes arrived like clockwork all four days of the regatta. Those factors had sailors from Brazil to Russia and at least 15 U.S. states smiling broadly during the awards ceremony at the Miami Beach Marina.
David Hoyt, Vermont-based owner of the Melges 32 Nosedive, summed it up best. "It was a very enjoyable regatta. We had fantastic sailing conditions and tremendous competition. It was warm and sunny all week and the Miami nightlife is as good as it gets. This is the winter diversion we all look forward to while we’re freezing up north."
All four classes came down to the final day and none was more exciting than the professional-laden Farr 40. Warpath, sailed by the father-son team of Fred and Steve Howe, posted a second in Race 8 to move into first place then protected a narrow two-point lead in the ninth and final race to capture the Rolex North American Championship.
"It was a typical Farr 40 regatta… it came down to the last beat of the last race,” said Steve Howe, who serves as helmsman aboard the entry from San Diego. "We were two points behind coming into today so we knew we had our work cut out for us. The team went out with a focused, determined mindset and put up a great result in the first race then took care of business in the second race."
Tactician Ian Williams and strategist Dave Armitage did the maths following the first race and figured out that Twins was the primary threat. Warpath got off the line clean and was able to cover the French entry, which finished seventh in that race - two places behind the California boat.
"We only got two good starts all week and one of them came in that last race when we really needed it," said Howe, who also earned the prestigious Acura Boat of the Week honour.
It was an impressive comeback for Warpath, which stood ninth in the 16-boat fleet after the opening day. "We had a disappointing first day, but the team maintained a positive attitude and rebounded on the second day. We won the fourth race and steadily built some momentum," Howe said.
Williams, better known for being one of the top ranked sailors on the professional match racing circuit, was making his debut as tactician on Warpath and came away impressed with the younger Howe.
“Steve is one of the top Farr 40 helmsman and he showed it here. He steers the boat very confidently and really smoothly," Williams said.
Alinghi, steered by billionaire America's Cup defender Ernesto Bertarelli, placed fourth overall to secure the Acura Grand Prix Championship for the Farr 40 class. Alinghi won Acura Key West 2007 in dominating fashion then followed with another strong result here in Miami to post the lowest combined score for the two winter regattas organised by Premiere Racing.
"I’m extremely pleased because I very much like these two events," Bertarelli said. "I had been to Key West once before and it is always a wonderful regatta. This is my first time in Miami and I must say it is a really nice venue, one of the nicest in the world. I am definitely going to come back."
Bertarelli, tactician Brad Butterworth and three other members of the America’s Cup crew were aboard Alinghi, which has only done a handful of Farr 40 regattas the last couple seasons.
“We don’t sail this boat very often so we are still figuring it out.” Bertarelli said. “We got a wide range of wind here so that allowed us to learn a lot. I am very fortunate to have the best sailors in the world aboard the boat. I give the crew all the credit for how well we did here and in Key West."
No boat did better in the Acura Grand Prix Championship than the Melges 32 Let’s Roll. The Italian entry, skippered by Claudio Recchi, scorched the fleet in Key West then put forth an equally impressive performance in also winning here in Miami.
"It’s a great class, a great boat and great competition. We are honored to have won two of the biggest events in the United States," said Recchi, who owns a construction business based in Torino and Rome. "We faced a high level of competition here in Miami. There were five boats that were sailed very well. Our strategy was to sail conservatively, not too aggressively. We stayed out of trouble, relied on our boat speed and succeeded in being consistent."
That would be an understatement. Let’s Roll finished no worse than third in the nine-race series, posting back-to-back bullets at the end as an exclamation point. "Claudio is a very good sailor and he has a great team. They had very good upwind speed on the rest of the fleet and always sailed smart. They deserved to win," said Jeff Ecklund, skipper of second place Star.
Samba Pa Ti was another double-winner, capturing IRC class here in Miami and also garnering the Acura Grand Prix Championship for that class. Skipper John Kilroy seized the lead on the second day of this regatta and never relinquished it despite heavy pressure from Magic Glove, a Ker 50 owned by Irishman Colm Barrington.
"It’s always nice to win a major regatta, but you also want to leave the race course feeling that you had a good time," Kilroy said. "We really enjoyed ourselves because the conditions and the competition were outstanding."
Magic Glove beat Samba by a point in Key West, but the California-based TP52 turned the tables in Miami by winning three races and placing second or third in five others.
“It was wonderful competing against Magic Glove," said Kilroy. "I cannot say enough about that team. Colm is a fantastic gentleman for whom I have great respect.”
Samba Pa Ti was loaded with Volvo Ocean Race veterans such as tactician Stu Bannatyne, trimmer Richard Clarke and grinder Mike Howard. Kilroy and crew had better boat speed than in Key West and were the class of the four TP52s in Miami.
"We made some changes to the boat since Key West, lots of little things that seemed to make a difference. We really made a nice improvement since Key West," said Bannatyne, who had high praise for Kilroy’s steering ability. "John is a very good helmsman. He has a great feel for the boat and a lot of input into the way it is set up."
Peter de Ridder and his Mean Machine team completed a dominating effort in Mumm 30 class, winning the final race to finish six points ahead of archrival Groovederci. Ft. Lauderdale resident Jono Swain called tactics on Mean Machine, which finished first or second in all but one race.
"We have now won this regatta four times in a row so I am a happy man," said de Ridder, whose Miami victories were split evenly between a Farr 40 and Mumm 30. "I enjoy coming to these waters at this time of the season because you always get good sailing conditions."
Deneen Demourkas steered Groovederci to steady string of top four finishes, but just could not match de Ridder.
"We had a good final day," said De Ridder, who notched a first and a second on Sunday. "We finished on a high note for this boat and this class."
Not just the winners came away happy after the Acura Miami Grand Prix. Alexey Nikolaev, skipper of the Russian TP 52 Rusal Synergy, was pleased despite a sixth place finish in the nine-boat IRC class.
"We need to train in the winter and Florida is a great setting," Nikolaev said. "We are happy because we have greatly improved our speed and our results. Sailing two great regattas against such tough competition has made us much better."
Acura Boat of the Week: Farr 40, Warpath, Fred & Steve Howe, San Diego, CA
Acura Grand Prix Awards (Key West and Miami Series Combined)
IRC Samba Pa Ti, TP52, John Kilroy, Los Angeles, CA
Farr 40 Alinghi, Ernesto Bertarelli, Geneva, SUI
Melges 32 Let’s Roll, Claudio Recchi, YC Italiano, Italy
Mumm 30 Mean Machine, Peter DeRidder, Monaco