Weather conditions take a turn for the better just in time for the start of the American regatta

Mother Nature flipped the switch just in time for Key West 2010. The unseasonably chilly temperatures gave way and competitors in the 23rd edition of North America’s prestigious winter regatta were greeted by good conditions yesterday, Monday 18 January. “This shapes up to be the warmest race week here…in recent memory,” event director Peter Craig said. Sunny skies, 75-degree temperatures and solid wind produced an ideal opening day.
The three race divisions were all able to complete two races in oscillating winds that held steady between 7 and 10 knots. Competitors reported wind shifts ranging from five to 50 degrees, which kept tacticians on their toes.
“The wind speed was up and down and it was shifting as much as 45 degrees so there were plenty of opportunities to gain or lose,” said North Sails professional Larry Leonard, tactician aboard the J/122 Pugwash – leading the IRC 2 class after posting a first and a second on Monday. “It was very tactical racing and we got fortunate a few times. We managed to hit more shifts than we missed.”
No skipper sported a broader smile on the dock afterward than Wolfgang Schaefer, who won a race in Farr 40 class for only the second time in four trips to Key West. Schaefer steered Struntje Light to victory in Race 2 after finishing sixth in Race 1, and holds the overall lead via tiebreaker over both Barking Mad (Jim Richardson, USA) and Joe Fly (Giovanni Maspero, Italy).
Early competition is also close in the 21-boat Melges 24 class as two of the top contenders – UKA UKA Racing and Blu Moon – both won a race. Helmsman Lorenzo Bressani also posted a second as the Italian team took a two-point lead on the Swiss entry. UKA UKA Racing, owned by Lorenzo Santini of Porto Civitanova and featuring American Jonathan McKee as tactician, was declared the Nautica Watches Boat of the Day. 
Flavio Favini, helmsman aboard Blu Moon, posted a fourth in Race 2 and was happy to get through the first day in good shape. “It was light and shifty, which is something we have encountered before here. It was a bit tricky for the tacticians, but all in all very nice racing conditions,” Favini said.
Rod Jabin and his crew aboard Ramrod posted a pair of third place results to grab the early lead in Melges 32, which is loaded with professional talent like the Farr 40 and Melges 24 classes. Jabin is a former Farr 40 owner who moved into the Melges 32 last spring and enjoyed immediate success – winning the Gold Cup held off Fort Lauderdale in early December. America’s Cup veteran Gavin Brady is calling tactics for Jabin, who has picked up right where he left off last month here in Key West.
“You take an average boat and put Gavin Brady onboard it makes a big difference,” Jabin said. “I did a reasonable job of getting us off the start line and Gavin did a great job of positioning the boat.
Highland Fling is by far the biggest boat entered in Key West 2010 and was expected to sail around the IRC 1 course by itself. However, Fauth said Bella Mente was able to keep the 82-footer in range in Monday’s flat water and less than 10 knots of wind.
“Off the wind in this type of breeze, we’re very competitive with Highland Fling,” said Fauth, noting that owner Irvine Laidlaw and his 24-man crew are learning the newly-launched maxi. “They’re still shaking her down so we haven’t seen her top end by any means.”
Premiere Racing has introduced a handicap multihull class at Key West 2010 and all involved were eager to see how it would work out. Merlin, a Gulfstream 35 that is scratch boat in the fleet and the lone catamaran, notched two bullets to seize the early lead. “Today’s conditions favored us because we have more sail area,” said tactician Doug Fisher, a Florida-based professional with Ullman Sails.
Skipper Bob Harkrider and the Merlin team are sailing out in front of the six smaller trimarans in the class and thus have to focus on sailing their own race. “It’s all about going fast and going in the right direction. In a fleet like this in which the boats are so different, you need to make sure you take care of yourself… which is probably what you should do most of the time anyway,” Fisher said. 

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