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Sailor's corner | Terry Tomalin

Pinellas sailors hope to have fast float in China

When Olympic sailing begins Aug. 8 in Qingdao, China, Floridians will represent the United States in four of the 11 classes.

St. Petersburg's Ben Barger and Miami's Nancy Rios will sail in the RS:X classes, while Clearwater's Zach Railey and Fort Lauderdale's Anna Tunnicliffe will compete in the Finn and Laser Radial classes, respectively, in a venue known for its light wind.

The waters off Qingdao, a coastal city located about 400 miles southeast of Beijing, have been plagued by aquatic weeds and an algae bloom.

"They have had thousands of volunteers out there trying to clean up the mess," Railey said before leaving for China. "They seem to have gotten things under control."

Barger, who learned his sport sailing the waters off Tierra Verde, will take it all in stride.

"Sailors learn to adapt to changing conditions," he said. "Whatever it is, you deal with it."

All nine of the Olympic boats are "one-design," meaning that the athletes will be sailing identical craft, all built to the exact same size and weight specifications. One-design racing assures that the sailor with the most skill, not the fattest wallet, gets the gold.

A breakdown of the boats and the U.S. sailors:

Laser (men's one-person dinghy): One of the most popular single-handed sailing crafts in the world, with more than 150,000 in service in 85 countries, the Laser measures 13 feet, 11 inches and has a sail area of 76 square feet. The boat made its Olympic debut in 1996, and the U.S. sailor is Andrew Campbell.

Laser Radial (women's one-person dinghy): With the same basic hull design as the Laser, the Laser Radial has 19 percent less sail and a lower, more flexible mast configuration. Popular with sailors of all skill levels and ages, the Radial replaced the Europe after the last Olympic Games and will make its debut as the new single-handed women's boat in Qingdao. The 25-year-old Tunnicliffe, a 2005 graduate of Old Dominion University, will represent the United States.

470 (two-person dinghy): Dubbed by U.S. Sailing as "the everyman boat of competitive racing," this two-handed centerboard sailboat is a true high-performance planing dinghy. Designed in 1963 by French naval architect Andre Cornu, the 470 made its Olympic debut in 1976.

The 470 is a light (264 pounds) and narrow (length, 15 feet, 6 inches; beam, 5 feet, 6 inches) boat mastered by a light and strong crew. Stu McNay and Graham Biehl are the U.S. men; Amanda Clark and Sarah Merganthaler the U.S. women.

RS:X (windsurfing): Sailboards are widely considered the fastest sailing craft in the world. When a sailboard catches the wind and gets up on plane, it literally "flies" across the water. The first windsurfer to sail in the Olympics was the Lechner II in 1984. In 1996, the Mistral replaced the Lechner in both the men's and women's classes. Qingdao will see another board make its debut: the Neil Pryde RS:X. A hybrid board, the RS:X performs well in both sub-planing and planing conditions. Barger, a 27-year-old Eckerd College graduate, and Rios, 20, will sail for the United States.

Finn (men's single-handed dinghy): The oldest continuous class in Olympic sailing, the Finn is one of the few boats that can be rigged to an individual sailor's style. Finn sailors tend to be big and strong, usually over 6 feet tall and 175 pounds. This one-man centerboard dinghy has been in competition since the 1952 Olympics in Finland. Railey, a 24-year-old graduate of the University of Miami, represents the United States in this class.

49er (open double-handed high-performance dinghy): Designed in Australia, this 16-foot, double-trapeze skiff is highly technical. With its monstrous sail (639 square feet) and retractable "wings" for stability, the 49er is also super quick. Strong and light, the 49er weighs just 275 pounds when fully rigged. With a price tag of $16,000, the 49er tends to attract the daredevils of the sailing world. Tim Wadlow and Chris Rast will be the U.S. representatives in this class.

•Star (men's keelboat): Debuting in 1932 and sailing in every Olympics except the 1976 Games in Montreal, the Star class is steeped in tradition. The oldest one-design class (1910), the Star set the standard for modern international sailing. A challenge to sail in rough seas, the Star's large sail and long boom have earned it the nickname "The Torture Rack." John Dane III and Austin Sperry will make up the Americans' Star team this year.

•Tornado (open double-handed multihull): Capable of reaching 30 knots, the Tornado catamaran is one of the fastest sailboats on the water today. With its duel, 20-foot long, stiletto-shaped hulls and 272 square feet of sail, the Tornado has amazing acceleration. But with speed comes a price. The Tornado is a tippy craft capable of jaw-dropping wipeouts. The boat has undergone several refinements since it Olympic debut in 1976. John Lovell and Charlie Ogletree are the U.S. racers.

•Yngling (women's triple-handed keelboat): One of the newest Olympic boats, the Yngling burst on the international sailing scene in Athens in 2004. The Norwegian boat's name literally translates to "youngster." The design's inspiration came from the builder's 14-year-old son. Built for a crew of three weighing no more than 500 pounds, the $25,000 cost makes it relatively affordable compared other similar racing keelboats. The U.S. Yngling team is comprised of Sally Barkow, Carrie Howe and Debbie Capozzi.

Terry Tomalin can be reached at (727) 893-8808 or To submit sailing information, go to and click on the "Submit info here" link.

Pinellas sailors hope to have fast float in China 07/31/08 [Last modified: Thursday, July 31, 2008 4:30am]
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