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A runaway victory of 31 points clear in a fleet of 72 boats in the International Melges 24 World Championship in Florida made Conor Clarke of Dun Laoghaire’s Royal Irish YC the Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Month” for November. With a crew of all the talents led by Clarke, Embarr’s exceptional performance off the wind was the outstanding feature of a very complete campaign.

As a result of an amazing Championship, with all placements of the series – apart from one – within the fifth position of the ranking, the Royal Irish Yacht Club team of Embarr IRL829 (2-75/DNS) has been crowned at the 2016 Melges 24 World Championship.

The crew has shown an extreme solidity and constancy all through the races, fascinating everybody for its asset and conduction of the boat in the downwind legs, that allowed them to take out amazing recoveries also when the starts hadn't been so good. important it is to have a closely knit crew to succeed in events of such an importance: "It's not jus"We work physically very hard downwind, hiking as if we were sailing upwind and this gives a great help to us, especially when you have wavy conditions as it has been during this World Championship - declared the owner of Embarr, Conor Clarke, who went on explaining how to about the technicalities: of course we have good sailors on board, our Olympians are amazing, but it also about attitude and knowledge of the surroundings. We've been in Miami for a while trying to understand the local conditions and benefit at the most from them. We've worked hard and our dream has come true", Clarke concluded. On board of Embarr together with the owner have sailed David Hughes, Stuart McNay, Maurice O'Connell and Aoife English.

With a gap of 31 points, Maidollis 3 ITA822 (5-15) by Gian Luca Perego, that was having on board the couple of former Melges 24 World Champions in 2012 Fracassoli-Fonda at helm and tactic respectively plus Giovanni Ferrari and Stefano Lagi, ensured the second position in the overall ranking, with a total score of 69 points. Third place went to Brian Porter's Full Throttle USA849 (8-2) with Andy Burdick, Sam Rodgers and Matt Woodworth in the crew, that managed to surpass Monsoon USA851 (3-7) that had the same overall score but worse partial results.

Disappointment filled in for Bora Gulari's Air Force One/West Marine Rigging USA820 (1-75/DNF) that, after having won the first race of the day, was still in place even for the second place on the podium, but got a BDF in the last regatta of the series, in this way slipping to the fifth position overall. It could have been a better World Championship also for Chris Rast's EFG SUI684 (13-8), World Champion in 2015 and European Championship in 2016, who didn't though manage to show all its potentialities and closed the event with an overall 13th place.

The Italian team Taki 4 ITA778 (1-7) secured its victory in the Corinthian division, exactly as it has been for Embarr, after the eleventh race of the series, disputed this morning in conditions of moderate and shifty breeze that forced the Race Committee to interrupt the race a few minutes after the start.
The crew of Marco Zammarchi kept working hard after the third place obtained in the Europeans of Hyeres and sailed very good races all through the World Championship, showing an amazing ability to adapt to the different sailing conditions of these days. On board of Taki 4 were sailing together with the owner: Giacomo Fossati, Matteo De Chiara, Niccolò Bertola and Giovanni Bannetta, with the support of Niccolò Bianchi as coach.

Only during the twelfth and last race of the series it has been possible to determine the rest of the podium of the Corinthian division: second place eventually went to Tõnu Tõniste's Lenny EST790 (5-6) with Toomas Tõniste, Kalev Tanner, Maiki Saaring and Andres Rohtla in the crew, World Champion in 2015 and European vice-champion in 2016, while third place went to Megan Ratliff's Decorum USA805 (2-11). This last crew by Megan Ratliff was also awarded as best female-skippered boat of the event and in this crew were sailing Megan's brother Hunter Ratliff, Zachary Hernandez , Alex Simon and Christopher Stocke.

The event found its conclusion with the prize giving ceremony that took place in the Jungle Island Plaza, at the attendance of many crews. After a few days of rest, the organizing machine will be activated again, already thinking about the 2017 Worlds of Helsinki. In the meantime, it has been announced that the 2018 edition of the Melges 24 World Championship will be held in Canada: there are very positive future perspectives for a class that seems to have found its rebirth.

Overall Results Top 5 of 74; 12 races, 1 discard)
1. IRL829 Embarr - Conor Clarke/Stuart McNay
2. ITA822 Maidollis 3 - Gian Luca Perego/Carlo Fracassoli
3. USA849 Throttle - Brian Porter
4. USA851 Monsoon - Bruce Ayres
5. USA820 West Marine Rigging - Bora Gulari

Overall Results (Top 5 of 37; 12 races 1 discard)
1. ITA778 - Taki 4 - Marco Zammarchi
2. EST790 - Lenny - Tõnu Tõniste
3. USA805 - Megan Ratliff - Decorum - Megan Ratliff
4. AUS812 - ACCRU - G. Nixon / K. Nixon
5. NED827 . Team Kesbeke/SIKA/Gill - Ronald Veraar

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Trickier conditions with a light breeze from 040° that filled in only in the afternoon, forced the Race Committee to raise AP flag until 2.50pm, moment when the fleet was eventually given the preparatory signal and allowed to sail the first and only race of the day.

