Returning to the Florida Sun
Competition figures to be particularly keen in the Farr 40 class, which is priming for its world championship - being held off Miami in early April. Ten of the top 12 finishers at Acura Key West 2008 are part of a strong 29-boat fleet that will test sails and become familiar with the venue.
“This is a great opportunity for all the teams to check out the conditions and get a feel for the course one month in advance of the worlds,” Barking Mad owner Jim Richardson said. “It will be a great tuning ground and everyone will come away knowing what they need to improve upon.”
Richardson got a major monkey off his back in mid-January by winning Farr 40 class at Acura Key West for the first time in 11 attempts. Tactician Terry Hutchinson and professional trimmers Skip Baxter, Morgan Trubovich and Zack Hurst anchor a consistent crew for Richardson, who is win-less in ten Farr 40 regattas off Miami.
“These major regattas are tough to win," Richardson said. "We ended the drought in Key West this year and hopefully we can do the same in Miami.”
Barking Mad will have a target on its back and will no doubt be challenged by the likes of Mascalzone Latino (Vincenzo Onorato, Italy), Twins (Erik Maris, France) and Nerone (Massimo Mezzaroma, Italy), all of which finished in the Top 5 in Key West.
Warpath, the California entry sailed by the San Diego father-son team of Fred and Steve Howe, is taking delivery of a brand new boat in Miami and will have renowned professional Paul Cayard aboard as tactician. “I think the top six finishers in Key West were all new boats so we are interested to see if that will make a difference in performance for us,” said Steve Howe, who steered Warpath to a seventh place finish in that regatta.
Returning to the Farr 40 class following a year layoff is Heartbreaker, owned by Robert Hughes. Hughes won the Acura Miami Grand Prix in 2006, but spent all of last season mounting a campaign for the Canada’s Cup. Former St. Mary’s College All-American and College Sailor of the Year Mark Ivey will call tactics on Heartbreaker.
“We haven’t raced in a big, international fleet since Miami two years ago so we are eager to see whether we’ve fallen behind the learning curve,” said Hughes, who captured the Canada’s Cup for the United States last October in Toronto. “We really enjoy sailing off Miami because we feel our boat goes well in a breeze and a bump.”
The fast growing Melges 32 class was also hotly contested in Key West and another battle royale shapes up for Acura Miami Grand Prix. Jeff Ecklund skippered Star to a narrow two-point victory over New Wave (Mike Carroll and Marty Kullman) at Key West and knows it will be tough to repeat that feat.
“This regatta is going to be the same as Key West… any one of six boats is capable of winning,” said Ecklund, a Fort Lauderdale resident who will have boat builder Harry Melges calling tactics again. “We were fortunate to have consistent boat speed in all conditions in Key West and hopefully we can carry that over to Miami.”
New Wave’s Carroll and Kullman are coming off a hard-earned victory at the St. Petersburg Sperry Top-Sider NOOD and have brought Quantum professional Scott Nixon onboard as tactician.
“We normally have a completely Corinthian crew and take great pride in that approach, but the class just continues to get stronger and all the top boats have star-studded crews,” Carroll said. “We felt we needed to do something in order to remain competitive. Jeff (Ecklund), in particular, has brought the fleet along with his commitment and effort. We will be hard-pressed to keep pace with his team.”
Dave Brennan, a lifelong Miami resident, returns for his fifth year as Principal Race Officer. Brennan hopes to complete 10 windward-leeward races set off Hawk Channel just south of Government Cut.
“The breeze tends to be very steady off Miami this time of year,” said Brennan, who is coming off a successful stint as PRO for the Etchells Jaguar Series. “Sea conditions inside the reef are terrific when the wind is under 15 knots. If it kicks up to 18 or 20, the waves tend to corner up and it can get a bit bumpy.”
It’s doubtful conditions will ever get rough enough to bother Dan Meyer’s J-V66 Numbers, the largest in the fleet and scratch entry in IRC 1. Meyers has done quite well with the rocket ship since she was launched last fall - winning class honours at the IRC East Coast Championship off Annapolis and at Acura Key West 2008.
Meyers has notable crew members aboard including tactician Brad Butterworth and trimmer Warrick Fleury, members of the two-time America’s Cup champion Alinghi Racing syndicate. Butterworth has raced with Meyers on four different versions of Numbers dating back to 1996.
Flash Glove, a JV 52 owned by Ireland's Colm Barrington was runner-up in IRC 1 class at Key West - winning three races and finishing just four points behind Numbers.
“Three different boats held the outright lead over the last three days of Key West and I expect the class to be very competitive again. We will be challenged,” Meyers said. “Colm has an outstanding crew on Flash Glove and they sail the boat incredibly well with very few mistakes.”
There is an interesting mix of boats in IRC 2 with a trio of Swan 42s taking on a J/44, J/122 and Aerodyne 38. Robin Team, owner of the J/122 Teamwork, is anxious to see how the fleet sorts out. “It’s going to be fun to mix it up with a variety of boats that probably perform differently depending on the conditions,” said Team, who earned the Lewmar Boat of the Day award in Key West.
Gold Digger, the J/44 owned by James Bishop, posted two bullets and a pair of runner-up results in placing second overall in IRC 2 at Key West. Meanwhile, skipper Andrew Fisher and team sailed Bandit to victory in the Swan 42 class.
“We tend to do well in light to medium air while the Swan 45s and the J/44 are very tough to beat in heavy air,” Team continued. “We’re looking forward to seeing varied conditions in Miami, which will give all the boats a chance to shine.”
Since taking over management of the annual regatta four years ago, Premiere Racing has breathed new life into an event with a 60 year history. “It’s great to see this grand prix format we put in place last year take hold,” Event Director Peter Craig said. “We are looking at strong numbers in all four classes, which proves the owners have responded positively to the change.”
Competitors in all classes will be looking to capture the Acura Grand Prix Trophy, awarded for best overall performance at the two major winter regattas organized by Premiere Racing.