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14 May 2007, 11:18 am
ULLMAN the Ultimate Survivor of a Wild West Windup
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Full Power Melges 24 World Championship 2007
Santa Cruz, California, USA

How tough was it on the last day of the 2007 Fullpower Melges 24 World Championship, hosted by the Santa Cruz Yacht Club? So tough, with Monterey Bay cranking up 30 knots of howling chaos, that Dave ULLMAN, the winner, said, 'We weren't racing at the end, just surviving.'
No ALT tag specifiedSo tough that Hank STUART'S race committee announced as the first race of the day was finishing that there wouldn't be a second-a first in the class's 10 world championships.

So tough that 19 of the 58 starters did not finish. One, Corinthian Division winner Othmar MUELLER VON BLUMENCRON of Great Falls, Va., lost half of his mast but finished with what was left of his rig.

Four or five other dismastings, a few blown-out spinnakers, one man overboard (recovered by another boat)-those were the prices paid for sailing when the wind hits Force 7, with gusts to 35 (gale-Force 8) and five-foot seas form stair-steps up 10-foot swells.

That's what greeted the fleet when it cruised out to the race course shortly before noon, and from then it got really nasty.

STUART set a 2.0-nautical mile, two-lap course at 260 degrees and turned the fleet loose. As usual the westerly breeze was stronger at the top of the course than the bottom, but with all its power there were bewildering soft patches here and there.

ULLMAN, a 61-year-old icon of American sailing from Orange County in Southern California, sailed Pegasus 505 with a crew of tactician Bill HARDESTY, Brent RUHNE, Andy ESTCOURT and Shana PHELAN. They started the day two points ahead of Brian Porter's Full Throttle team from Winnetka, Ill. and were trailing their most serious rival early on the last leg downwind when . . . let HARDESTY tell it:

'We saw [Full Throttle] capsize, took down the spinnaker and went into survival mode. We didn't have to worry about anything but finishing.'

They finished fourth behind, in order, Gabrio ZANDONA on Italy's Joe Fly, Italy's defending world champion, Nicola CELON, and France's Francois BRENAC, followed by John POLLARD of the UK and Team Barbarian's Jamie LEA.

PORTER recovered to finish 20th, his first double-digit finish of the week.

Almost as an afterthought, Joe Fly won the wild west affair, logging a string of single-digit finishes through the last seven races-including wins in three of the last four-after stumbling with two early starts on Day One.

HARDESTY said that the four Team Pegasus boats had practiced in similar conditions on several days preceding the regatta, 'thinking that we'd never race in that stuff.'

ULLMAN said, '[But] we always knew it could happen. It was always on our minds.'

In fact, ULLMAN kept predicting stronger winds day by day until his prophecy came true. Then on the fateful final leg they trailed Full Throttle and two other boats that were knocked down simultaneously by the same gust that hadn't yet reached them.

'That gave us an indicator of what was coming,' ULLMAN said.

HARDESTY said, 'I didn't think we were going to survive, but when you have to do it . . . the spirit on the boat was an attitude of never giving up, [that] 'We can catch those guys.' '

Attrition twisted fortunes several times. The elite of the fleet suffered almost as much calamity as the rest. Two boats besides Full Throttle fell victim to the conditions while leading-first, Team Barbarians when they broached early on the first downwind leg after rounding the windward mark in front, and later CELON when his spinnaker blew apart on the last leg, before Full Throttle's misfortune.

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Andrea RACCHELLI (03) of Italy tries to control
his boat and fight off John PINK (08) of the UK
at the same time.
© Rich ROBERTS

'I am very happy for the winner,' CELON said. 'I think to be in the top five is nothing to be upset about.'

Others taking knockdowns included Chris LARSON, 2003 winner Shark KAHN and the 1-2 Corinthians, Von BLUMENCRON and Bruce AYRES. All had memorable moments.

Paul BENNETT, Goose n' Duck helmsman and the USMCA Northwest District Governor: 'We broke a headstay. This gust came down the course and we heard this 'POP,' then a little bang. The rig dropped back a little. I got a little nervous. From there we just hooked up the spinnaker halyard, then opened up a beer.'

Awesome!

Chris DOUBEK, All or None helmsman: 'It was awesome! We had a great time. I think it was blowing thirty-something. We buried it a couple of times. We had one round-up, we put the jib up, backwinded it, dropped the kite down a bit, then got going again. We were flying. It was awesome! Awesome day! Loved it!'

Matt YORK, Gill helmsman: 'It was great upwind. Really fantastic. Coming downwind we were doing 17, 18, just shy of 19 knots. Screaming downwind, having a great time. Third upwind leg, near the top of the mark and our jib halyard broke. Snapped right in half. A big 'BOOM.' We were lucky the rig didn't come down. The halyard got caught in the mast, dropped all the sails. [We] put the halyard around the pole to hold the mast up, put the motor on and limped in. It was a real shame as we were about seventh at that time. It was a good decision on the race committee not to hold the second race.'

At 13 on nearby San Francisco Bay, Team Pegasus teammate Samuel (Shark) KAHN was the youngest skipper to win the Melges 24 Worlds, and now, at 61, ULLMAN is the oldest person. But he rejected any notions of becoming a role model for the Baby Boomer generation of post-World War II.

'I don't think about it,' he said. 'I give credit to the other people on the boat. They were terrific. I have the easy job.'

The four Team Pegasus boats placed well-ULLMAN on top, Mark CHRISTENSEN seventh, Shark 11th and his dad Philippe KAHN, the event title sponsor, 17th.

Later this summer Philippe KAHN, creator of the camera phone and CEO of Fullpower Technologies, will team up with his son's tactician, Richard CLARKE, for a doublehanded effort on an Open 50 in the Transpacific Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu in July. Kahn, sailing fully crewed Pegasus entries, won Transpac's 'Barn Door' with the fastest elapsed times in 2001 and 2003 and was the first Transpac 52 to finish in 2005.

'After tacking and jibing on each other at the Melges 24 Worlds, we're going to share our sleep depravation,' KAHN said.

Rich Roberts (As Amended by ISAF). Image, The winning Pegasus 505 team of (front) Dave ULLMAN and Shana PHELAN and (rear) Andy ESTCOURT, Bill HARDESTY and Brent RUHNE. :© Rich Roberts
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