Embarr IRL829, for the first time since the beginning of the Championship, got out of the top five and ended the race in fifteenth position: the result obtained today has been discarded as worst of the series and still left Embarr in first position in the overall ranking, with a margin of 30 points over the second, Maidollis 3 ITA822, tenth in the race of today. With just two races left to sail and a 15 as worst result to be discarded, the path towards success for the Irish entry by Conor Clarke seems, as far as today, the smoother ever; the Irish owner, though, doesn't want to celebrate too much in advance: "Everything can happen - he declared - there are still two races to sail and we will be in the water competing with the same concentration as if those of tomorrow were the first races of the series".

The fight for the rest of the podium, moreover, is still completely open: Maidollis 3 by Gianluca Perego and Air Force 1/West Marine Rigging USA820 by Bora Gulari are in play for the second and third place: the Italian boat is currently second with 51 points, discarding a 13, while the American is now third with 52 points and discarding a 26. Fourth and fifth place are respectively occupied by Brian Porter's Full Throttle USA849 (2) and Bruce Ayres' Monsoon USA851 (9), both having a total of 65 points and discarding a 20.

Leader of the day was the European vice-champion Bombarda ITA841 (1) by Andrea Pozzi, that eventually scored the first bullet of the series "We found a good rhythm today and the crew is happy for how we brought on the whole race. The start was good and allowed us to reach the first upwind mark in first position, then we managed to maintain the speed also downwind, even if the fight with Full Throttle, Air Force 1/West Marine Rigging and Slingshot has been tough," declared the tactician of Bombarda, Giulio Desiderato, then passing the word to the owner, Andrea Pozzi: "Today it has been like a dream for us: we obtained a good second place in the Europeans in Hyeres, but here we have some of the greatest sailors of the World so being able to put the bow in front of theirs is a great achievement for our crew," - declared Pozzi when back on the dock, and he proceeded: "The venue is amazing and Miami's race course is always demanding, for the wind and the oceanic conditions. The team is very united and we are enjoying each moment of this Championship: regardless what the final result will be, our main aim for tomorrow is to have fun".

In the Corinthian division the battle is, if possible, even harder than in the overall ranking: the leader is still Marco Zammarchi's Taki 4 ITA778 (2), 19 points and a 4 as discard. Second and third place belong respectively to Megan Ratliff's Decorum USA805 (3) and Tõnu Tõniste's Lenny EST790 (4): both crews currently have 24 points, the first discarding a 22, the second discarding a 6. The fourth of the ranking, Glenda and Kevin Nixon's Accru AUS812 (8) would have to recover a great gap of disadvantage, 24 points to be precise, in order to reach the leaders and try to strive for the podium.

There are all the prerequisites to have a great show tomorrow in the water, for the last day of the 2016 Melges 24 World Championship. Preparatory signal is intended at 10.30 am and two races should be sailed. The prize giving is scheduled for the afternoon, in the Plaza of Jungle Island.

Corinthian Division (Top 5 of 37; 10 races, 1 discard)
1. Taki 4, Marco Zammarchi , ITA - [4] -3 -4 -2 -2 -1 -2 -2 -1 -2 ; 19
2. Decorum, Megan Ratliff , USA - 1 -1 -[22] -1 -6 -2 -4 -4 -2 -3 ; 24
3. Lenny, Tõnu Tõniste , EST - 2 -4 -2 -[6] -1 -5 -1 -1 -4 -4 ; 24
4. ACCRU, G. Nixon / K. Nixon , AUS - 3 -5 -3 -[12] -4 -3 -3 -10 -9 -8 ; 48
5. Team Kesbeke/SIKA/Gill, Ronald Veraar , NED - 6 -2 -1 -[38] -3 -18 -10 -8 -3 -5 ; 56

Overall Results (Top 5 of 74; 10 races 1 discard)
1. Embarr, Conor Clarke , IRL - 2 -1 -1 -3 -4 -5 -2 -1 -2 -[15] ; 21
2. Maidollis 3, Gian Luca Perego , ITA - 3 -5 -3 -9 -6 -2 -[13] -3 -10 -10 ; 51
3. West Marine Rigging, Bora Gulari , USA - 1 -2 -2 -16 -5 -[26] -12 -10 -1 -3 ; 52
4. Full Throttle, Brian Porter , USA - 9 -15 -18 -6 -1 -1 -7 -6 -[20] -2 ; 65
5. Monsoon, Bruce Ayres , USA - 10 -4 -13 -7 -3 -[20] -10 -4 -5 -9 ; 65

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#keywestraceweek – Irish skipper Conor Clarke and his crew on Embarr continue to increase their lead in Melges 24 class at at Quantum Key West Race Week 2015. Stuart McNay and Dave Hughes, who are mounting an Olympic campaign together, are serving as helmsman and tactician aboard Embarr, which won Wednesday's lone race and now counts four bullets.

