Hamlin into pole

As Winning goes swimming on day three of the 18ft Skiff International Regatta in San Fran

Wednesday September 2nd 2009, Author: Rich Roberts, Location: United Kingdom
Big rig or small rig? That was the decision some of the players had to make on Day 3 of the eighth annual 18ft Skiff International Regatta hosted by the St. Francis Yacht Club. Others had no choice. They were better off.

That's how Howie Hamlin got the jump on father and son John (Woody) Winning and John Jr. (Herman) to move into first place after 6 of 10 races, three points ahead of the elder Winning and fellow Australian veteran Trevor Barnabas, who won Wednesday's second race as handily as Hamlin won the first.

"I guess the smaller rigs won out," Barnabas said.

Hamlin, 56, is the lone American in contention against an armada of Aussies, most of whom arrived with extra, taller masts in case San Francisco Bay fell short of its perennial promise of big breeze. Hamlin had only his short rig measuring 9.5m compared to 10.38m (31 to 34 feet) for the big one.

"It adds about 20sqft of sail area," Winning said earlier in the Crissy Field boat park was competitors waited for the wind to build, "but you also get a bigger spinnaker."

So, with unofficial forecasts suggesting the wind wouldn't rise above 14 knots without reaching the usual 20 or 25 and then wisp away by 5 o'clock, both Winnings went for it.

"In Sydney we don't change [to small rigs] until it gets over 18 knots," Woody Winning added.

Minutes before launching, Hamlin, who originally inspired the event on this otherwise perfect venue for the high-performance 18ft Skiffs along the normally windy City Front, hosted an informal skippers meeting in the boat park to check the opinions of the fleet. It was agreed that everyone would use whichever mast they preferred. The subject is not addressed in the regatta's Sailing Instructions, but some principals feel it is unofficially agreed that everyone would use the short masts.

Hamlin, who didn't bring a tall rig, had used one only once in seven years of the event.

"And that was a mistake," he said before Wednesday's races. "You could do it and it might work, but you also could get smacked down. But right now I'd say it was a good call [to use a tall mast]."

So what effect would it have? "It means," he said, soberly, "that we'll race and the Winnings will win two races."

Wrong. As Hamlin and Archie Massey sailed away to a 1-2 finish in the first race, Woody Winning's Yandoo finished third and Herman finished sixth.

In the second race, as the son continued to struggle to another sixth, the father fought for the lead with Barnabas until they rounded the second windward mark of the two-lap race in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge and Yandoo suddenly flipped - a climactic punctuation to the story of the day.

"The wind up there was a little fresher than we expected," Winning said, chuckling. "[Crew member] David [Gibson] knocked me around the back of the boat."

Winning said the breeze was only "16 or 17" knots, although rivals estimated Yandoo was blown over by gusts as high as 25. He took the setbacks in good humor, partly because his ninth place following the capsize will be his current throw-out.

And . . .

"It'll be the small rig [Thursday] for the Bridge to Bridge Race," Winning said.

The 7 1/2-mile Bridge to Bridge Race, also featuring kite boarders and windsurfers, will follow the 18s 3pm fleet race from the Golden Gate past the city to the Bay Bridge - which, incidentally, will be closed to vehicle traffic for five days starting Thursday to replace an old section.

Last year Hamlin became the first 18ft Skiff to win the B to B, which pleased him about as much as Wednesday's turn of events.

"We're happy," he said. "Big rigs don't like bearing away in 25 knots [of wind]."

Results: 200918SkiffResultsDay3.pdf

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