|KEY WEST, FL. USA-(18-1-2006) Vincenzo Onorato sported a very satisfied look as he stood on the dock at Historic Seaport Wednesday afternoon. Onorato, skipper of the Italian Farr 40 Mascalzone Latino, had many reasons to be happy. He was sailing off Key West in heavy air with three-time America's Cup champion Russell Coutts and was tied for the lead in an incredibly tough class.
`I am always happy to be racing in Key West, and days like this are the reason why. Warm weather and lots of wind... I love the place,` Onorato said.
Northerly winds that steadily increased to 25 knots made for another thrilling afternoon at Acura Key West 2006, presented by Nautica.
Competition can get intense and a bit hairy in the professionally-crewed Farr 40 class when it blows because the boats tend to be so tightly congested.
With Coutts calling tactics, Onorato has done well in the difficult conditions of the past two days and soared to the top of the 25-boat fleet. He steered Mascalzone Latino to fourth in Wednesday's race and is now tied with Warpath at 30 points apiece.
This regatta marks the first time Onorato and Coutts have teamed together. Their goal is to capture the 2006 Farr 40 World Championship.
`It is the most exciting thing in the sailing world to sail with the king,` Onorato said of Coutts. `Russell brings a unique champions' attitude to the boat.`
Warpath, owned by the father-son team of Fred and Steve Howe, also made a major move up the leader board since the heavy air arrived on Tuesday. Past Volvo Ocean Race winner John Kostecki is calling tactics on Warpath, which placed second in Wednesday's start and is winning the regatta by tiebreaker over Mascalzone.
Fiamma, an Italian entry skippered by Alessandro Barnaba, won Wednesday's Farr 40 race. Tommaso Chieffi is calling tactics for Fiamma, which is making its Key West debut.
`It is very exciting sailing in these conditions. Today was a very tough race because the top five boats were really close,` Barnaba said. `We had a nice duel upwind. It was important to keep the boat speed going, which was not easy in that much wind.`
Goombay Smash continued to extend its lead in the Swan 45 World Championship. Skipper William Douglass and crew posted a third on Wednesday and is now eight points ahead of DSK-Comifin (Danilo Salsi, Italy).
British match racing veteran Chris Law is calling tactics for Douglass, who has led the series since Day 1 by relying on a conservative gameplan.
`Doug is sailing the boat very well and we are going really fast both upwind and downwind,` Law said. `I give a lot of credit to Don Kelly, the boat captain. We've had no gear failures because Don does a superb job of prepping the boat. He makes my job a lot easier.`
Jeroboam Canova, skippered by Vittorio Codecasa of Porto Cervo, Italy, was the winner of Race 5 on Wednesday. `Today was very good. Fantastic! Everything was perfect... the teamwork was very good and it was easy to steer,` Codesda said. `We were not particularly influenced by the tough conditions, because after many times sailing in Sardinia, we are used to weather like this.`
Tactician Gabriele Benussi said Jeroboam got a good start and made the correct decision by heading to the right side of the course en route to earning Mount Gay Rum Boat of the Day. `Vittorio helmed very well and we were first at the first windward mark. Downwind, we increased our advantage over the rest of the fleet with good speed, and on the second leg we built a really good distance between us and the next boat,` Benussi said.
Two of the regatta's biggest boats - Moneypenny and Aera - are engaged in a terrific battle in IRC 1. Moneypenny, a Swan 601 owned by Jim Swartz of Newport, R.I., placed second in Race 5 and holds a one-point lead over the Ker 55 skippered by Nick Lykiardopulo.
`Racing has been surprisingly close. The rating system has done a very good job of comparing the boats,` said Dee Smith, tactician aboard Moneypenny. `We tied a race, which is really rare. Other races have been decided by seconds. You can't get much closer.`
This is the first major regatta for Swartz, who took delivery of Moneypenny six months ago. Smith said the owner was `over the moon` about the boat's performance and the fact his team is leading the inaugural U.S.-IRC Championship that is being held this week.
A total of 17 boats from IRC 1 and IRC 2 are competing for the championship. Gold Digger, a J/44 owned by James Bishop, has won all five starts in IRC 2 and stands fifth in the combined standings.
Partners & Partners, a French entry skippered by Philippe Ligot, took over the lead in Melges 24 class with a second place on Wednesday. Blu Moon, a Swiss boat owned by Franco Rossini, fell to second after leading for two days.
`We were third at the leeward mark, but our kite wrapped on the run and we lost two places,` said Chris Rast, helmsman aboard Blu Moon. `Today was all about boathandling.`
Dave Ullman (Pegasus 505) was winning Race 5, but wiped out on the last downwind leg. Jeff Madrigali (Pegasus 492) had a clean gybe and wound up snatching victory from his teammate.
`I told the crew to hang in there and we'd see if we could win the final run sweepstakes,` Madrigali said. `Dave was going to beat us until he broached. We didn't make any big errors, which wasn't easy in the big breeze.`