Some said it was bound to happen. And, after six top-ten finishes at North American’s and World’s since 1982, Connecticut College sailor Bruce Sutphen of Winnetka, Illinois, outlasted a fleet of 74 top Sunfish racers from twelve countries to take home yacht racing’s other most coveted trophy.
The setting for this year’s World Championship was about as close to “Sunfish Heaven” as a sailor could get. Aruba’s Palm Beach sported 15-24 knot breezes, 90-degree temperature, and warm turquoise blue waters for most of the week. Only the Thursday of the regatta brought a change in the weather. A storm front passed overhead at lunchtime and brought thunderstorms and even a twister, which could be seen down the beach at a distance. Most importantly, it brought two 6-10 knot “light-air” races.
But for most of the series, the competitors had to sail in the typical heavy-air trade winds on five-mile courses that took approximately 90 minutes to complete. Curacao’s 17-year-old whiz-kid Stephen Smeulders showed superior boatspeed and pointing ability that even Sutphen admitted he had trouble with, “Smeulders was pointing about 3 degrees higher than me and sailing his boat faster. He kept me working real hard upwind.” Smeulders dominated the series through the end of Wednesday’s racing.
But as the light winds came on Thursday, Sutphen came back with a consistent string of finishes no worse than third while Smuelders had his worst day sailing in the light air. Sutphen explained: “I was in the top three in six out of eight races, but the light-air races won me the regatta a day early.”
Bermuda’s Malcolm Smith, coming off a sixth in Lasers at the Pan Am Games, had been averaging a fourth until his last race victory elevated him up to second over Smeulders and defending champion Scott Kyle. Said Smith, “In this series, you had to really stay in phase with the wind’s oscillations and be careful not to go too far to the right. Also, this time around, you had to anticipate puffs that often came due to wind patterns created by the hotel buildings.”
Defending champ Scott Kyle finished fourth, 1.3 points behind Smeulders. Many of the sailors agreed he was one of the fastest off the wind. Fifth, sixth and seventh were hotly contested with two-time champion Donnie Martinborough garnering fifth solely by a foot of bow at the finish of the last race. He just edged out Tulane sophomore Paul-Jon Patin, a runner up in the USYRU Youth Championships and an O’Day finalist in Gulfport, Mississippi. Scott Greenbaum’s late 3-2-2 rally put him solidly in the top ten and within striking distance of fifth place.
Most of the uniform Sunfish raced in close quarters with the starts reflecting the spiritness of the multilingual fleet. The high volume of boats made getting that great start difficult, if not impossible, with racers packed in deep at both ends. A safer bet was usually toward the middle of the line, closer to the end that was favored. There, the layers of boats were usually no more than two deep and the push for clear air often could be more easily achieved.
Sutphen, however, made high-risk, pin-end starts look easy, “I would tack over to starboard at the 15-second mark, stuff (luff) the boats above me, and bear off for the gun. At two seconds into the race I would tack over and go. You really have to be sailing ‘out of your mind,’ as Dave Perry would say, to pull off a trick like that.”
Organizing Committee Chairman Ernie Kervel, Sr. and the Committee’s “hundreds” of volunteers did a superb job at putting together a World Championship that will truly be a tough act to follow. All the week’s activity was centered around the Golden Tulip Aruba Carribean Hotel & Casino, a luxury resort hotel where most of the competitors stayed. During the “lay day” afternoon on Wednesday, everyone had a chance to tour the island, go diving, snorkeling, shopping or just go and lie on the beach. At night it was all gambling, partying or in bed by 9 p.m. if you were Donnie Maryborough.
Each day the racers would go to a different resort hotel’s outdoor restaurant for lunch to taste an unusual tropical dish. The only thing each sailor had to bring was a lunch ticket, sometimes pulled out of his pocket all wet.
Ceremonies marking the opening and closing of the regatta reiterated the international spirit of world championship competition. The Governor of Aruba spoke at the opening ceremony. At the closing ceremony, as the participating countries’ flags were lowered, the focus was on honoring the winners. The mass of sailors headed for a first class banquet at the Americana Hotel, next door to the Golden Tulip.
The Organizing Committee provided many trophies. They surprised everyone with an 8 x 10 photo of each competitor by his boat on the beach with the legend printed on each one of them: “18th Sunfish Worlds Aruba.” Then Mr. Kervel got down to business. The top twelve were in trophy range, and what a set they were! From fifth place’s Plastimo compass to copper plant holders, a Canon underwater camera outfit for third to the winning prize, a silver champagne cooler (with champagne) and an Omega quartz chronometer. Sutphen is still trying to figure out how to use it!
In addition to the race winners, special trophies were awarded to:
|Top Woman||Jean Bergman (USA)|
|Cuthbertson Trophy award||Frederic Pinceau (MTQ)|