Very light and shifty today. We were wisely postponed ashore by the Race Committee for an hour and some breeze was filling in by the time we got to the race area. We started conservatively (after our OCS yesterday) and had to find a lane off the start then try to pick our way through the fleet. We made it to the first mark in second behind Chris Rast on Zingara. Chris is an 3 times Olympian and is just back from an amazing 7th at the Moth Worlds in Australia. These guys are very sharp and we had our work cut out trying to get past them.

We didn't quite manage it on the downwind leg though we both seemed to stretch a little from the rest of the fleet. Zingara took the right gate downwind and we took thee left, not sure who rounded first but they were better positioned out of the left gate heading back upwind.

The left gate wasn't favoured but we feelt we had to not engage with them and fight for the right one which was closer to them. We chased them out to the left of the course and then decided to tack back and try to outdrag them for speed to the next mark. Luck went our way and as we went up the track we found that we were actually starting to almost lay the mark with a slight left shift and some good pointing ability. As we tacked onto starboard they had to duck us before tacking and we rounded first.

Great tactical calls on the next downwind and great depth and speed thanks to Prof on kite trimming and calling the weight around the boat. Only one race today as the committee ran out of time due to the late start and light and difficult conditions. Another first leaves us in a really good position but tomorrow is set to be much windier and Friday windier again. Lets hope we can keep the same performance in the different conditions. Updates here again tomorrow,

Based off early morning forecasts, it appeared a lay day might be in the cards for competitors. Some sailors might have already been making plays to play tennis or go fishing during an hour-long dockside delay.

However, organisers with Premiere Racing saw a small pocket of sailable conditions and sent the fleet out to the three race courses. Division 1 completed two races while Divisions 2 and 3 both got in one to keep the regatta moving along.

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Ireland's Embarr racing at Quantum Key West. Photo: Tim Wilkes

"We actually had pretty good pressure coming off the northerly beach," said Scott Nixon, tactician aboard the J/111 My Sharona. "It was about seven to eight knots from the northwest and we had a decent race."

Ken Legler, principal race officer on Division 1, had a building breeze on his course and decided to hold a second race on Wednesday. It proved a wise decision as the wind piped up later in the afternoon.

"We saw seven to 10 knots in the last race today, which was kind of surprising," said Alec Cutler, skipper of the Melges 32 Hedgehog.

Dave Brennan, principal race officer on Division 2, said the decision to send the boats out on the water came after organizers received live on-water reports from boats that had been sent out to determine exactly what conditions were.

"We were cautious because the forecast was not very promising," said Brennan. "We had boats out on the water and were watching the progress very carefully. We felt there was a good chance the breeze would stick and that we could give the sailors a race."

Brennan said conditions on his course, which includes the Melges 24 and J/70 classes, were perfectly fine for Race 5. However, the breeze steadily died and dipped below five knots, which is the threshold Brennan believes is necessary to start a race.

"We got in one good race on a day we didn't think we would have any so that's a plus," he said. "This regatta has always been about quality over quantity and we didn't think a second race today would be very good so we decided not to get greedy."

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First prize yesterday!

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Some of the best racing of the regatta has come in IRC 2, which includes the five boats competing in the High Performance Rule sub-class. Tonnerre 4, a Ker 51 that owner Peter Vroon is racing for the first time here in Key West, continues to lead IRC 2 after posting a third and a sixth on Wednesday. However, Tonnerre is winning a tiebreaker with the Ker 43 Otra Vez, which also has 19 points.

Skipper William Coates steered Otra Vez to a second and a fourth erase a three-point deficit to Tonnerre 4 and earn Mount Gay Rum Boat of the Day honors. True (Kernan 47, Leo van den Thillart) and Spookie (Carkeek 40, Steve Benjamin) have also sailed well and are trail the leaders by just four and six points, respectively.

"We've been having some wonderful racing out there with both classes. There are a lot of good boats on the course," Benjamin said. "I, for one, like that we are being dual-scored. I think it shows that both systems are working."

Tonnerre 4 is winning the HPR sub-class with a low score of 15 points, just one better than Otra Vez and Spookie. Benjamin, who helped develop the HPR rule, said conditions make a big impact on the results as all the boats perform differently in various wind ranges.

There are three Swan 42-footers in IRC 2 and those boats also comprise a sub-class. Impetuous, owned by Paul Zabetakis, is tied with John Halbert and his team on Vitesse. All five boats in the Melges 32 class have proven to be well-sailed and things are tight after three days with skipper Alec Cutler and his crew on Hedgehog leading the father-son tandem of Dalton and Doug DeVos by two and three points, respectively. Dalton DeVos is skippering Delta, which is currently in second place by one point over his father on Volpe.

"We have a small fleet, but everyone is either a world champ or a national champ or the College Sailor of the Year," said Cutler, the latter title being held by Argo skipper and Yale All-American Graham Landy. "I don't think there has been more than 30 seconds between the first and last boats in any race so far."

