The Sunfish World Championship is truly a unique regatta. Few who even participate realize the extraordinary circumstances which make the event one of a kind. The 25th running of the Worlds, in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, was clearly no exception to the rule. Marsh Harbour’s beautiful beaches, waters and hospitality accommodated the Sunfish tradition in fine style.
David Loring, of Charleston, South Carolina, won five of the eight races held, over a field of 90 competitors from nine countries, to take the 1996 World Championship title.
I arrived on Saturday, November 11, about 1600, thinking I would be right on schedule to check in and get down to one of my favorite pastimes in sailing. There is nothing quite like opening up a brand new boat, among the company of great friends from different countries, and preparing it to race. With most sailors as excited as myself, I realized that the rush was well under way.
On Sunday, competitors put their personal touches of rigging into their boats. As many competitors feel most comfortable setting up the boat to accommodate their own sailing styles, there are often questions regarding what can be done to the boats, which are later resold. Details of the like can be the Measurer’s nightmare; however, inquiries were handled quickly and efficiently by the class and jury. Most of the 90 competitors tuned their boats to their liking either in the afternoon practice race or at their leisure, on the beautiful Sea of Abaco. I chose the latter approach myself, but not before engaging in an intellectual, political conversation with my Dutch friend, Martina, who had helped carry in my boat after winning three races in Curacao, in 1991. Her English seemed more understandable now, but as I recall, my attention to dialog then had been distracted by her limited Dutch garb. Then again, American college students are not known for their conversation skills on European beaches.
On Monday, November 13, winds were moderate, averaging about 12 knots on the way out to the start. The direction was oscillating about 10 degrees, with occasional 5+ knot puffs. My game plan was to be conservative. In retrospect, I probably was a little too much so. The day unfolded with Eduardo Cordero jumping on the waves and out to a four point lead. My first race saw early glory swallowed up when I dug into the middle, half way up the beat Perhaps due to the geography of the course, the breeze seemed to fill from the sides first all day. David Loring used this to his advantage. Being one of the first to the course, early on, David took advantage of his speed and preparation to pick his way back to sixth in Race 2, to remain in second.
On Tuesday, up early to see one of the most spectacular sunrises of the week, I noticed that the wind might threaten the existence of small dogs on chains in Abaco. Fairly psyched about the prospect of the heavy breeze, I sailed out to the race early. Nearing the committee boat, Skip Shaw informed me that he had seen 25 knots on his masthead instruments. The wind did settle in, however, sparing the Chihuahua population. The day belonged to David Loring. By the end of the fourth race, it was rare that the fleet could even read his sail numbers. Fortunately, cheers and screams from the spectating girls from the Forest Heights Academy helped identify David’s mark roundings.
In the midst of tantamount performance fell tragedy. On the second beat of Race 4, a breeze similar to a long Island Sound “clear westerly squall” had sailors steering with both hands as survival conditions ensued. At that time, T.J. Barnes, of Austin,TX, sailing in his first Worlds, suffered a massive heart attack. Regrettably, all actions taken by fellow competitors and rescue personnel failed to save him. On Wednesday, upon arrival at the site, the competitors convened to pay their respects to Tommy Barnes, as the countries’ flags were lowered and Bermudian David Frith played Amazing Grace on his bagpipes. The wind diminished throughout the day, but not before surfing conditions on the second reach of Race 5 led to one of the most dramatic moments of my regatta. The top ten boats were separated by approximately 20 boat lengths. All boats were moving fast in the waves which were becoming “left over” in the slowly decreasing wind. Suddenly, whistles began sounding and yelling ensued from the Jury boat as they called out sail numbers for Rule 54 violations. It was like a fire fight scene from the movie, “Platoon”. People began screaming in disbelief, some in foreign languages. All wave catching seemed to come to a halt, as if the film had been slowed to frame by frame viewing. When the dust settled, there were just four of us left. The others were back in the fleet, with sore vocal cords and dizzy from their penalty spins. Again, Loring rallied from the four. He was where he had to be, closing out on Wednesday for the lay day with a 1,6. Cordero managed a second in the first race battle but it was Mark May who won the day, catapulting himself into a potential top five. Johnny Bilbao of Venezuela, rounded out the day with a 4,5 to move into third behind countryman Cordero. The lay day on Thursday brought relief from the dramatic week. Thankfully, the day off allowed for socialization normally impossible during regattas. Some chose to scour the beaches, as right there at the venue, beautiful shells came in with each tide. Others snorkeled, while renting boats allowed the exploration of many reefs and islands. DonnyMartinborough, Malcolm Smith, Eduardo Cordero and I were asked to speak to the students at the Forest Heights Academy. The pleasure was ours, as we shared our experiences and perspectives as World Champions and Sunfish sailors.
Alas, on Friday, the relaxation period was over and the dramatic stage was set. Races 7 and 8 remained, as Loring stood with four firsts and a score of an even 9 with a throw-out Cordero was second with a very solid 10.75. His goal was to beat Loring twice. Third was Bilbao, with 25.1 looked at 28, with Smith and Martinborough at 36 and 37, respectively. The race again was Loring’s, with Jimmy Lowe jumping out into second, and me in third. With Cordero finishing fifth, the regatta was over. Congratulations, David, for a tremendous performance. Good luck with your Olympic endeavors! When all is said and done, an event such as this is simply drama – with a stage crew of some of the finest competitors, class officers, organizers and manufacturers in the world, in a World class setting.
See you in the DR in ‘96!
In addition to the race winners, special trophies were awarded to:
|Top Woman||Nancy Haberland (USA)|
|Marco Polo Award|
|Cuthbertson Trophy award|