After an opening day of extremely shifty air in some of the lowest ranges seen all week, this year's Audi-Yachting Race Week at Key West,Fla., became a challenging series.

The 110-boat, eight-class fleet sailed in breezes that seldom fell below 15 knots and often settledin at 20 or better.

The popular 5-year-old annual event, in which racing began on Jan. 14 and concluded Jan. 18, included competition for two IMS classes,four PHRF classes and two one-design divisions making up the J/44 and J/35 Midwinter Championships. More than a dozen boats with strong ties to county waters took part in Race Week in Key West this year.

Competition for one of the two top overall prizes, the Yachting Chelsea Clock Award for best overall performance, was tight, with three teams with scores including four bullets and a second in contention.

One of them, headed by Michigan sailor Ken Meade on his J/44 Renegade, earned the Audi Quattro Award for largest finish time margin for the week between itself and the second-place boat. The Chelsea Clock went to Virginia sailors John Matney and Clyde Stacey and their team on Lonia, a stock Beneteau First 41S with a luxurious (and heavy) mahogany and marble full cruising interior, with Beneteau's Lex Raas at the helm, first in the 19-boat PHRF Division F.

Lonia's win also has ties to this area, because sails for the boat have been developed and built by the Annapolis Doyle-Allan loft, and tactician for the effort was sailmaker Trip Fellabom, who recently left the Annapolis loft to help establish a branch in Charleston, S.C.

Although Lonia never was first over the finish line in her class, and faced tough competition from teams -- including international champions Jim Brady andJack Slattery -- her team's performance on corrected time was impressive, with margins of victory in her four aced races of between about30 seconds and two minutes.

Finishing second in the same class was Penn Alexander's Annapolis-based team on his Express 37 Once Upon ATime, with Annapolitan Brady at the helm and crew, including fellow North Chesapeake sailmaker Rob Pennington, winner of Thursday's race by a margin of about 2 minutes over Lonia.

Also making a strong showing in this class were Michael Hartung and his team on his Beneteau 39 Thunder, in fourth overall; and Robert Crompton and team on his Swan 391 Full Cry, in fifth.

In the 20-boat PHRF Division G, with the least consistent race-by-race results among the top five competitors of any class, three locally known boats competed.

Mack Latz and his team on his Express 34, The Knife, with Annapolis Doyle-Allan sailmaker Pete McChesney at the helm, had an otherwise excellent week that could have given them first in the class except for a port-starboard confrontation with another boat in Thursday's race. That left them with a 20 percent penalty on top of a 13th-place finish in that race, and third place overall.

The other two local boats in this class, Donald Zinn's family team's Heritage One-Tonner Goldfish, and Paul Awalt's custom Nelson-Marek-designed Century 30 Frog Legs, were 13th and 14th, respectively, overall.

Another fourth in class, this time in the J/35 Midwinters, went to the Annapolis team of Henry Judy,Jim Michie and Jeff Todd on Outrageous, losing third to the Connecticut team on Merlin by a single point.

"The guys who won, on Celerity, deserved to win it," Michie said. "They sailed really well and didn't make any mistakes. And Regardless, who was second, sailed reallywell in the heavy air, had really good control of the boat. On the whole, we learned a whole bunch about '35 sailing generally and about the boat itself, and we beat each one of the top three boats at leastonce. Our objective when we went down there was to finish in the topfive, and we achieved that goal, so we're happy."

The Outrageous team was third overall going into Friday's final race, but, Michie said, "We and the Merlin guys couldn't afford to make any mistakes thatday, but we made a mistake, and the guys on Merlin didn't. If you made a mistake, it cost you two or three places immediately and it was real hard to dig your way back up. But on the whole we had good tactics, excellent driving, and our crew work was real good. We only had one gear failure, when we had a halyard part."

Michie, who has sailed in each of the five Audi-Yachting Race Weeks at Key West, praised the regatta's organizers and race management. "Audi-Yachting does an excellent job," he said. "It's one of the best regattas I've ever been to. They've just got it down, with great hospitality and excellent race management."

Also fourth in their class were Dave Dodge and team on his Tripp 36 Privateer, sailing in the 16-boat IMS Division D.Privateer was the smallest boat in this class, which also included two new Tripp 40s, three new J/39s and the Texas-based team of Don Genitempo, Alan Finger and Tony Smythe on their custom Reichel-Pugh 42 Lobo, which was last year's big overall winner in Key West.

Privateer fought back from two sevenths in the first two races, and came in behind Hood sailmaker Tim Woodhouse and New Jersey sailor Arthur Conway on their Tripp 40s in first and third, and the Lobo team in second, but six points ahead of the first of the J/39s, Rayzor's Edge, whose team included designer Rod Johnstone and international champion KenRead, in fifth.

In the same class, Bill Steitz and team on his Baltic 43 Dancer were 14th overall, but were third among the "furniture," or heavy cruising, boats in the class.

In the other IMS class, the six-boat Division A, Jack King's Frers 62 Merrythought finished adisappointing fifth after a first-race disqualification and had to drop out of the third race when a crewman was injured severely enough to require 22 stitches. Her other finishes were less bleak, however,including a fourth and two thirds.

Nancy Noyes is a member of theChesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association and has been racing on the bay for about five years. Her Sailing column appears every Wednesday and Sunday in The Anne Arundel County Sun.

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