Canadian professional Richard Clarke is calling tactics for Cutler, the defending Key West champ who has not finished lower than third in any of the six races. "We've gone from first to third a couple times and we've gone from fifth to third a couple times. It's real easy to gain or lose in a hurry. Today, it all came down to who was able to get into that little vein of wind."

Jud Smith remained the leader in J/70 class for the second straight day, sailing Africa to sixth on Wednesday and adding two points to his advantage over Bennet Greenwald and Perseverance. Trey Sheehan steered Hooligan to third on Wednesday and is now tied with Perseverance on points.

"Everybody is working together very nicely and the boat is moving real well," said Michael Sheehan, who is crewing for his brother. "We were saying on the way back into the dock that we are not going to change anything. We are just going to keep doing what we've been doing."

Brad Boston is tactician on Hooligan, which has a home port of Put-in-Bay, Ohio and a team comprised of close friends who grew up together in the greater Cleveland area. Hooligan is part of the Flat Stanley Racing program, which also includes a Melges 32.

"We've been able to get off the line clean and we haven't taken any flyers," Michael Sheehan said. "Brad is really sharp about looking up the course and seeing what we've got coming."

Skipper Iris Vogel and her team on Deviation along with skipper George Gamble and his crew aboard My Sharona have been leaders of the J/88 and J/111 one-design classes at the end of each day's racing.

Veteran Quantum professional Kerry Klingler is calling tactics for Vogel, who has finished first in three races and second in the two others. This is the first one-design regatta for any of the J/88s competing here in Key West and Vogel said she's somewhat surprised to be the pace-setter.

"We've only being doing PHRF racing so we really don't know how we good we were," Vogel said. "It's exciting to be here competing against other J/88s and finally finding out if we're fast or slow."

Nixon, an Annapolis-based Quantum professional, said the My Sharona team put in a lot of time practicing prior to the regatta and that effort is paying off. "We've been pretty fast in all conditions," he said.

Rob Ruhlman, skipper of second place Spaceman Spiff, has been impressed with My Sharona's ability to accelerate off the start line. "My Sharona is killing it off the line. Today they got out there with clean air and just launched on the whole fleet. We have to do a better job of starting if we want to have any chance of beating them," Ruhlman said.

Tangent has been the dominant boat in PHRF 1, which is somewhat surprising since the Cape Fear 38 is a heavy displacement boat that doesn't normally perform well in light air. However, skipper Gerry Taylor and tactician Chuck O'Malley have handled the conditions well.

"I give all the credit to Chuck and the crew. They are accustomed to sailing in light wind on the Chesapeake Bay and that experience has helped us here so far this week," Taylor said. "We're very happy to be in this position and are looking forward to Thursday and Friday when the wind is supposed to be about 15 knots or more, which is right in our sweet spot."

Single digit winds are also not the preference of sailors aboard the GC 32 catamarans, which need a bit more breeze in order to foil upwind. Skipper Jason Carroll and the Argo team have been the most consistent of the four entries, winning three races and placing second in two others.

"I just think we have a little bit more time in the boat than the other three teams," Carroll said. "The light air has been a bit of a game-changer, but the boats are still fast and fun even in the conditions we've had so far."

Skipper Alex Jackson kept Leenabarca ashore on Wednesday because of damage to a carbon-fiber sprit. Repairs were made and that GC 32 will be back on the course Thursday when the wind should be ideal for the high-tech cats.

 

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#keywestraceweek – Irish skipper Conor Clarke and his team aboard Embarr continue to set the pace in Melges 24 class off Key West, which has attracted 13 entries. Clarke stayed hot with a third bullet to begin Tuesday before cooling off and finishing seventh in Race 4.

"The core group of this team has been together a while now and is excellent," said Clarke, who placed third and fifth at the Melges 24 World Championship. "We made good tactical calls today and had an ability to change modes."

Clarke, who hails from Dublin, is competing off the Conch Republic for the first time. "This has been a bucket list item for me personally. I've always wished I could do this regatta. To win in Key West would be a great accomplishment."

Party Girl, sailed by Jens Altern Wathne of Norway, won the day in Melges 24 class with a fifth and a second - earning the Lewmar Boat of the Day Award. Jorgen Altern Wathne is calling tactics for his brother.

Clarke recalls yesterday's events here: 'ok, so things didn't go entirely our way today. First race was good, we started really well bang on the line with pace and got to the top mark first a bit ahead of one of the Norwegian boats. They made some gains downwind though and arrived at the leeward gate right behind us. It was really light and we struggled for pace out of the mark and they beat us for the next leg to the top mark rounding just ahead of us. Great tactical calls from Huzie and pace from Stu and the team saw us split from them and pip them at the line to get our third win in a row.
Big delays in light breeze between races but finally the breeze seemed to settle and we were given a start sequence. there was some carnage at the start line and we were called back for being over at the start. Disaster. we were now clawing our way back into the pack and trying to pick our way through the fleet and on the second lap seemed to settle into a fast mode which saw us pass quite a few. There was a leading bunch though and we hadn't caught up enough by the end of lap 2 so we finished in a disappointing 7th. Still leading overall though and hopefully we can return to winning form tomorrow'

During 28 years of running a regatta off Key West, Premiere Racing has a remarkable record of getting in a complete series. Because of the consistent conditions off the Conch Republic, there have been very few lost race days.

