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Light air over short courses made this year's J/24 Midwinter Championship regatta a particularly confusing and difficult one, with some big upsets in the final results.

The regatta, at the Coral Reef Yacht Club in Miami last week, drew 73 teams of sailors, including some former J/24 world champions, a few Olympic sailors and some other topcontenders in the class and the sport.

In addition to sailors from across the United States, including ahandful of the Chesapeake's toughest competitors, the fleet includedsix teams from Sweden, four from Canada, two from Japan, and one each from the Bahamas, England, Ireland, Israel and Italy.

"We got down there early and did some practicing," said Naval Academy sailing coach Doug Clark, who went to the regatta with his Annapolis-based Dusty Work crew. "But of course, the conditions we had for practice weren't the ones we had for the regatta."

The regatta began with a full-fleet qualifying series of three races last Tuesday before the total group was separated into two divisions for the championship series,sailed Wednesday through Saturday.

Although winds were cooperative for the qualifying series, the two-fleet series that followed was marked by extreme light air and, particularly in the Championship Fleet made up of the top finishers in the qualifying series, was characterized by highly mixed results for virtually every competitor.

Texan Jay Lutz won the regatta with no finish better than his first-race second place, and an average of 10 points per race for a total of 70 in the seven-race series.

In fact, the first individual-race bullets in the Championship Fleet were found all the way down in seventh-placer Larry Klein's scores.

San Diegan Klein, an Olympic hopeful in the Soling class and a past Rolex Yachtsman of the Year as well as a former J/24 world champion, aced both the first and last races of the series. But he also was dead last to finish in race No. 3, the series' second event.

Harwood native Terry Hutchinson, winner of lastOctober's J/24 East Coast Championship in Annapolis, was fifth in the difficult series, with 80 points, while new Annapolitan Chris Larson was sixth with 82.

"It was pretty light for five of the seven races after the qualifying series," said Clark, who finished 15th in the Championship Fleet, with 123 points for finishes of 21-15-15-28-5-23-16, after placing fifth before the worst-race throwout in the qualifier series.

"The wind probably averaged about 4 knots or so for the first three days of the series," he said. "It was really hard to pick the correct side of the first beat, because the wind was pretty shifty and usually didn't settle down until later, and by then you were already committed. The length of the course was so short that it was hard to make big comebacks if you picked the wrong side."

Even Newporter Ken Read, whose impressive list of J/24 championship titles includes three world championships and three North Americans, and whois rarely found below the top three on the score sheet of any regatta he sails, appeared to be stymied by the difficult light air. He finished the regatta in 10th overall with radically mixed scores, ranging from a first in the sixth race to a 35th in the second event.

"The last day the conditions were really nice," Clark said, "but they were pressed for time with a 1 o'clock deadline for the last starting sequence of the day, so they only got two fairly short races in. But it was a really well-run regatta, as usual, and a really good regattain general, even if the wind wasn't that great."

Clark said that the high level of very close competition in the fleet could be seen easily in how evenly bad individual-race results were mixed with good ones through the top of the fleet.

"It isn't very often that you can win in a tough fleet like that with an average of 10 points per race," he said. "And when you consider that there were only 38 boats, instead of about 80 like they usually have here for the East Coasts, that makes it even more unusual. At least the bad luck seemed to be spread around pretty evenly, and everybody pretty much had to take his share."

Clark did have one stroke of good luck,however, when his appeal to the Protest Committee of a sixth-race penalty of 39 points for being a premature starter resulted in his being rescored with a reinstated fifth-place finish -- his best of the series. The 34-point difference from the PMS penalty would have left him 23rd, rather than the 15th he earned.

The Designer Fleet, made up of the lower half of the qualifying series finishers, suffered from the random hand of the fickle wind god somewhat less than their Championship counterparts. Virginia Beach sailor Rob Overton took the top of the heap with scores including three bullets and a second, as well as a seventh, an eighth and a 13th, for a total of 33.

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