Coxon by a point
The Australian arrived a stranger in town, but made himself right at home with the familiarly frisky winds and tides and fog and even an unfamiliar mid-regatta heat wave to win the ninth annual 18ft Skiff International Regatta, hosted by the St. Francis Yacht Club Thursday.
On his first visit to San Francisco, Michael Coxon, overcame a stumbling entrance with five wins in the last eight races to hold off, by just one point, another young Aussie, Herman Winning, who won three.
Howard Hamlin, an original organiser and two-time winner of the event, won the other race in a mid-regatta move before falling victim to the nature of the class that lives on the edge of catastrophe - this case three crashes, including one instigated by Winning and, indirectly, Coxon.
"I'm really impressed with Michael Coxon's sailing," Hamlin said. "He's never been here and he comes in and figures it out right away."
Under a blanket of fog exclusive to the bay, Coxon was again unbeatable. A two-time winner of the JJ Giltinan International Trophy, the 18's effective world championship, he sailed the Thurlow Fisher Lawyers-sponsored skiff with a confident crew of Aaron Links and Trent Barnabas, who have won three and five Giltinans as crew, respectively.
"Boat handling," he said. "It's hard to overtake boats …there are no passing lanes. But the biggest thing is staying upright."
Coxon said he learned that while running well in the week's first race when a flip turned first place into eighth, which he would discard later as he figured out the 'Frisco scheme of sailing. As Links said, is "which way to go in the tide … go right. Jibe when it's not too breezy. It's real different than Sydney, which is more shifty."
Early on his team also pulled off some daring port-tack starts to beat the rest of the 14-boat fleet to better breeze on the right side of the course, and their wins included a grand slam of sorts: first place overall in Wednesday's 7 1/2-mile one-way Bridge to Bridge Race from the Golden Gate to the Bay Bridge amid a madcap mob of windsurfers and kite boards.
"It's a different thing over here," Coxon said. "It's great to beat these guys in their home waters…and it was really special winning the Bridge race."
The 10-race series became nine because Wednesday's first race was abandoned when the waters off Alcatraz Island were churned into a minefield by a 3 knot ebb tide crashing into 29 knots of westerly wind. With the Bridge to Bridge Race scheduled to follow and travel schedules a concern on the final day, no effort was made to re-try a 10th race.
That set up Coxon and Winning for a showdown deadlock, each with 11 points, going into the last race. The pair had overtaken an apparent runaway by Hamlin in the first race Sunday when the latter sailed into a dead zone after rounding the last mark as Coxon and Winning went the other way.
Then, moments after the final start, all three were sailing on starboard tack toward the sea wall fronting the St. Francis Yacht Club when Hamlin, on starboard right of way, and Herman, on port, collided, flattening Hamlin's CST Composites-sponsored skiff with the crew scrambling in the water (see photo sequence below).
Back at the Crissy Field staging area, Herman explained: "What happened was we had Michael Coxon to leeward of us, and normally when you get close to the shore you can call 'water,' which means the boat above you has to tack, and he was calling it on us. I thought it was too early, but we then called it on Howie [because] it's a basic rule and we all have to abide by it."
Awaiting Hamlin's return to shore, Herman said, "In hindsight, we definitely should have ducked Howie."
He expected even the easy-going Hamlin to be steamed, and he was right. After Hamlin and his crew hauled their skiff ashore, Herman approached and was first met by veteran crew member Fritz Lanzinger as Hamlin tidied up some gear. They all engaged in several minutes of animated discussion of the incident, and then parted with cool handshakes.
Hamlin said later he would not protest - which might have been a precedent in the 18ft Skiff class - because "it's not going to change anything, so there's no point."
Herman said: "At the end of the day, if it was really serious Howie would be protesting us and we'd be protesting Michael. But hopefully we can all be friends."
Final notes on Wednesday's Bridge to Bridge Race when the 18s swept the first three places - Coxon, New Zealand's Alex Vallings and Herman Winning. 23 of the 58 starters finished - five of 14 skiffs, seven of 30 kite boards and ten of 14 sailboards.
Coxon's time for the 7.5 mile run from the Golden Gate to the Bay Bridge was 24 minutes 41 seconds, about a minute ahead of Vallings.
Maersk Lines skipper Graham Catley withdrew from Thursday's racing after sustaining a 40-stitch gash in his lower left leg when his skiff crashed in the wake of a power boat trying to avoid him at the start of the Bridge race. He watched the action from the StFYC veranda. . . . Harken Grey's Chad Freitas, the Bay's 18 skiff leader, showed up wincing with an injured rib and was replaced by Charlie Smythe on Paul Galvez' team.
(14 boats; 9 races; 2 discards)
1. Thurlow Fisher Lawyers, Michael Coxon/Aaron Links/Trent Barnabas, Australia, (8)-3-1-1-1-(4)-1-2-1, 10 points.
2. Appliances Online, Herman Winning/Peter Harris/Euan McNicol, Australia, 1-1-2-2-(7)-2-(3)-1-2, 11.
3. Yandoo, John (Woody) Winning/David Gibson/Andrew Hay, Australia, 3-2-3-(5)-2-3-4-(6)-3, 20.
4. CST Composites, Howard Hamlin/Matt Noble/Fritz Lanzinger, USA, 2-4-5-4-3-1-(15/DNF)-3-(6), 22.
5. CT Sailbattens, Alex Vallings/Chris Kitchen/Josh McCormack, New Zealand, 4-5-(15/DNF)-(7)-4-5-2-4-4, 28.
6. JF Hillebrand, Phil Airey/Murray England/Sam Tretheway, New Zealand, 6-7-6-6-(8)-7-(15/DNF-5-5, 42.
7. Panasonic, Jonathan Whitty/James Hozack/Tom Anderson, Australia, 7-6-(15/DNF)-10-5-8-(15/DNF)-7-7, 50.
8. Maersk Line, Graham Catley/Riley Dean/Nick Catley, New Zealand, 5-(15/DNF)-4-3-6-6-(15/DNF)-15/DNS-15/DNS, 54. 8.
9. Tangles' Harken Express, Patrick Whitmarsh/Joe Penrod/Mark Breen, USA, (15/DNF)-8-8-(15/DNF)-9-9-5-9-9, 57.
10. Harken Black, Skip McCormack/Paul Allen/Jodi McCormack,
USA, 9-9-7-8-(12)-12-(15/DNF)-8-8, 61.
11. Skiff Foundation Red/Hogin Sails, John Gilmour/Pike Harris/Cooper Dressler, USA, 10-(15/DNF)-9-9-13-11-(15/DNF)-10-15/DNS, 77.
12. skiffsailing.org, John Gilmour/Dan Morris/Tangles, USA, (15/DNS)-(15/DNF)-15/DNF-15/DNF-11-10-15/DNF, 92.
13. Harken Grey, Paul Galvez/Charlie Smythe, Trevor Bodina, (15/DNS)-(15/DNS)-15/DNS-15/DNS-10-13-15/DNF-15/DNS-15/DNS, 98.
14. Chad's Angels, Mallory McCollum-Bozina/Yvonne Galvez/Katie Love, USA, no finishes.