15 October 2003 – Harry Melges showed blistering speed on day three at the Audi Melges 24 World Championships in San Francisco to take two further bullets. Although very happy with his result Melges by no means had it all his own way and today’s racing was fast, furious, and incredibly close. Melges’ nearest rival for the Championship, fourteen-year-old Shark Kahn, kept up an incredibly consistent performance posting a third and second leaving him trailing by just five points after six of the ten scheduled races.
Conditions on the Berkley Circle were the most testing so far with a shifting wind which built from 12 to 20 knots as the day wore on. The start of race five was initially delayed as a front went through and the wind flipped back and forward through 20+ degrees. After a general recall the fleet got going with some individual recalls at the second try. The right-hand end of the line was favored with the main players opting for the right of center up the first beat.
Britain’s Jamie Lea, helming Richard Thompson’s Black Seal Team, troubled the front of the fleet for the first time this week rounding just ahead of Melges, Argyle Campbell, Don Jesberg, Stuart Rix, helming Team Gill for Simon & Quentin Strauss, Shark Kahn and Dave Ullman. The front of the fleet was incredibly closely packed and with the flood tide pushing them away from the mark a number of boats found themselves having to take a second go at it or doing turns for infringements as they barged their way in.
As the leaders took off down the run Melges was the first to gybe away whilst Lea held on starboard into the corner. At the leeward mark, Melges was ahead by a whisker and took the left mark whilst Lea went for the right. Jesberg slotted in third ahead of Phillipe Ligot’s P&P Racing, being helmed today by Le Defi America’s Cup mainsail trimmer Sebastian Col, who had swapped places with Morgan Reeser. Shark Kahn was fifth and Rob Greenhalgh sixth. Col and Greenhalgh had sailed impressive runs to move up from eighth and ninth respectively.
The wind had gone left forcing the committee to relay the weather mark for the second beat. Harry Melges had great speed and opened up his lead to 40 seconds by the end of the leg. Shark and Lea were neck and neck with Shark just getting the advantage as they rounded. Jesberg led the rest of the pack off down the run followed by Col, Ullman, Tom Freytag and Rix. Although Melges was out on his own Shark, Jesberg, Lea and Ligot grouped up and were changing places constantly down the run. At the leeward mark, Lea just got in front of Jesberg from Shark and Col with all four boats rounding overlapped.
On the final beat, the leading pack went hard right and the spectators were on the edges of their seats to see who would wind up second. At the line, it was Col who followed Melges in head of Shark, Lea and Jesberg. Sheldon Ecklund had moved up to sixth with Brian Porter seventh.
The unstable breeze meant a long wait for race six by which time the tide had turned and the chop was building. The wind had settled at 18 to 20 knots from 205 degrees and the fleet got away first time with a few recalls. Again the smart money seemed to like the right and this time it was Col who led at the first mark from Melges. Behind them, Shark Kahn was just able to sail over Argyle Campbell to take third with Lea fifth and Greenhalgh sixth. As they took off down the run Melges and Shark gybed early and split from the fleet but at the leeward mark the top five places remained the same whilst Philippe Kahn pulled into sixth in front of Olivier Ponthieu and Greenhalgh.
On the second beat, Melges just sailed right past Col who could do nothing but watch him go by. Shark held onto his third place as Greenhalgh made a couple of smart moves to take fourth from Lea, Campbell, Freytag, and Philippe Kahn. On the second run Shark was the only boat to gybe off and gained as a result. Col had a minor broach half and was down losing several seconds. At the leeward mark it was Melges by 25 seconds from Shark. Behind them, Col, Greenhalgh, Lea and Campbell rounded together and set up for a thrilling dog fight to the finish. Melges crossed the line 20 seconds ahead of Shark with Col eventually pipping Greenhalgh for third with Lea fifth.
With six races completed the discard now comes into play and whilst the top four positions haven’t changed there is now a significant points gap between Harry Melges (6 points), Shark Kahn (11 points) and the rest of the fleet. Third-placed Luca Santella, helming Giovani Maspero’s Joe Fly Team, scored a somewhat lacklustre 13, 9 today leaving him on 32 points while Brian Porter’s 7, 10 gives him 36 points and fourth overall. Rob Greenhalgh moved up from seventh to fifth (39 points), P&P went from sixteenth to sixth (49 points), Dave Ullman dropped a place to seventh (51 points) and Jamie Lea came up from eighteen to equal eighth with Philippe Kahn (53 points). Stuart Rix came from fifteenth to tenth (58 points).
With four more races to go it’s still wide open between Harry Melges and Shark Kahn and third to fifth are only separated by seven points so we can expect plenty more fun out of this championship.