However, that does not mean that race committee officials compromise quality just to give the competitors some action. Fair and equitable racing is the hallmark of this event and organizers always make sure to adhere to that tradition.

Tuesday at Quantum Key West 2015 brought dicey conditions that forced principal race officers make numerous tough decisions. There were some delays, a few false starts and even one abandonment, but by the time the day was over all three divisions had completed two races in shifty winds that ranged from 5 to 7 knots.

"We got two decent races and that's pretty remarkable considering what the race committee had to deal with," said Bennet Greenwald, skipper of the J/70 Perseverance. "Those guys were really on top of things. They did a very, very professional job."

J/70, largest class in the regatta with 54 boats, is sailing on the Division 2 course that is managed by Dave Brennan. A veteran principal race officer and Key West stalwart, Brennan was forced to delay several times in order to start races in stable winds.

"The breeze was very dodgy and moving through at 50 degrees so the trick was picking the right radial to kick the race off," Brennan said. "We want the sailors to have a reasonably square line. Prior to Race 4, we had to postpone three times to reset the line."

Brennan got the Melges 24 fleet started with a heading of 150 degrees and by the time he went into sequence for the J/70 fleet the wind had shifted to 180. He credited an experienced team of race committee volunteers for reacting quickly with regard to moving upwind marks and posting flags.

"We made the racing as good as we could. Actually, we were very fortunate that it was quite good," Brennan said.

Division 1 PRO Ken Legler was forced to abandon the first race of the day while all the boats were on the course while Division 3 PRO Wayne Bretsch had to recall the J/111 class back to the starting area after a significant shift made the course unfair.

Veteran sailmaker Jud Smith was the daily winner in J/70 class, placing second in Race 3 then getting the gun in Race 4. That moved the Marblehead (Mass.) resident to the top of the standings with a low score of 30 points, just one ahead of the aforementioned Greenwald.

"We got out to the course early and had a nice tune-up session with another boat, which allowed us to get accustomed to the conditions," Smith said. "I would have been happy with two Top 10 finishes on a day like this so I'm ecstatic to get a first and a second. We were fortunate to be in the right spots and I thought the team did a good job of changing gears." continued

Smith, who is head of Doyle One-Design, has his daughter Lindsay on the boat along with Marc Gauthier and Will Felder. The former Rolex Yachtsman of the Year says the entire crew participates in tactics and strategy.

Bermuda skipper Alec Cutler steered Hedgehog to victory in Race 3 and a third place finish in Race 4 to extend his lead in Melges 32 class to three points.

Legler kept the four classes on Division 1 out a bit later in the afternoon in order to complete a second race. Minneapolis skipper Hap Fauth steered Bella Mente to victory in both races and now leads IRC 1 by four points over fellow 72-foot mini maxi Shockwave.

"It was a very tricky day, but our crew was very strong and managed to find the right gears," Fauth said. "We got great starts and just managed to keep the boat moving."

Dutch owner-driver Peter Vroon and his team aboard Tonnere 4 enjoyed a terrific day, posting a first and second to take over the lead in IRC 1. Kevin George is serving as tactician aboard Tonnere, a Ker 51, is doing its first regatta under Vroon's ownership and the crew has gotten up to speed quite quickly.

"We are using this regatta as a trial run for our season campaign," said Vroon, who will be heading to Antiqua and St. Barth's after Key West. "We are spending this week learning how to sail the boat. Of course, we came a long way to race here so it would be nice to win while we are at it."

Vroon, who resides in The Netherlands city of Breskens, is a two-time winner in Key West. Tonnere 4 now also leads the High Performance Rule sub-class after also posting a first and second under that scoring system on Tuesday.

After winning both races on Tuesday, New York skipper Iris Vogel tacked on a couple seconds on Tuesday to remain atop the standings in J/88 class. There is a new leader in the J/111 class after Florida skipper George Gamble (Pensacola) posted a pair of bullets on Tuesday.

Quantum Sail Design Group pro Scott Nixon is calling tactics for Gamble on My Sharona, which holds a four-point lead over Spaceman Spiff (Rob Ruhlman, Cleveland, Ohio).

"We got great starts and did not miss a wind shift all day," Gamble said. "The racing is amazingly tight. We won today's second race by about a boat length."

British skipper Joe Woods remained the leader in both PHRF 1 and the Farr 280 sub-class. Woods has steered Red to a solid score line of 1-1-2-2 so far and his low score of six is half as many as Decision, another Farr 280 skippered by Stephen Murray of New Orleans.

Tangent, a Cape Fear 38 owned by Gerry Taylor of Annapolis, is another boat that has led at the end of each day's racing. Chesapeake Sails professional Chuck O'Malley is tactician on Tangent, which has won three of four races and also counts a second.

