Keeping it upright

Victory by a point for Howie Hamlin at the 18ft Skiff International Regatta

Saturday September 5th 2009, Author: Rich Roberts, Location: United Kingdom
In some sailboat racing circles it's traditional to dunk the winners, but at the eighth annual 18ft Skiff International Regatta hosted by the St. Francis Yacht Club the winners were the only ones who didn't get dunked.

Howie Hamlin, 56, of Long Beach, Calif. and his crew of Paul Allen, 34, and Matt Noble, 23, won it the hard way Friday by coming from behind in the 10th and last race to finish one point ahead of Australia's John (Woody) Winning. But mostly they did it by keeping their Harken-sponsored skiff right-side-up as everyone - everyone - else around them was doing tumbling acts in the toughest conditions of the five-day event.

When it's blowing a solid 20 to 25 knots with gusts to 28, as it was Friday, sailing an 18 is a high-wire act in a hurricane, and capsizing is part of the game. But Hamlin's team remained the only one of 13 that never flipped, certainly a factor in achieving his fifth win in this regatta.

Hamlin came into the day with a one-point lead, but Winning had two advantages: an edge in the tiebreaker by having won more races, plus a one-point edge on the second discard that would take effect after the ninth race.

So Hamlin almost needed to win both races because Winning likely wouldn't be far behind in either. Hamlin's was the first boat on the course, checking currents as well as wind directions, and he led by 30 seconds at the first mark near the Golden Gate Bridge, with Winning third.

For awhile Hamlin appeared to be running away, but Winning was flying away from everyone else into second place, and as the fleet approached the leeward mark Hamlin's lead vanished.

"They got a puff behind us and sagged down underneath us," Hamlin said. "There was really nothing we could do."

He slipped to third and soon regained second, but all he could do was to chase Yandoo around for the next two laps, cutting a one-minute gap to a final 20 seconds as Winning covered him tenaciously, putting the Australian one point ahead.

Now Hamlin needed not only to beat Winning in the last race but put one boat between them. But at that point there weren't many boats left. Only seven started, and only three of those finished: Hamlin, Trevor Barnabas and Winning, in that order.

On shore Hamlin said, "I've got to go over and thank Trevor," which he did.

Otherwise, all he could do was sail his own race as most of the others flipped out of contention. Finally, Winning lost it while bearing away as he set his blue spinnaker after the last windward mark. "We were quicker than him downhill," he said, "but [the wind] was probably just too fresh for us. It was a couple of sensational rides."

"That's why we do it," Hamlin said. "It's always tough here . . . the ultimate in skiff sailing. You wake up in the morning stoked, like going to war."

"Like turning on a switch," Allen said.

Noble said, "The fact that we went through the whole week without flipping is incredible."
On the final downwind run before finishing upwind that was on their minds all the way. With all of their competition then far behind, Allen over trimmed the spinnaker to slow down and maximize stability.

So how does one avoid flipping an 18ft Skiff when the wind gods crank up the steam? "Mostly hard work," Hamlin said. "Any one of us could make it flip by doing the wrong thing. I've been doing it 12 years, and these guys grew up [in San Francisco] sailing in big breeze. They don't freak out, and we have good coordination and choreography and confidence in one another."

Complete final results
(10 races; two discards)

1. Harken, Howard Hamlin/Paul Allen/Matt Noble, Long Beach, Calif., (5)-1-3-2-1-3-2-(4)-2-1, 15 points.
2. Yandoo, John Winning/David Gibson/Andrew Day, Australia, 1-3-(5)-1-3-(9)-3-1-1-3, 16.
3. Appliancesonline, Herman Winning/Tim Austin/David Ewings, Australia, 4-2-1-(6)-6-6-1-2-3-(DNF), 25.
4. 24hrRoadService, Trevor Barnabas/Aaron Links/Daniel Phillips, Australia, 3-(6)-2-3-4-1-5-5-(8)-2, 26.
5. Macquarie Group, Micah Lane/Jack Macartney/Peter Harris, Australia, 6-7-8-4-5-2-4-3-4-(DNF)-4-(DNF), 35.
6. Asko/Gill, Archie Massey/Simon Noarne/Dan Wilsdon, Australia, 2-5-10-7-2-11-6-(DNF)-5-(DNF), 48.
7. Skiff Foundation Blue, David Rasmussen/John Gray/Dan Morris, San Francisco, 10-9-7-10-9-8-(DNF)-5-6-, 64.
8. Slam, Grant Rollerson/Fang Warren/Ris Cleary, Australia, 8-4-4-5-(DNF)-5-(DNF)-DNF-DNF, 68.
9. Spot Satellite/Toyota Messenger, Dan Brandt/Cooper Dressler/Danny Cayard, San Francisco, 7-8-6-11-11-(DNF)-(DNF)-DNF-9-DNF, 80.
10. Panasonic Viera, John Whitty/Dan Higlett/Harry Bethwaite, Australia, (DNF)-10-(DNF)-8-10-4-7-DNF-DNF-DNF-7-DNF, 84.
11. Skiff Foundation Red, Ty Reed/Dan Malpas/JV Gilmour, San Francisco, (DNF)-(DNF)-9-DNF-8-10-8-DNF, 77.
12. Harken Blue, Joey Pasquali/Rory Giffen/Kevin Richards, Santa Cruz, Calif., 9-(DNF)-(DNF)-9-7-7-DNF-6-DNF-DNF, 88.
13. Skiff Foundation White, Chad Freitas/Mark Breen, San Francisco, 11-11-(DNF)-(DNF)-DNF-DNF-DNF-DNF-DNF-DNF, 106.

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