|KEY WEST, FL. USA-(20-1-2006) Italy is a small country that produces a remarkable number of world-class sailors. That fact was proven this week at Acura Key West 2006, presented by Nautica. A pair of Italian skippers captured the two most prestigious classes in the five-day regatta, organized by Premiere Racing.
Massimo Ferragamo, an Italian native who now lives in New York, captured the Swan 45 World Championship in dramatic fashion. Vincenzo Onorato, who hails from Napoli, took top honors in the talent-laden Farr 40 class.
Ferragamo and his team aboard Bellicosa jumped from third to first in the 16-boat Swan 45 field on Thursday then held the top spot with a 6-8 line on Friday. Not surprisingly, winning a world championship also earned Ferragamo the regatta's most prestigious award - the Acura Trophy as Boat of the Week.
As Ferragamo stepped off the dock in front of the Half Shell Raw Bar, he was handed a tray full of Chocolate-flavored blender drinks - courtesy of Vim skipper Craig Speck.
`This is absolutely fantastic!` Ferragamo said. `We have always been second or third in the major regattas so this is the crowning moment. We have been working really hard to get better and this week the whole team was in sync.`
Star class veteran Howie Schiebler called tactics for Ferragamo, who runs the United States division of his family-owned fashion company. Mainsail trimmer Pete McLoskey was another key member of the afterguard.
`It was a great week of sailing. We couldn't have raced in stronger winds... there were a couple days that really pushed the limits,` Ferragamo said. `This is a great win for me, but most of all for the crew. They are the ones who did the work.`
Schiebler, a San Francisco resident who has sailed on and off with Ferragamo, was impressed by the owner's steering this week.
`Massimo has not sailed much in heavy air. He embraced the challenge and really did a great job,` Schiebler said. `We had no fouls, no breakages and stayed out of bad situations because Massimo trusted the guys around him and focused on driving the boat.`
A few docks down, Onorato and tactician Russell Coutts clanked beers and exclaimed `Salute!` This was their first regatta together and resulted in a rousing victory in tough 25-boat fleet.
`Racing with Russell Coutts has been the greatest sailing experience of my life,` Onorato said of the three-time America's Cup champion. `He is so cool and relaxed. Everything was quiet and smooth aboard the boat and we really enjoyed our time on the water.`
Mascalzone Latino seized control of the regatta midweek by placing fourth or better in four straight races. The Italian entry began the day with a healthy lead over Fiamma and Warpath so focused on covering the rivals in Friday's two races.
Mascalzone recovered from a terrible start to finish 12th in Race 8, four spots ahead of Fiamma. Coutts then set his sights on Warpath in Race 9 and placed 11th to the California entry's 12th.
`We were sailing the boat faster and faster as the week went along. Boat speed is always the key and we were able to come back in a bunch of races. We were real deep today and worked our way through the fleet.`
Racing in Melges 24 class, the regatta's largest with 60 boats, went down to the final day with California's Dave Ullman and Italy's Riccardo Simoneschi tied for first. Ullman pulled out the win with a 2-3 line on Friday while Simoneschi faded to fourth due to finishes of 5-10.
Blu Moon, a Swiss entry owned by Franco Rossini and steered by Chris Rast, posted a third and first on Friday to place second - four points behind Ullman's Pegasus 505.
`We were able to put some boats between us and the Italian in today's first race, which gave us a comfortable lead,` Ullman said. `We then pushed the Italian back at the start of the last race then followed the Swiss boat around the course.`
Reigning Etchells world champion Jeff Linton (St. Petersburg, Fla.) called tactics for Ullman, who won two of nine races and finished second or third in four others. This marked the fourth time the Newport Beach-based sailmaker has won Melges 24 class at Key West.
`This is the second-windiest Key West in which I've competed and I've been coming here a long time,` Ullman said. `It was a great regatta - beautiful weather and terrific wind.`
Ullman's victory helped USA West capture the Nautica Trophy for winning the International Team competition, which combines the scores of Swan 45, Farr 40 and Melges 24 entries from the same country. Fred and Steve Howe's Warpath took third in Farr 40 while Craig Speck's Vim placed fourth in Swan 45 to give USA West 90 points - 19 better than Italy 1.
