18 footers head for San Fran
"This is cool fun," said Seve Jarvin, the young Australian and reigning 18' Skiff world champion by virtue of his victory in the traditional JJ Giltinan regatta at Sydney last February as he and crew Tom Clout and Sam Newton - all age 22 - looked out on San Francisco Bay.
"There is more wind here," Newton understatingly observed.
While half a world away their peers fought for glory in single-digit breeze - as forecast - and unrelenting humidity, the 18s tuned up Monday afternoon in chilly 16-knot winds with gusts to 18, although the Golden Gate Bridge remained shrouded in the puffy white stuff all day long.
There are expected to be 11 boats, also including Howard Hamlin, the Long Beach, CA veteran who has won the last three of these events and four of six overall, and Australia's Grant Rollerson, recent winner of the European championship.
With that level of skill, one had to wonder how the Olympic sailing would look on the Bay - or how the 18s, whose origins reach back to the 19th century, would look as an Olympic class.
"That would be cool, too," Jarvin said.
"It would get more boats in the class and get us on TV," Newton ventured.
On the other hand, a rival here, Matt Searle of the UK, said: "I don’t think that would be a good for the class. It would ruin the fleet." Searle's fear is that going Olympic would put the 18s under the influence of the International Sailing Federation (ISAF).
And another competitor, Dan Brandt of San Francisco, said, "I'm glad we're not [in China] sailing in light air."
But if the Olympic powers are looking for more exciting boats to attract media attention, the 18s would be tough to top. They hit 25 knots in good breeze and sometimes 30 riding a flood tide into the Bay.
Ah, those tides. Hamlin just spent last week finishing second to middle crew Mike Martin in the Pacific Coast 505 skiff championship, so he should be tuned to local conditions. But he also spent time Monday studying the tide tables, which call for an outgoing afternoon ebb flow against the prevailing wind through the Golden Gate the next few days.
But it's not that easy. During the changeover from ebb to flood tide, it can be doing both at once on opposite sides of the bay.
"We just go out and look at the buoys and see what it's doing," Hamlin said. "If it's ebb you go farther out and sail upwind with it---but generally there's more wind [away from] the shore."
Go figure. Whoever figures it out best through 10 races over the next five days will probably win. Racing starts at 1 p.m. PDT, conditions permitting. Competitors may discard their worst scores after four races and another one after 10, which include the annual Ronstan Bridge to Bridge classic late Friday afternoon when the 18s will join the kite boarding and windsurfing crowds for the dash from below the Golden Gate to the Oakland Bay Bridge inside the bay.