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Sakama is first from USF to gain nationals

By winning the regional regatta at Eckerd College on Saturday, Toshi Sakama of St. Petersburg became the first sailor from the University of South Florida team to qualify for the Intercollegiate Yacht Racing Association single-handed national championships.

Sakama, who came to the United States from his hometown of Yokohama, Japan, in 1988, finished the 15-race regatta with five consecutive first-place finishes to take top honors among 15 Laser sailors representing six southern colleges. Sailing for Eckerd College, Eric Boothe finished fourth, Jeremy Terr seventh, and Scott Nyborg 11th. Other USF competitors included Jamey Rabbitt (eighth) and Jim Cook (12th).

The national championship will be Nov. 7-9 at Gull Lake, Mich.

USF professor Steve Lang, who has been recruiting new members while coaching the fledgling USF team, said, "No one from USF has ever qualified for a nationals before," he said. "And we're not finished yet. We still have the sloops and dinghies to sail the next several weeks."

Sakama, a junior at USF majoring in international business, has been racing since his pre-teen days in Japan and first made friends with St. Petersburg sailors Mark Mendleblatt and Brett Davis at the Optimist world championships nine years ago. That friendship continues, with Mendleblatt and Davis helping coach Sakama.

"I first came to the U.S. to learn English," said Sakama, 24. "But it took longer than I planned, so I decided to finish school here."

He hopes to qualify for Japan's Olympic sailing team as he practices on Tampa Bay aboard the radically designed 49r two-person dinghy, a new addition to the Olympic sailing classes.

SAILMAKER TAKES THIRD: NuClear Sails owner Robert Hill took a team of talented Tampa Bay racers to the DuPont Sailmaker Challenge at Annapolis, Md., earlier this month to do battle against six other teams representing most of the top sailmakers in the United States.

Racing the ultralight Melges 24s with sails built at his Tampa-based loft, Hill and crew Mendleblatt, Mike Gable and Mark Shepard finished third overall after placing in the top three 11 times through the 21 races.

Annapolis sailor Chris Larson, who grew up sailing on Tampa Bay, skippered the North Sails team to second place. Quantum Sail Design Group, with skipper Terry Hutchinson, won the three-day series that concluded Oct. 12.

PLOCH PEEVED: "A disappointing 10th" is how Mark Ploch of Clearwater characterized his team's results at the Mumm 30 world championships, which concluded Oct. 19 in Marseille, France. "We just didn't sail a very aggressive regatta," Ploch added.

SEIDENSPINNER AT HELM: After more than a year of preparing to serve as a principal race officer at the Olympic Games in 1996 and officiating at countless regional and national regattas, Pat Seidenspinner of St. Petersburg was appointed to the board of US Sailing. Seidenspinner will be in charge of race administration for the governing body of sailboat racing in the United States.

NEW HANDICAP GROUP MEETS: The first general meeting of the new West Florida Performance Handicap Racing Fleet (WFPHRF) was held Oct. 21 at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club.

Board president Sandy Schoenberg outlined three of the problem areas _ sportboats, asymmetrical spinnakers, and a true cruising class _ that the membership and board will address during the coming year.

Vic Gittens, who is in charge of the Boat of the Year series, announced that Suncoast Raceweek Inc. will continue to manage the rules and scoring of the series this year but it will come under WFPHRF jurisdiction next year. "If you have a West Florida certificate, you are being scored for Boat of the Year," he said.

Last year, skippers who wanted to be scored had to sign up prior to the Clearwater Cup.

Ratings chairman John Dudinsky indicated that as part of a more open philosophy, all rating review meetings will be open to the members of WFPHRF, and that review meetings will be held at least every two months.

CLEARWATER CUP IS SATURDAY: Last year's Clearwater Cup regatta was as much a test of survival as sailboat racing, with only 29 of the 60 starters finishing the race due to gale-force winds and brutal waves in the gulf. That won't deter Jay Myers and his Morgan 27 Mystic from competing for the 21st consecutive year in what formerly was called the Kahlua Cup.

Sponsored by the Clearwater Yacht Club, more than 50 boats are expected to cross the starting line Saturday after 2 p.m. near the Clearwater Pier. Three courses take the fleet north to Anclote Key, then south to the mouth of Tampa Bay before finishing early Sunday morning at Clearwater Pass.