Moneypenny, a Swan 601 owned by Jim Swartz of Newport, R.I., won the inaugural US-IRC Championship by the slimmest of margins over Aera. Moneypenny's final calculation was 5.768 as compared to 5.765 for the Kerr 55, owned by Nick Lykiardopulo of Cowes, United Kingdom.
This was the third major regatta for Swartz, who took delivery of the custom-built Swan six months ago. America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race veteran Dee Smith called tactics for Swartz, who did not fare well in a tough IRC class at the San Francisco Big Boat Series.
`Winning this championship would be huge for the 601 and change the perception it's not a good IRC Boat,` said Swartz, a venture capitalist who was unable to sail on Friday due to a business commitment.
`It's been a fantastic week of sailing. Conditions have been excellent, race committee work has been stellar and I've been blessed with a great crew.
Stay Calm II, a brand new boat owned by Stuart Robinson of London, took top honors in Transpac 52 class. Tactician Adrian Stead and eight other members of the GBR Challenge America's Cup team crewed for Robinson, who won or placed second in six of nine starts after taking delivery of the TP 52 on Jan. 6.
`This is a dream first regatta for Stuart. There was a mixture of heavy, medium and light air this week, which enabled him to learn how to sail the boat in different conditions,` Stead said. `We had 15 very good sailors onboard and Stuart did a superb job on the helm... that's why we won this regatta.`
TeamBold, skippered by Nelson Stephenson, completed an impressive performance in the Mumm 30 National Championship. Tactician Brian Bissell (Georgetown) and a crew of college All-Americans helped Stephenson, who won seven of nine starts with a pair of thirds squeezed in.
`We were building a picket fence and we decided to put a gate in,` said Stephenson, who earned his first class victory in eight trips to Key West.
Masquerade posted a resounding 18-point victory in the 29-boat J/105 class. Skipper Thomas Coates steered the San Francisco entry to five bullets and three runner-up results.
Grooverderci, a Mumm 30 owned by Deneen Demourkas of Santa Barbara, Cal., was named Acura Boat of the Day. Demourkas posted a first and a second on Friday and finished fourth in the overall standings.
El Ocaso, a J/120 owned by Rick Wesslund of Tiburon, Cal., received the Key West Trophy as PHRF Boat of the Week. Wesslund's team notched four bullets and finished no worse than fourth in winning a competitive 15-boat PHRF 3 class by 12 points.
Swan 45: Bellicosa, Massimo Ferragamo, New York
Farr 40: Mascalzone Latino, Vincenzo Onorato, Napoli, Italy
Mumm 30: TeamBold, Nelson Stephenson, Southport, Conn.
Transpac 52: Stay Calm, Stuart Robinson, London, UK
IRC 1: Aera, Kerr 55, Nick Lykiardopulo, Cowes, UK
PHRF 2: Sister Golden Hair, Farr IMS 40, Genesis Racing LLC, Charleston, SC
Melges 32: New Wave, Michael Carroll, Lake Geneva, WI
IRC 2: Gold Digger, J/44, James Bishop, Jamestown, R.I.
PHRF 3: El Ocaso, J/120, Rick Wesslund, Tiburon, CA
Melges 24: Pegasus 505, Dave Ullman, Newport Beach, Cal.
J/105: Masquerade, Thomas Coates, San Francisco, CA
J/80: Synergy, Jay Lutz, Houston, Texas
Corsair 28: Rocketeer II, Ken Winters/Randy Smyth, Fort Walton Beach, FL
J/109: Mojo, Steve Rhyne, Kemah, Texas
PHRF 4: Temptress, SR 33, Robert Hibdon, Charleston, S.C.
PHRF 5: L'Outrage, Beneteau 10M, Bruce Gardner, Annapolis, MD
C&C 99: Trumpeter, Bob Wilson, Toronto, Ontario
PHRF 6: Liquor Box, Tartan 10, Bill Buckles/Chuck Simon, Key West, FL
PHRF 7: Mistress, S2 7.9, Bryan Coon, Huntington, NY