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#keywestraceweek – Top American race fixture, Key West Race Week, starts this morning with Ireland's Melges 24 sportsboat, Embarr, the sole Irish entry this year, a different scenario from a year ago when Ireland's victorious Commodore's Cup team used it as a work–up regatta

Embarr hasn't raced since finishing fifth in the World Championships in San Francisco in October 2013.

There's a couple of changes to the line–up on board.

Mirthe Kramer joins from a match racing background in Holland and also Stuart McNay who sails with Dave Hughes (tactician) in a 470 in the US Olympic team. Huzie and Stu finished 3rd in the 470 in the ISAF Grand Final in Abu Dhabi recently and 2nd in Copa Brasil de Vela in November. The trajectory suggests Gold in Key West, maybe? As ever, Conor Clarke is back along with Maurice O'Connell trimming.

The team has just spent two days practicing in 18–knots in sparkling clear waters. The water is about 28 degrees and the air is 18-24 degrees.

Practice has gone very well in the past two days but it really needs to as most of the team haven't sailed together before and even the Embarr veterans haven't sailed with each other in over a year.

Embarr has in the past suffered from handling errors and lack of preparation time.

Key West has been a flurry of activity for the last four days as sailors swarmed into town for the annual race week that is being held here for the 28th year. Quantum Key West 2015, which begins today on the aqua waters off the southernmost point of the United States, has attracted 115 boats in 10 classes and competitors have been busily preparing and practicing.

Curious tourists looked on with interest as crew members loaded huge sail bags onto the mini maxis that are berthed at the docks in front of the Hyatt. Bella Mente and Shockwave are powerful 72-foot racing machines that require a crew of 18 professionals to race. They will square off in IRC 1 along with Numbers, a 66-footer that returns to the regatta for the first time in several years.

Minneapolis skipper Hap Fauth and his team on Bella Mente will be seeking to repeat as class champs. Veteran pro Terry Hutchinson, who was just named Rolex Yachtsman of the Year for the second time in his illustrious career, joins the team as tactician and is one of many new crew members on Bella Mente.

Hutchinson has helped owners to victory in the Farr 40 and TP52 class at this regatta, but this will be his first time racing a maxi off Key West. He will rely heavily on the recommendations of navigator Ian Moore as Bella Mente draws 17 ½ feet.

"It's going to be different because there are certain areas of the race course that we cannot go," Hutchinson said. "That affects your decision-making as a tactician. Half the challenge is to not run aground."

Shockwave is hoping to avoid the difficulties that prevented it from finishing one race and competing in two others a year ago. Skipper George Sakalleris shook his head when recounting the mishaps, which began with hooking a lobster pot on the way out to the race course. Paul Cayard, a member of the National Sailing Hall of Fame, is the new tactician aboard Shockwave.

"That's one of the wonderful things about having this program, it gives you an opportunity to race with some great sailors," said Sakalleris, a resident of Framingham, Mass. "Paul Cayard is certainly one of the best and we are very happy to have him aboard."

Numbers was a regular competitor in Key West for many years under owner Dan Meyers, who steered the boat to victory a few times. Work commitments have prevented Meyers from participating the last few years, but he has chartered his boat to Gunther Buerman for Quantum Key West 2015.

Buerman is grateful to have also gotten many members of the old Numbers crew, including renowned tactician Brad Butterworth. The four-time America's Cup winner knows the boat extremely well and was eager to get her sailing again.

Sakalleris said Shockwave and Bella Mente cannot afford to get into any match racing battles and forget about the smaller boat. "There might be situations when (Numbers) can hurt either one of this. If we pick a fight with each other, she could sail right past us."

Premiere Racing volunteers working the crane at Truman Annex are busier than usual this year as the four high-tech catamarans in the GC 32 class are dry-sailing, meaning they are hauled out of the water at the end of each day's racing.

These are foiling catamarans capable of doing 30-40 knots in the right conditions. One mistake could lead to a catastrophic capsize and testament to the danger of racing in the GC 32 class is the fact the sailors wear helmets.

"The level of stability is so much lower from what you have in a keelboat. You have to make fine adjustments in everything you do in order to keep the boat under control," said Jason Carroll, skipper of Argo. "Whenever you're going that that fast there is a chance you can hurt yourself if something goes wrong. We're still learning this boat so there is a chance we could stick the nose in the water."

Most of the boats competing in Quantum Key West are berthed at Historic Seaport, either at The Galleon docks or Conch Harbor. Walking the long and winding floating piers at The Galleon is like going to a boat show as the slips are filled with Melges 24s, J/111s, Swan 42s and such sleek designs as a Ker 43, Mills 43 and J/125.

Those latter three are among 11 boats competing in IRC 2 with the Swan 42s and High Performance Rule entries also being scored separately as a sub-class. Spookie, a Carkeek 40 sailed by the husband-wife team of Steve and Heidi Benjamin is defending champs in HPR. They will be challenged this year by two newcomers - Tonnerre 4 and True.

