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2 September 2004, 09:08 am
Hamlin Ties for First Place
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18 Footers International Regatta
St Francis Yacht Club

Howie HAMLIN (USA), with his world-class crew of Mike MARTIN and Rod HOWELL regrouped, won both races on the wildest day yet yesterday to move into a first-place tie with Australia's John WINNING after six of nine scheduled races.
Their boat West Marine was the only one of the eight that stayed upright all day as 18 to 22 knots of wind, with gusts to 25, blew up a mean chop straight into the face of an ebb tide flowing out the Golden Gate past the host St. Francis Yacht Club.

Hamlin has said of the volatile 18s, "The only stable position is upside down," and everyone else found themselves in that posture at least once---"six or seven times for us," said skipper Fred EATON of Canada 1, the entry from Toronto's Royal Canadian Yacht Club who couldn't wipe the smile off his face.

Flipping like pancakes, only six boats finished the first race and four the second, but only because of gear breakage, not because they were discouraged.

However, the forecast for Thursday for winds up to 35 knots left principal Race Officer John CRAIG considering whether to run the Bridge to Bridge race as scheduled late in the afternoon when the ebb tide is strongest.

The wind opposing the tide creates chop "like speed bumps," Craig said. "The boats keep tripping over themselves."

They'll try to sail the scheduled buoy race at 1 o'clock today, then return to the beach and measure the conditions. The Bridge to Bridge race, five nautical miles from the Golden Gate to the Bay Bridge, could be run on the last day Friday.

Whatever the decision, Eaton, who is sailing with Dan CUNNINGHAM and Rod PATTERSON, will be ready to go. "It was a good day for sailing," he said, "and you're learning all the time. We're upside down a lot but it's a lot of fun. It was a fun day."

At least it was until they broke their mast a hundred yards from the last leeward mark of the second race and were forced to pack it in. Earlier, they had to be towed away on their side from the rock jetty in front of the neighbouring Golden Gate Yacht Club.

Australian Grant ROLLERSON'S Fisher & Paykel had a similar brush with disaster in the same place on an even worse day before the St. Francis rescue boat tossed it a tow line. Crew member Chris CLEARY said, "We were standing on the rocks pushing the boat off."

Their day started badly on the first tacking attempt. Middle crew David CUNNINGHAM, holding the broken main sheet block on shore later, said, "This turned into a cleat. We couldn't release [the main]."

Worse, out of control, they took Trevor BARNABAS' Omega Smeg out with them when the boats locked their 12-foot bowsprits, leaving both dead in the water until Barnabas' son Trent swam out to the end of the sprits to untangle the mess.

Barnabas still managed a pair of fourth places, despite flipping twice and suffering a broken jib track, but dropped to third place overall. "Broke our boat, broke our hearts, broke everything," he said.

Kevin RICHARDS, forward crew on Dalton BERGAN'S Vodka Surprise, showed a one-inch cut alongside his right eye. "Not sure how it happened," he said."Just came out of a tack bleeding."

The hometown entry---Patrick WHITMARSH with Paul ALLEN and Chad FREITAS as crew---didn't escape the flip fate but enjoyed the day more than most with third- and second-place finishes that lifted them into fourth place, 10 points off the lead. "Those guys were great," Hamlin said. "They sail 60 or 70 days a year here."

Everyone discarded his worst finish after the fifth race.

Hamlin had to sail Tuesday without Howell, his veteran bowman who twisted his left knee Monday. After giving up his spot for a day to St. Francis junior sailor Trevor BOZINA, 20, Howell limped back into place. Martin said, "The knee still hurt, but I think it was more painful for him to watch."

The switch back gave West Marine 40 extra pounds of ballast, plus Howell's experience in sailing as crew on more JJ Giltinan (world) Championship boats than anybody. "You could see the difference with that extra weight," Hamlin said. "Plus, Rod's one of the best [crew] there is. We needed it all today."

The regatta is one of the class's three international events, along with the International Championship in Europe and the JJ Giltinan Trophy Championship, the class's premier event contested annually in Australia since 1938.

Rich Roberts (As Amended by ISAF)
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