Neck and neck

Moneypenny and Aera at loggerheads in Acura Miami Race Week

Saturday March 11th 2006, Author: Bill Wagner, Location: United States
Mark Rudiger stared at the scoreboard and shook his head in disbelief. The former round the worlder, now navigator aboard the Swan 601 Moneypenny, was checking the results of IRC 1 class and did a doubletake upon seeing the corrected times for Race 4 of Acura Miami Race Week 2006.

Much to the surprise of sailors from both sides, Moneypenny nipped the Ker 55 Aera by just one second in the morning race off Miami Beach. After 11.9 miles and 1 1/2 hours, a mere second separated the two burgeoning rivals once time allowance was factored. "That sure doesn't happen very often. It's remarkable how evenly matched these two boats are," Rudiger said.

Moneypenny and Aera are continuing a tremendous battle that began at Acura Key West 2006. Aera edged Moneypenny by two points in that nine-race series, but the bigger boat came away with the inaugural U.S. IRC Championship.

"I am very surprised because they are different types of boats with different characteristics," Rudiger said. "We tend to do better on the beats while they are catching us on the runs. We are working very hard on our downwind speed because we know that every second counts."

Owner Jim Swartz has not been aboard Moneypenny so far due to business commitments. He arrives Saturday, but left his Swan 601 in the capable hands of Rudiger, tactician Gary Weisman and helmsman Mike Toppa. That afterguard trio led Moneypenny to victory in both races Friday and the Newport, R.I. entry leads Nick Lykiardopulo's Aera by one point in the overall standings.

Competition is just as close in Farr 40 class, which features 19 fully-professional teams. Robert Hughes and his Heartbreaker team posted a pair of bullets on Friday to vault from seventh to second in the overall standings - one point behind Eivind Astrup and Norwegian Steam.

"It was one of those days when everything went right. We got good starts, the crew hiked real hard and we hit the shifts just right," said Hughes, who owns an employee benefits company in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Hughes credited bowman Mike Hill and tactician Bill Hardesty with helping Heartbreaker nail a perfect pin-end start in Race 5. Heartbreaker led around every mark and won going away, a rarity in the talent-laden fleet.

"In this class, you live for days like this. When we crossed the finish line, I looked back and saw more Olympic medals and America's Cups and Volvos than I could shake a stick at," said Hughes.

Norwegian Steam held the overall lead for a second straight day after fifth and sixth. Astrup and crew sailed both races without instruments after banging masts with another boat. "We are only halfway through the regatta. This is a lot more racing to go. We cannot get too happy just yet," Astrup said.

Mascalzone Latino made a move on Friday, finishing third in both races to take over third in the regatta. The Italian entry, led by owner Vincenzo Onorato and tactician Russell Coutts, got better every day en route to winning at Key West and hopes to do the same here. "I got bad starts, but we made up ground because Russell is a genius and the crew is fantastic," Onorato said.

Among the PHRF classes in Division 3, no boat has performed better than El Ocaso. Skipper Rick Wesslund has steered the San Francisco-based J/120 to four bullets in five starts and holds a comfortable eight-point lead in PHRF 2. "Every morning I tell the crew, 'Welcome to day one of Miami Race Week.' We don't ever think about the standings, we go out with the mindset the score is still 0-0," Wesslund said.

Wesslund pulled a rarity by port-tacking the entire six-boat fleet at the start. Peregrine and Emocean, two other J/120s, stand second and third in the class, which also includes a pair of Beneteau 40.7s and an Aerodyne 38. "These are clearly conditions that favor the J/120s," Wesslund said.

Racing got underway on Biscayne Bay on Friday with the Etchells, Melges 24 and J/24 classes basing out of the Shake-a-leg facility. Jud Smith, a class legend from Marblehead, Mass., flashed his typically tremendous boat speed in taking the early lead in Etchells - largest class at Acura Miami Race Week with 28 boats.

Smith steered Oriental Express to an impresive line of 2-4-1 and earned City of Miami Boat of the Day for his efforts. Mike Craig is doing the foredeck for Smith, who has daughters Lindsay, 17, and Darby, 16, crewing for the first time in a major regatta.
"It's wonderful having a sailor the caliber of Judd out there. He's always so fast, it's a good benchmark for everyone else," said Buddy Cribb, a Miami resident who stands in third place.

A 10-15 knot Bermuda High breeze greeted the 65 boats on Biscayne Bay. Riccardo Simoneschi of Italy put up back-to-back bullets to grab the lead in the 26-entry Melges 24s while Iker Belausteguigoitia of Miami had a solid line of 3-2-1 to move ahead among 10 J/24s.

"It was a beautiful day of racing. This is the perfect time of year for this event. We're sailing in shorts and a t-shirt... it doesn't get any better than that," said Smith.

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