Photos: Rich Roberts

Unmanagable conditions

18ft skiffs go atoppling in San Francisco

Wednesday August 25th 2010, Author: Rich Roberts, Location: United States

Competitors in the ninth annual 18ft Skiff International Regatta gathered around John Craig on Crissy Field early Wednesday afternoon as the St. Francis Yacht Club race manager offered fair warning before they launched their swift but unstable craft into the meaner elements of San Francisco Bay.

"Get ready to get wet," he said.

That wasn't the half of it. Before the day was over the 18s' seventh race of the week would be cut short as boats flipped over like in a slapstick film, and then the ensuing Bridge to Bridge Race from the Golden Gate to the Oakland Bay suffered similar catastrophe.

Australia's Michael Coxon, New Zealand's Alex Vallings and Australia's Herman Winning swept the first three places over all of the kite boards and windsurfers, with Herman's father Woody fifth. But only one other 18 finished and two sailors were injured - Maersk Line skipper Graham Catley with a severely cut lower left leg and Chad Freitas, leader of the bay's Skiff Sailing Foundation, with possibly broken ribs.

Freitas' skipper, Paul Galvez, said, "Something happened and he went flying forward. At that point we were done."

The race's defending champion, Howard Hamlin from Long Beach a few hundred miles south, didn't even get beyond the Golden Gate before toppling seconds after the start - his second flip of the day.

A few minutes before they all left the beach Matt Noble, a local resident who crews for Hamlin, spoke about the hazards of the bay.

"My only worry is down by Alcatraz," Noble said, noting the westerly breeze that would blow as hard as 29 knots while opposing a 3.5-knot ebb tide. "It has a working undertow effect, especially with the ebb tide. That's usually the hardest part of the race. The waves back up in there."

Noble was a prophet. Within the hour, one by one, each of the lead boats - first Coxon, then Hamlin and Herman and Woody Winning - would fall victim to Noble's words of warning until six boats lay flipped flat simultaneously near the notorious former island prison.

No cons are known to have safely escaped from Alcatraz, and neither did any of the 18 skiffs in this particular race.

Before it got any worse, Craig fired the cannon to abandon the effort.

The day ended with Coxon and Herman Winning each with 11 points but Coxon owning the tiebreaker with four first places in seven races. There was no immediate decision on whether there would be an attempt to complete the 10-race schedule with three today.

Whatever is decided, the bay may get its way. The forecast for Thursday was for a steep drop in temperature, which usually means big winds.

Current leaders
(14 boats; after 7 of 10 races; discards after 5 and 9 races)

1. Thurlow Fisher Lawyers, Michael Coxon/Aaron Links/Trevor Barnabas, Australia, (8)-3-1-1-1-4-1, 11 points.
2. Appliances Online, Herman Winning/Peter Harris/Euan McNicol, Australia, 1-1-2-2-(7)-2-3, 11.
3. Yandoo, John (Woody) Winning/David Gibson/Andrew Hay, Australia, 3-2-3-(5)-2-3-4, 17.
4. CST Composites, Howard Hamlin/Matt Noble/Fritz Lanzinger, USA, 2-4-5-4-3-1-(15/DNF), 19.
5. CT Sailbattens, Alex Vallings/Chris Kitchen/Josh McCormack, New Zealand, 4-5-(14/DNF)-7-4-5-2, 27.
6. Maersk Line, Graham Catley/Riley Dean/Nick Catley, New Zealand, 5-(15/DNF)-4-3-6-6-15/DNF, 39.
7. JF Hillebrand, Phil Airey/Murray England/Sam Tretheway, New Zealand, 6-7-6-6-8-7-(15/DNF), 40.
8. Panasonic, Jonathan Whitty/James Hozack/Tom Anderson, Australia, 7-6-(15/DNF)-10-5-15/DNF, 51.
9. Tangles' Harken Express, Patrick Whitmarsh/Joe Penrod/Mark Breen, USA, (15/DNF)-8-8-145/DNF-9-9-5, 54.
10. Harken Black, Skip McCormack/Paul Allen/Jodi McCormack, Australia, 9-9-7-8-12-12-15/DNF, 57.
11. Skiff Foundation Red/Hogin Sails, John Gilmour/Pike Harris/Cooper Dressler, USA, 10-(15/DNF)-9-9-13-11-15/DNF, 67.
12., Chad Freitas/Dan Morris/Tangles, USA, (15/DNS)-14/DNF-15/DNF-15/DNF-11-10-15/DNF, 81.
13. Harken Grey, (crew names not available), (15/DNS)-15/DNS-15/DNS-15/DNS-10-13-15/DNF, 83.
14. Chad's Angels, Mallory McCollum-Bozina/Yvonne Galvez/Katie Love, USA, no finishes, 90.

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