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USF sailor qualifies for 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 sailed Nov. 7-9 at Gull Lake, Mich.

USF professor Steve Lang, who has been recruiting new members while coaching the fledgling USF team, was excited about the most recent success.

"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."

Lang added, "We definitely have a talented team. I'm thrilled with the quality of the whole team."

Sakama, a junior at USF majoring in international business, has been racing boats 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 as he races Lasers on the collegiate circuit.

"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.

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.

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 of Mexico. 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 different courses take the fleet north to Anclote Key, then south to the mouth of Tampa Bay before finishing early Sunday morning at Clearwater Pass.