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Aussie 18s: It's No Game for Kids

September 1 - San Francisco

Patrick Whitmarsh's Sunrise team crosses Howie Hamlin's West Marine.

The third annual 18 Skiff International Regatta on San Francisco Bay continues through Friday. Rich Roberts reports: John Winning has been racing what may be the world's most temperamental sailboat for 29 years, or since before some of his rivals were born. He won the class's Giltinan classic - unofficially, the world title - in 2000 and, at 52, is still ranked second in the world.

The Australian veteran has learned that the little things count, as they did yesterday (Tuesday) when he and his crew of Euan McNicol and Jack Young sailed Computer Associates to a sweep of both races in front of the host St. Francis Yacht Club.

John Winning (right) with crew Euan McNicol and Jack Young won both races Tuesday.

That left them one point behind countryman Trevor Barnabas and six up on third-place Californian Howie Hamlin - who, incidentally, admit to 52 and 51 birthdays, respectively - with four of nine races sailed in the competition scheduled through Friday. Clearly, it's not a young man's class.

Howie Hamlin's West Marine (left) and John Winning's Computer Associates (right) lead the way out of the start as Dana Jones' Emery Worldwide tacks behind.

Everyone dealt with tricky tides and puffy wind of 15 knots blowing through the wind tunnel known as the Golden Gate, but Winning credited a small gear change for the way they breezed wire to wire in both three-lap races around a mile-long windward-leeward course. "We were short on [mast] raking yesterday [Monday]," he said, referring to his opening day pair of thirds. "We were set up for more wind."

The tides on his home waters of Sydney Harbour run about 1 knot, while those on San Francisco Bay not only are as strong as 4 knots in either direction but, as Winning said, "In the section we sail it's going in different directions at the same time."

Barnabas, with son Trent and Robert Greuter on Omega Smeg, noted that puffs also were a factor. "There's some big gains and losses out there [depending on whether] you tack in breeze or no breeze," he said.

The 18s go so fast - often faster than the wind - that all variable factors are magnified into dramatic switches in position. Hamlin followed Monday's pair of seconds with a sixth and a fourth Tuesday but insisted it wasn't because of losing veteran forward crew Rod Howell with a knee injury in Monday's second race. Hamlin scrambled to replace him with Trevor Bozina, a 20-year-old member of the St. Francis junior program who had sailed but never raced on an 18. Mike Martin remained in the middle on West Marine.

"Trevor wasn't holding us back," Hamlin said. "He did a great job. The only problem is that we're lighter now. He's 40 pounds less than Rod. That's okay in light wind but not if it blows." There are no weight limits, maximum or minimum, on the 18s.

Dalton Bergan's Vodka Cruiser team (crew Jeff Nelson and Kevin Richards) is in full recovery mode as Howie Hamlin sails past.

For more information see www.stfyc.com and www.18footers.com.

Alcatraz was not a mark of the course but a familiar sight along the way.

Sailors were careful not to disturb sunbathers as they hauled their 18 skiffs down to the water.
Photos Rich Roberts

End of the Ironman Challenge?

September 1 - San Francisco Bay Area

Friends Kathy Wheatley, who successfully completed the Ironman Challenge in 2003, and Lisa Le Faive (Ironwoman, 2002) were thinking about doing the Challenge again this upcoming Labor Day Weekend. The first two legs of the event - the Windjammers on Friday and the Jazz Cup on Saturday - are still intact, but the third leg suddenly disappeared a few days ago when St. Francis YC pulled the plug on their Labor Day Regatta (ex-NOOD) due to lack of participation (only nine boats had signed up). Given this altered scenario, Kathy and Lisa were wondering if the Ironman was history or if we had cooked up some new variations on the challenge.

Good question! Should we put the event on hold until the Labor Day Regatta returns? Add two days of pleasure sailing (Sunday, Monday) to the two other races? Abbreviate it to just the two races, but insist on podium finishes in each? "Induct" a new event being held by the Master Mariners at Coyote Point YC? We're stumped, and are open to suggestions - most creative solution wins a T-shirt. Meanwhile, anyone who wants to invent their own challenge for Labor Day Weekend should document their accomplishment and send it to us for consideration. If it's worthy, you'll receive a t-shirt and a write-up in the October issue.

The 64th Windjammers Race, 67 miles from the Cityfront to Santa Cruz, continues to shrink - just 33 boats had signed up as of yesterday. The weather forecast doesn't look particularly promising for breaking Merlin's increasingly mythical 1983 record of 5 hours, 59 minutes, but given even a few hours of wind the two TP-52s - Roger Sturgeon's Rosebud and Mark Jones' Flash - could come close. The match-up is being billed as the 'Battle of the Baylis Brothers', as Trevor is steering Rosebud and Will is steering Flash. Come down to StFYC at 9 a.m. to see which brother wins the start.

The 16th Jazz Cup, co-hosted by South Beach YC and Benicia YC, begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday. Given the demise of the Labor Day Regatta, organizers now expect as many as 150 boats to show up - which would blow the doors off the previous high, 132 boats in 2000. The course length has been upped to 26 miles, an Olympic gesture, and Benicia YC is promising "Athens-like weather" (light, hot and shifty?). The race will occur on a flood, and everyone should finish early enough to enjoy the party, which will feature "some serious jazz music" again this year.

First Charley, Now Frances

September 1 - The Caribbean

They're still cleaning up after Charley, and now another Category 4 hurricane is blowing through the Caribbean toward Florida. Hurricane Frances, with 125-kt winds, is departing the Virgin Islands and on track for the Bahamas, where hurricane warnings are in effect. A tropical storm warning remains in effect for the north coast of the Dominican Republic. For details and to track the storm, see http://weather.unisys.com/hurricane/atlantic/2004/index.html.

'Captain Kirk' reports in from the Virgin Islands: "Live from Hurricane Frances . . . I thought I'd write (while we still have phone and power lines) and let you know that we have Hurricane Frances passing about 80 miles north of St. Thomas right now. We've prepared for the worst but were blessed when the brute jogged a bit north during the past 18 hours. We're presently hunkered down in the lagoon getting thrashed by wind-driven rain. No major damage other than fried nerves! The barometer is slowly rising and every hour brings a bit of relief. I believe the worst is now over."

Photo (of his computer screen) Captain Kirk

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