17 October 2003 – Fourteen-year-old Samuel “Shark” Kahn sailed into the record books today becoming the youngest person ever to win a Melges 24 World title and probably the youngest open international class world champion as well.
Today’s final race proved to be a real nail-biter. Firstly the sea breeze was late arriving putting John Craig’s Race Committee under pressure to get a race in before the 2 pm cut-off. By 1.30 pm there was just enough wind from 295 degrees and after two recalls they started on the third attempt with just minutes to spare.
On all three starts Kahn and second-placed Harry Melges, helming for Jeff Ecklund, were match-racing for position. Although he got the better of the deal in the first two Melges was bested by Kahn on the third. At the weather mark, Kahn was fifth behind Sebastien Col, helming P&P for Phillipe Ligot, John Bertrand, Argyle Campbell and Dietrich Scheder. Melges eventually rounded fourteenth and took the only choice open by breaking away from the fleet. With the sea breeze building and backing like crazy it was a step that didn’t pay and by the leeward mark he was in sixteenth. Despite a fair bit of place changing Kahn had held fifth behind Col, Olivier Ponthiu, Campbell and Brian Porter.
By now the wind had backed 65 degrees putting the second weather mark at 230. Again Melges broke away from the fleet hoping for a miracle but only gained a single place, meanwhile, Campbell had a lousy beat and Kahn moved up into fourth. On the final run, the leading four of Col, Ponthiu, Porter and Kahn began to open out from the pack and again Melges broke away but ended up back in sixteenth as a result. At the leeward mark, Ponthiu opted for the right whilst the rest went left giving Kahn his opportunity to pull up into third. Melges too went right but it was a desperate measure that dropped him right down to 21st, his worst result of the regatta
Kahn seems a little bemused by his success and the enormity of his achievement but is keen to pay tribute to his crew of Team Captain Mark “Crusty” Christensen, Tactician Richard Clarke, Spinnaker/Jib trimmer Brian Hutchinson and Bow Brian Lee, Shark’s 20-year-old cousin who is also his 29er crew. “I’m kind of overwhelmed and really don’t know what to think at the moment. I really didn’t expect this. My crew were fantastic and on the starts today it was Mark Christensen who really helped me get the better start.” commented Kahn after racing. Asked about the future he confirmed, “I’ve got some more 29er sailing coming up and I’m going to be doing the 505 Worlds and the Melges Nationals which are both in Santa Cruz and long term I’m aiming to do a 49er Olympic campaign.”
Kahn had the advantage of sailing with three of the World’s top professional sailors, but in a fleet of this caliber, which includes more Olympic, America’s Cup, one-design, Volvo, and big-boat champions than you can shake the proverbial stick at, this alone is not enough. Since making his Melges 24 helming debut at Key West Race Week 2003 Kahn has spent more than 60 days out on the water learning his craft in the Melges 24, many of them on San Francisco Bay. He’s also campaigning a 29er with his 20-year-old cousin Brian Lee, the fifth member of his Melges 24 crew, adding still further to the time he puts in on the water. Alongside Shark’s personal development, he also has the full support of his father – a big advantage when your father is Philippe Kahn, the software mogul, and you get access to all the facilities of his mighty Pegasus yacht racing organization.
A disappointed Harry Melges was graceful in defeat – “Shark and his boys did an awesome job and really deserved the title, but I’m beginning to feel a little old! It’s been a great regatta and San Francisco and the St Francis Yacht Club have given us near-perfect conditions and racing.”
In the overall standings Kahn took the regatta by nine points from Melges with Brian Porter third, Luca Santella with Giovani Maspero’s Joe Fly team fourth, and Sebastian Col and Phillipe Ligot’s P&P fifth. The winner of the Corinthian World Championship title, for the first amateur crew, and sixth overall was Egidio Babbi.