Miami Grand Prix preview
Talent-laden fleets in the Melges 32, Farr 40 and IRC classes had descended on Florida ready for tomorrow's start of the 2010 Miami Grand Prix. The forecast is shaping up nicely, temperatures are warming and the wind has filled in. A strong fleet of 39 racing sailboats will head out through the Government Cut and onto the Atlantic Ocean to begin four days of action-packed racing over March 4 - 7.
The Melges 32 continues to grow and develop as a grand prix class and they’ll have an impressive 23 boats on the starting line in Miami with many teams featuring accomplished professional sailors as tacticians and trimmers.
John Kilroy and his crew aboard Samba Pa Ti hope to remain on a roll after topping a loaded fleet at Key West 2010. Volvo Ocean Race veteran Stu Bannatyne will call tactics while Morgan Reeser and Sam Rogers will trim aboard Samba, which posted an impressive 18-point victory over Red in Key West.
“When you win an important regatta you always hope you can pick up where you left off,” said Kilroy, who carries over the same crew from Key West to Miami. “However, every event is new and different unto itself and I would say this regatta is up for grabs.”
Bliksem, owned by New York's Pieter Taselaar, opened with three straight bullets and never looked back in topping the Melges 32 class at last year’s Miami Grand Prix. That result foretold a special season for Bliksem, which went on to capture the class World Championship in Sardinia last September.
Australian standout Nathan Wilmot returns as tactician aboard Bliksem. Taselaar and his team did not compete at Key West in January, but would not miss Miami. “We love this regatta," Wilmot said. "It’s a great town with loads of entertainment options and the breeze always seems to turn on and make for great racing."
Taselaar took delivery of a brand new boat on Friday and the crew took it out for a shakedown sail on Tuesday. Wilmot was not worried about the team racing an untested platform this week. “These boats come out of the box in terrific shape and the Melges folks have shown us how to set one up straight away. We would love to win this regatta again, but really our main goal is to get the boat up to speed and begin our preparation for the Worlds.”
Samba Pa Ti placed second to Bliksem at the 2009 Miami Grand Prix with Kilroy noting the two boats performed differently depending on the point of sail. “We were first to the weather mark the most, but they sailed very well downwind. Hopefully, we’ve improved our downwind speed since then,” he said.
Red, owned by Britain's Joe Woods leads the Melges 32 Midwinter Championship by five points going into the Miami Grand Prix. Fantastica (Lanfranco Cirillo, Italy) stands third and will try to make up a six-point deficit.
"Miami is one of our favorite events of the year. It is one of the best spots in the world to sail with very consistent conditions and you could not ask for a better place to party,” said Massimo Bortoletto, boat captain and crew member aboard Nerone, one of the pre-regatta favorites in Farr 40. “We are very happy to be here and looking forward to a great week of racing.”
Nerone, skippered by Massimo Mezzaroma, is a past World Champion and defending class champion at the Miami Grand Prix. Tactician Vasco Vascotto made numerous good calls as the Italian entry got the gun in six of 10 races a year ago. “We had good fortune last year and hopefully we can find that magic formula again,” Bortoletto said.
Nerone won four races to overcome three double-digit results to take third place at Key West 2010. “We had a few bad races, but overall we sailed very well in Key West. We are hoping to build off that result and do even better in this regatta,” Bortoletto said. “As usual in this class there are a lot of great teams here and almost all of them are capable of winning.”
Barking Mad, the perennial entry skippered by Jim Richardson, placed second at Key West 2010 – just two points ahead of Nerone. Regular tactician Terry Hutchinson is racing in the Louis Vuitton Trophy in New Zealand, but the team found a capable replacement in former College of Charleston All-American Steve Hunt.
“I have big shoes to fill, but fortunately this is a very well organized program with a lot of talent onboard the boat. I’ve found that tactics are easier when you have great boat-handling and speed,” said Hunt, happy to have veteran trimmers Skip Baxter and Dave Armitage aboard.
Hunt has been calling tactics for Alan Field in the Melges 24 class, but has experience with the Farr 40 fleet after crewing aboard Heartbreaker (Robert Hughes) and Flash Gordon (Helmut Jahn). He knows Nerone and fellow Italian entry Fiamma (Alessandro Barnaba) will be tough, but said the Barking Mad team is looking at the big picture. Like most skippers in the class, Richardson is using the Miami Grand Prix as a final tune-up prior to the Farr 40 World Championships, being held next month off Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic.
“Of course we want to win this regatta, but our main focus is to prepare for the worlds. We’ll be looking at sails and testing some other things this week,” said Hunt, who currently resides in San Diego after mounting an Olympic campaign in 470 class.
There is an interesting mix of IRC entries at Miami Grand Prix with the TP52 Decision (Stephen Murray, New Orleans) and the J/105 Gumption (Kevin Grainger, New York) on opposite ends of the spectrum. Cool Breeze, a Mills 43 skippered by John Cooper of Cane Hill, Missouri, was specifically designed to this rating rule and showed its speed by placing second in IRC 2 at Key West 2010. Meanwhile, James Madden and his crew aboard Stark Raving Mad will are eager to see how their J/125 performs in IRC.
“We always assumed this boat would have a poor IRC rating, but have discovered there are a few minor changes that can be made to get credits under the system,” said North Sails President Gary Weisman, tactician on Stark Raving Mad. “So we are testing the waters and seeing how well the boat can compete under IRC.”
Weisman wishes Stark Raving Mad had entered IRC 2 class at Key West 2010 instead of PHRF 1, which it won in convincing fashion – finishing first in eight of 10 races. “This will be an interesting regatta because there is such a wide spread in boat sizes and speed from the top to the bottom end of the fleet that it’s hard to gauge how things will turn out,” he said.
Peter Craig and the rest of Premiere Racing’s top-notch team are ready to run a quality regatta. Moderate winds in the mid teens, bright sunshine, and temperatures slightly cooler than normal look to occur each race day. This is a welcome departure from the significantly cooler and wetter than normal winter south Florida has experienced.
Miami resident Dave Brennan will once again direct a veteran race committee with capable assistance from top lieutenant Dick Neville.
Craig, President of Premiere Racing, was gratified to see entries hold steady for Miami Grand Prix despite the tough economic conditions: "I think it speaks to what the sailors think of this regatta that the number of boats has remained constant," he said. "We once again have two hyper-competitive classes with the Farr 40, and Melges 32, both of which have some really, really talented sailors."
Four days of racing begins Thursday, with as many as 10 races scheduled.