Sun, Wind Arrive for Final Day of St. Pete NOOD

SPNOOD3

Stuart Streuli

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.--In staunch opposition to some rather dire forecasts, the final day of the Sailing World St. Petersburg NOOD Regatta Presented by Mount Gay Rum provided some spectacular sailing for the record fleet of 193 boats. The sun broke through with a vengeance just before 10 a.m., bringing with it a shifty and puffy westerly breeze that stretched the limits of many competitors and put more than a few rails and spinnakers in the water. One team that was happy to see the whitecaps developing on Tampa Bay was Quentin Strauss' Melges 24 crew on Gill. "We got going today," said helmsman Stuart Rix. "We like the wind." Strauss and his team, who hail from Great Britain, have been using the U.S. southern Melges circuit to tune up for a summer of racing in Europe. "We had a bad start and had to go back on Day 1," Rix added. "That's what spoiled our regatta a bit." But the Gill team rebounded over the weekend with a third and then three consecutive firsts to close out the regatta. It wasn't enough to catch Doug Fisher of Sarasota, Fla., who had five top-four finishes and won the regatta with 12 points, but it's certainly a good omen for the team as they head home. "We did some practicing before we came over and it really came down to our boathandling today," said Rix. "It was puffy and very shifty. We suspected it to be so with the breeze coming off the land. I grew up on small lakes so I like the shifty stuff." Rix was also pleased that they finally got a chance to get the Reichel/Pugh-designed 24-footer up on a plane. "It's probably one of the best keelboats. It's a bit of a slog upwind, but it's worth it when you turn the corner." While Rix and crew, and the rest of the Melges fleet, can look forward to more one-design racing, the same cannot be said for Matt Patterson and the other six owners in the Wavelength 24 class. Patterson brought White Donkey over from Dallas--2,500 miles at 8.3 miles per gallon for the round tri--to check in with his fellow Wavelength owners and compete in the class' nationals. "It's really the only time we sail as a class," he said. "They made 87 of the boats--I'm not sure how many are still around--and we had seven here. That was pretty good." Patterson bought his boat two years ago and completely refitted it, redoing the interior and the exterior gel coat, and overhauling the deck gear. The result is a boat that looks brand new, and moves pretty well to boot. He scored a first and a second on Saturday and built a four-point lead. Today, however, he found himself branded with the proverbial bullseye often affixed to the early leader. "The other boats camped on us," he said. "We had horrible starts." A third in Sunday's first race tightened up the standings quite a bit. A last-minute jib change, from the heavy No. 1 to the blade, before the second race, may have saved their regatta. With local Matt Sheppard on the tiller, the team finished second to win the regatta by three points. It's Patterson's first national championship. Another small class with some exceedingly tight competition was the 5-boat Henderson 30 fleet. After five close races, some of which saw the entire fleet finishing within a minute, three boats were tied for first with 10 points. Mike Carroll's New Wave was the first boat eliminated from the tiebreaker as Carroll's team only won 1 race. The other two boats, Jeffrey Gale's Beautiful World and Neil Rattan's Love Letter had the exact same finishes. The tie was broken by who beat whom in the final race. "It's like this with the Hendersons," said Rattan of Westport, Conn., who ended up on the short end of the final tie-breaker. "There's a lot of parity. Many times we would bang opposite ends of the course and end up in the same spot a mile and half later. Rattan's team was strong in the lighter winds at the beginning of the regatta, but struggled on Sunday as the breeze picked up into the mid teens, with higher gusts. "We're definitely better light-air sailors, when the breeze is up there's more room for error," said Rattan. "We made more mistakes on Day 3. Beautiful World snuck by us and they deserved the win." Other impressive performances were turned in by Skip Boston and Mike Bremmer's Frequent Flyer, which won all four races in the S2 7.9 class, Jahn Tihansky''s J World Racing Team Blue, which won all five races in the 12-boat J/80 class, Valeri Safiullin's Custom 28 Breeze, which dominated the Level 96 class with four wins in five races, and John and Tony Esposito's Hustler, which had three firsts and two second en route to a win in the J/29 class. In the 15-boat Sonar class were teams from Israel, Australia, Great Britain, Canada, Germany, Ireland, and the United States training for the 2004 Paralympic Games. Germany's Jens Croker was tops among these crews, finishing in fourth. Skip Shumway won the class with two firsts on the final day.