KEY LARGO, Fla., Dec. 14, 2005 – Two Italian sailing teams are leading the 99-boat fleet after four intense days of racing in the 2005 Corum Melges 24 World Championship at Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo.

A mostly professional crew of international sailors led by Australian America's Cup skipper James Spithill has claimed the number one position with two days of competition remaining. A largely amateur crew, sailing together for the first time and led by pro skipper Gabriele Benussi, is clinging to second place overall, just one point off the pace.

Conditions inside the reef off the northern end of Key Largo were ideal with a sunny sky, and slight chop stirred by a brisk ten-knot easterly breeze

Spithill, who now steers the Italian America's Cup contender Luna Rossa for Genoa's Yacht Club d'Italiano, is sailing with American brothers Jonathan and Charlie McKee, from Seattle, Washington. Both McKees are double Olympic sailing medalists. A fourth crew member is Manuel Modena, a 49er sailor from Italy's Lake Garda. All four sailors are part of the Italian challenge and not surprisingly they have named their chartered boat Luna Rossa.

The "secret weapon" aboard Luna Rossa is their fifth man – 11-year-old Mac Agnese, an Optimist sailor from Ft. Lauderdale, drafted because he is a light, nimble and knowledgeable sailor who brings their crew weight up to the maximum allowed 750 pounds. The crew first sailed together in Key West last winter when they took a second place in the Melges 24 Class.

"Mac's a great little kid," said Spithill, who is only 14 years older than his youngest crew man. "He trims the traveler that controls the position of the mainsail and is an extra hand to speed up all of our maneuvers. He's just as committed and as involved as the rest of us. I think we're learning more from him than he's learning from us."

Agnese's tutors certainly have the experience. Spithill skippered his first America's Cup challenge for his native Australia at the tender age of 19. The McKee brothers, Jonathan, 43, and Charlie, 45, are on their third America's Cup challenge, delight in the challenge of campaigning the notoriously skittish Sydney 18-foot skiffs, and share four Olympic medals between them. Jonathan won his gold medal in the Flying Dutchman class in 1984, while Charlie took a bronze in 470 dinghies in '88. They sailed their 49er to a third place bronze in Sydney in 2000, and won the 49er World Championship one year later.

The second place boat, Marrachech Express, steered by professional sailor Gabriele Benussi and crewed by a group of amateur sailors from Trieste, continued its strong performance today but dropped to second place after Spithill, who took two first-to-finish guns yesterday, ran away from the fleet for a comfortable victory in the last race today.

Benussi has won a total of nine Italian Championships, two European Championships and three Worlds. He was third in the J/24 Worlds in 2003 and has featured prominently in a number of ocean racing campaigns in IMS boats.

Results after eight races (with one dropped race), with skipper, boat, home, places and points:

1. James Spithill, Luna Rossa, Genoa, Italy, 5-12-(25)-7-1-1-8-1, 35 points;
2. Gabriele Benussi, Marrachech Express, Trieste, Italy, (35)-1-3-2-4-9-7-10, 36;
3. David Ullman, Pegasus505, Newport Beach, Calif., 6-(41)-7-1-5-3-28-11, 61;
4. Morgan Reeser, Mfatic, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., 2-8-1-17-(20)-8-11-16, 63;
5. Brian Porter, Full Throttle, Winnetka, Ill., 26-2-11-4-7-18-(47)-3, 63;
6. Shark Kahn, Pegasus 492, San Francisco, Calif., 19-3-4-(48)-30-6-5-9, 76;
7. Gabrio Zandona, Joe Fly, Como, Italy, 11-(35)-22-5-3-5-32-2, 80;
8. François Brenac, Partner & Partners, La Rochelle, France, 22-14-18-3-11-11-(59)-19, 98;
9. Nicola Celon, Ale Ali, Verona, Italy, 1-22-16-15-29-10-9-(66), 102.
10. John Bertrand, Fusion M, Annapolis, Maryland, 9-15-(46)-22-22-4-36-5, 113.


- Keith Taylor

Corum, the luxury Swiss watchmaker, is an independent, family-owned company producing high-quality hand-finished Swiss timepieces since 1955. For more than two decades Corum has supported sailing events around the world, including the Admiral’s Cup in Britain as an event sponsor and as a team sponsor.

In the 12 years since it was introduced, the Melges 24 has become the world’s leading high performance, one-design sportboat and has held ISAF International Keelboat Class status since 1997. It offers exciting, demanding, exceptionally competitive sailing and attracts top professional and amateur sailors from the around the globe. Over 630 boats are now sailing and an additional 30 new boats are built and delivered each year.

The website for the 2005 Corum Melges 24 World Championship at Ocean Reef Club is More information about Corum Swiss timepieces is available at The web address for Ocean Reef Club is Registration and Sailing Instructions sponsored by Solution Property Group and Protector Boats. Photographs courtesy of Tim Wilkes at



Corum Melges 24 Worlds Press Office at Ocean Reef Club
Tel +1 305 367 2611 – Ext 7675

Corum Melges 24 Worlds Press Chair Class
Joy Dunigan
+1 (912) 398-5776

International Melges 24
Fiona Brown
+44 (7711) 718-470

Corum Melges 24 Worlds Press Officer
Keith Taylor
+1 (410) 753-2489

Corum USA
Knych Keller
+1 (949) 788-6220

Corum Melges 24 Worlds Official Photographer
Tim Wilkes
+1 (585) 423-1966