Skipper Peter Vroon recently took possession of the Ker 51 previously known as Varnua, which he said had a solid track record. The Netherlands resident said he wanted a slightly larger platform than Tonnerre de Breskens, which he successfully campaigned the previous six years.

True is a Kernan 47 that that is farly new to skipper Leo van den Thillart of Newport, R.I. This will be the first round-the-buoys regatta for van den Thillart since modifications were made to the boat, which enjoyed some success under the name of Katana.

"This year is a bit different since we have combined with the IRC fleet. We'll have more varied competition between the two boat types, which I think is good," Benjamin said of the HPR entries.

The Melges 24 class has doubled in size since last year and will feature 13 entries, including six from foreign countries. Michigan skipper Thomas Ritter steered Tramp to second place at Quantum Key West 2014 and admitted it will be tough to repeat that performance with several strong programs joining the fleet this year.

"I think the two Norwegian boats will be very serious competitors. Mikey (Kevin Welch) has historically done well while Steven Boho has been very religious about campaigning The 300," Ritter said. "Of course, there's always a surprise. You get here and think you have the fleet figured out, but as the week develops something completely different happens."

J/70 is the largest class in the regatta with 54 boats and features a who's who of top professionals. This is the third year the popular sport boat has competed in Key West and Tim Healy is the two-time defending champ. The North Sails executive is the clear-cut favorite again after capturing both the J/70 World Championship and North American crown.

"We have another real strong fleet down here this year and I think there are a number of boats that are capable of contending," Healy said. "The class is maturing and people are learning how to sail the boats better."

J/111 and J/88 are new one-design classes in Key West and feature seven and six boats, respectively. Cleveland skipper Rob Ruhlman steered Spaceman Spiff to victory in PHRF 1 class last year and is looking forward to racing exclusively against sister ships.

"Most people would rather race one-design as opposed to PHRF or any other rating system. Coming from a Lightning background, that is certainly my preference," said Ruhlman, who hasn't done enough J/111 racing to handicap the fleet here. "There just hasn't been enough one-design competition in this class to be able to say there is a clear favorite."

PHRF 1 features a pair of hot new designs in the Farr 280 and C&C 30. Those two speedsters will be challenged by more established designs such as a J/122 and Farr 30. Robin Team sailed his J/122 to victory in this class two years ago while finishing second in 2014.

PHRF 2 features another past winner in Tangent, a Cape Fear 38 owned by Gerry Taylor of Annapolis. Taylor missed Key West last year for the first time since 2004 and is thrilled to be back racing off the Conch Republic.

"I've always loved sailing in Key West," Taylor said. "The competition is top-notch, the regatta management is first-class and you can't go wrong with high wind and warm weather."

It doesn't hurt to almost always be in contention as well. Taylor captured class honors in 2011 and 2013 while finishing second several times. That history makes Tangent one of the pre-regatta favorites in PHRF 2 class, which includes such divergent designs as a C&C 121, J/105 and J/80.

"There are some different boats in the class than we have seen in the past so it will be interesting to see how we match up," Taylor said.

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#melges – Disappointing and fractious first day of racing in San Francisco, we were OCS (over the line at the start meaning we had to go back and re-start) in one race and had a fight with another boat resulting in a protest in another writes Conor Clarke. Light to medium breeze all day today which is very unusual for SF this time of year and we had big wind shifts which we didn't always call well enough.

Out of three races we have two fifths and a second leaving us third overall overnight but we will have to seriously up our game tomorrow if we are to make ground on the two leaders, Hedgehog and Monsoon. Forecast is for similar freakily light winds tomorrow, a shame, we had always expected and we were looking forward to heavy winds and huge downwind blasts.

Anyway, the boat held up better than the crew, Dave is down in the mouth which is completely bizarre for the most positive man in the world, Profs hands are raw and bleeding and Kate is offering reading lessons to Nathan.

We really have to do better tomorrow, our manoeuvres must be slicker and we must make better choices to improve our position, it is very frustrating when the slightest mistake is so severely punished.

Looking forward to redemption tomorrow, watch this space.

 

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#melges – More practice today, not quite as foggy as yesterday and probably a bit more windy. More boats have arrived for the Pacific Coast Championships so the Hedgehog and Embarr teams (new bff’s) had some new people lining up with us today. We’re happy with our new jib and the rig settings we have been working on, also the new white PZR reacher kite is working well in these conditions so all in all we’re happy with the set up. We always find that once we are racing seriously things look different though so let’s see what tomorrow brings. We had some looseness appear in the rudder today, we repaired it this evening but it always makes us nervous because rudder issues cost us dear in Corpus Christi and we raced a day with the rudder held together with some spare spectra. That was the old boat though, I hope this new one is ok.
 
I mentioned yesterday that we can get emotional on board sometimes… well today, while planing downwind in 22 knots or so, our back office team had a slight disagreement over control of the main sheet. The GoPro caught it all and Kate found it edited it and put it on YouTube for your entertainment (above)… 
 
One of the boats who was out with us practicing today, Mikey, lost a couple of people out the back in a hairy jibe, there are some great pics of the incident taken by Anna Cutler here…   no-one was hurt and all crew were recovered safely.
 
