Grand Prix Classes are up for grabs going into the final day

It’s down to the wire in most of the grand prix classes at Key West 2011. With as many as three races slated for this final day, no lead is safe.

Take for instance Jim Richardson and his team aboard Barking Mad, which would appear to hold a comfortable nine-point lead in Farr 30 class. Standing on the dock sipping a mudslide, Richardson swore he wasn’t counting his chickens before they are hatched. “There’s a lot that can happen in two or three races so we have to stay focused and not screw anything up,” he said. “Our crew work has been exceptional and we’re going very fast so we feel confident. We just have to go out and continue to sail the way we have been.”

Barking Mad posted a solid score line of 2-1 in two races yesterday and has a cumulative total of 11 points. Turbo Duck, sailed by the father-son team of Bodo and Nick Von der Wense, stands second with 20 points after posting a line of 2-1-2 in the last three starts.

Things are much closer in several of the other professional-laden classes. A mere two points separate Warpath and Goombay Smash in Melges 32 after the discard was factored in following six races. Skipper Steve Howe (Portland, Ore.) and the Warpath team have 24 points, two better than William Douglass (Stamford, Conn.) and the Goombay Smash squad. Leenabarca, skippered by Alex Jackson (Riverside, Conn.) is just three points out of first place.

“I’m sitting here having drinks with Mr. Warpath (Howe) right now. We’re figuring out how we’re going to settle this on the water,” said Chris Larson, tactician aboard Goombay Smash. “All we can do is go out and have two good races [today] and see how things shake out. We’ll try to put up a good result in the first race and that will determine how we approach the last race.

Both Warpath and Goombay Smash sailed their throwout race yesterday and have little margin for error. Leenbarca is in better shape since its discard is a ninth. Two bad starts have produced double digit results for Goombay Smash and Larson stated the obvious when he said the team could not afford any more. “The key all week has been getting off the line. If you get buried at the start in this fleet you are asking for trouble,” he said.

Things tightened up considerably in the Mini Maxi class as Bill Koch (Palm Beach, Fla.) and the Titan team posted two good results to put pressure on Dan Meyers (Boston, Mass.) and Numbers boys. Titan, a Reichel-Pugh 72-footer that Koch is chartering for the week, placed third in Race 6 and second in Race 7. Numbers, a Judel/Vrolijk 66, finished fourth in Race 7 and now is just one point ahead of Titan.

It’s a very similar scenario in IRC 1 class, which consists of five 52-footers. Anema & Core, a JV 52 skippered by Ennio Staffini of Annapolis, Md., reeled off four straight bullets to take charge. However, Canadian skipper Richard Oland has kept pace with the Southern Cross 52 Vela Veloce and is just two points astern of the leader. “We have beaten Anema & Core a couple times this week so we know it can be done,” said Oland, who registered first place finishes in Races 1 and 7. “We are sailing smart and the boat is going quite well so we feel confident we can win the regatta. It will be important to get good starts tomorrow.”

There was a three-way tie for first place in the RC44 class after yesterday’s initial race. Russell Coutts and the Oracle crew got the gun in Race 6 to briefly take the lead. However, the standings shook out a bit after Race 7 with Team Aqua using a second place result to retake the lead by one point over Mascalzone Latino (Vincenzo Onorato, Italy).

“It’s been a very competitive regatta and all the top boats have gone through some ups and downs,” said Chicago resident Don Wilson, helmsman for Team Aqua. “It’s almost like we’re back to the beginning of the regatta because the points are so tight. It will probably come down to the last leg of the last race.”

Blu Moon, skippered by Franco Rossini of Switzerland, took over the lead in Melges 24 class after dropping a ninth sustained in Race 3. Helmsman Flavio Favini steered Blu Moon to results of fourth and second yesterday and the two-time Key West champions enter today with a seven-point lead over UKA UKA Racing, which was forced to drop a 10th endured in Race 7.

“Blu Moon is clearly the fastest boat here and something really bad would have to happen in order for them not to win,” said Jonathan McKee, tactician aboard UKA UKA Racing. “We’re more looking behind us than ahead. We have some boats breathing down our necks and will need to work hard to hold our position.”

McKee was specifically referring to Hedgehog, skippered by class newcomer Alec Cutler of Bermuda. Veteran pro Andy Horton is calling tactics for Cutler, who has won two races and counts all single-digit results. Hedgehog holds third, just two points behind UKA UKA.

Two of the most impressive performances at Key West 2011 have come in PHRF. Gerry Taylor and his team aboard the Annapolis-based Cape Fear 38 Tangent have been remarkably consistent, winning five races and placing second in the other two in totaling a low score of nine points in PHRF 2. You Bad Girl, skippered by Key West local Steve Burns, has been even better – reeling off six straight bullets before finally settling for a second in Race 7.

“Why are we going so well? It’s because we have a team of experienced sailors who are very familiar with the boat,” Burns said. “We know how to set the boat up for each day’s conditions and have the ability to change gears when necessary.”