Australians and a 20-year-old local windsurfer were the winners Thursday when the third annual 18 Skiff International Regatta rushed toward a championship showdown with the madcap Bridge to Bridge race.
John WINNING'S Computer Associates team won the three-lap buoy race by 15 seconds over Howie HAMLIN'S West Marine in the early afternoon, then Trevor Barnabas followed Seth Besse's board across the finish line by 38 seconds in the five-nautical-mile run from the Golden Gate to the Oakland Bay span.
The results left Winning---the event's oldest skipper at 52---with a one-point lead over Barnabas, 49 and a five-time JJ Giltinan (world) titlist who has said he is retiring from the class after Friday's ninth and final buoy race.
Hamlin, a two-time Giltinan winner, failed to finish the Bridge race---or, more accurately, really didn't start it. He and crew Mike MARTIN and Rod HOWELL set their spinnaker as the gun fired, then sailed into a deep trough, buried their bow and pitch poled upside down.
Martin said, "It took us 20 minutes to get it back up, and by then the race was over."
The dramatic spill left West Marine four points off the lead, but the way Computer Associates and Omega Smeg have been sailing so consistently this week that might be too much to overcome.
The start, with eight of the 18 Skiffs, 18 windsurfers, 14 kite boards and two 29er skiffs thrashing about in a steep chop just outside the Golden Gate, was a spectacular sight not often seen in sailing.
Barnabas said, "Nothing prepares you for that. We got a good start and set a chute and survived the first 50 meters, which was a big plus."
As they rounded the turn into the south bay, Barnabas said, "John [Winning] was on the shore but he had plenty of wind. We were quite concerned. We were pretty much in the middle."
Grant ROLLERSON'S Fisher & Paykel and Winning's Computer Associates finished within a minute of Omega Smeg in that order, but Besse, a former world youth champion windsurfer, slipped in front of Smeg in the last few hundred yards.
No kite boarders, though breathtaking at the start, managed to finish. When the fleet turned the corner they were left behind in dying breeze and a stiff opposing ebb tide that swept a couple of them onto the beach of Treasure Island, well wide of the finish line.
The forecast for 35-knot winds failed to materialize on a brilliantly sunny day that started with Winning's come-from-behind win over Hamlin in a moderate breeze of 15 knots. Halfway down the second run Hamlin jibed to the left side of the course, leaving the right side open to his Australian rivals.
Winning, sailing with Euan McNicol and Jack YOUNG, said, "When he jibed away we were in a puff so we just kept riding it."
When they crossed near Alcatraz Island, the Aussies were in front, and they held their lead with some tight covering.
"He's a slippery little bugger,"
Winning said. "We couldn't let him go."
Barnabas' red Omega Smeg, with Trent Barnabas and Robert Greuter as crew, had to return after crossing the starting line early but recovered nicely and even led Hamlin at the last windward mark.
The regatta is one of the class's three international events, along with the European International Championship and the JJ Giltinan Trophy Championship, the class's premier event contested annually in Australia since 1938.