Racing starts in earnest tomorrow. 3 races in heavy breeze will be tough going.

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#melges24 – Irish Melges 24 skipper Conor Clarke admits it has been a tough few days  for the sole Irish boat at the Melges 24 North Aemrican championships in San Francisco.

A really difficult day on SF bay today in so many ways. Our starts were poor, we even had to tack and duck the fleet in the last race because we were not laying the pin, we had two incidents at top marks, the Swiss got pinged by the jury for one of them, we overlaid a downwind mark and had to claw back with the kite, we seemed to forget how to gybe and some other basics of sailing. A very gloomy day all round.

The good news is we have held on to second place and we are now only 5 points off the Aussies leading instead of the 6 points we were behind yesterday evening.

We started well with a 2nd behind the Swiss in the first race after a pretty ragged start and rounding the top mark quite deep in the fleet. We seemed to like this 6 leg race that gave us time to pick our way back. Second race was again a non spectacular start and we clawed back to second again but lost two places in the last run. Third start was disastrous, we could not lay the favoured pin end and wound up reaching across the back of the fleet on port and got pushed out to the right away from where we wanted to be. Top marks were a battlefield especially with short 1.2 mile legs which didn't leave much of a spread in the fleet.

Day two of hiking is harder again than day one, you lose your appetite very quickly and wind up living on Gatorade, painkillers and energy jellies. The mood gets low on board when we're not winning and we do work very hard to recover from our mistakes. We hike harder than any other boat in the fleet (we have been watching closely) and we push ourselves harder downwind we believe. We really could do with more time together as a team on the boat to eliminate the mistakes but the real world intervenes and allows us only a few regattas per year.

Two more races tomorrow hiking and pushing even harder, we want to get past those Aussies so much...

I hope tomorrows final report is more joyful.

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#melges24 – Ireland's only Melges 24 'Embarr' is campaigning in San Francisco bay racing for North American honours. Skipper Conor Clarke reports.

Today was very hard work, hiking these boats is really tough and when it's blowing 25 knots there is no relief downwind when you still have to hike and trim hard.

San Francisco Bay is tricky too with tides and currents part tide borne and part wind borne. We went the wrong side of the course in the first race but we still made it round the top mark second. However some poor handling left us struggling by the time we reached the first leeward mark. We finished 7th in that race, very unhappy with ourselves and some frank discussions took place.

We went the right way in the second race and had a battle with the Aussies all the way. Our helmsman is Nathan Wilmot and his brother Jeremy is calling tactics for The Aussies on Bandit so we are super keen not to allow them get ahead. They won the first race though and now we were battling with them from behind in the second race. It was AUS 1st and IRL 2nd in this one.

In the third race we got to the top well ahead of them and with just one of the US boats in contention with us. We managed to extend our lead after that so that by the finish we were well clear of the fleet. That 1st in the 3rd race left us 2nd place in the Championship overall but a tough 6 points behind the Aussies and only 1 point ahead of the 3rd placed boat.

Two more days to go. The forecast is lighter tomorrow but we're not sure if that will suit us or not but we'll just have to take what is given to us. If we can stay at the front consistently and not screw up as much as we did today then we can still do it.

SF is an amazing place to sail, everywhere you look there is an amazing sight, Golden Gate, Alcatraz, SF skyline and beautiful scenery everywhere. Prof is entertaining us with lewd jokes and tales of goings on in his youth back during the famine, Dave's persistent positiveness has shown a few cracks, Nathan is still the pushiest man on the planet and poor Kate, who is with us for the first time after Shona pulled out blaming pregnancy, seems sometimes overwhelmed by the intensity of the whole scene and some of Profs jokes.

More news tomorrow when we will be trying very hard to wipe out that 6 point deficit.

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#melges24 – Ireland's only Melges, "Embarr "  ( IRL607) is back competing in the USA again. Having finished a disappointing third in Bacardi week in Miami earlier this year the crew led by Dun Laoghaire's Conor Clarke are keen to prove they can do better this week in the North American Championships in San Francisco. Clarke reports:

We've been here since Saturday and been out sailing practicing every day. It's very hard work, the hiking on these boats is a killer and San Francisco is really windy so everything is physical. We haven't sailed together for a few months and that presents some real challenges as we try to get ourselves back together as a team again for the event.

Our helm is Nathan Wilmot and he is completely uncompromising and demands absolute perfection from everyone sailing the boat. It makes for some interesting conversations on board sometimes.

Practice has been tough but we are moving through the water quickly and held our own well today against some of the main competitors in practice. The sailing area is amazing. We can see the Golden Gate and the San Francisco skyline as well as the AC45 boats out every day. We had a close encounter with one on Monday just before sailing under the Golden Gate. Coming back into SF bay under it again this time downwind at 18 knots was a thrill.

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