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Area racers make strong showings

Three sailors from Clearwater finished near the top of their fleets in recent events in Canada and Europe.

Optimist racer Mitch Hall captured fourth in the North American Optimist Championships at the Canadian Olympic Regatta at Kingston (CORK). Robbie Daniel placed second in the Tornado Unlimited Class at CORK.

Competing in the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) Volvo Youth World Championships, Zach Railey finished seventh among 39 of the world's best teenage Laser sailors.

Not resting on his accomplishments at CORK, Hall, 13, flew to China for the Optimist World Championships. The competition at Quig Dao on the Yellow Sea started July 15 and continues through Sunday.

Joining Hall for support and encouragement were eight family members, including his grandparents, parents, two sisters and older brother.

"The whole family will be there. He should have the largest cheering section of anyone at the regatta," Mitch's father, David, said befor the event.

Hall, who is entering the eighth grade at Seminole Middle School this year, is coached by Eric Bardes of the Clearwater Yacht Club's youth program.

The Canadian regatta was the first major event in which Hall had moved up from the Blue Fleet to compete in the more experienced Red Fleet, for sailors 13-15.

For the international competition in Asia, Hall was planning to charter a boat rather than ship his across the Pacific Ocean. But he expected to take his own sails, rudder and daggerboard, spars and gear to personalize the rented boat.

"He's so focused," David said. "He'll think the whole race out in his head ahead of time, and he has the mental endurance in the longer regattas."

After the competition in China, Hall will return to the U.S. for three days before heading north to Rhode Island for the Optimist National Championships scheduled for August.

Daniel, a catamaran sailor, and crewmate Enrique Rodrigues of Key Largo finished second overall in the Sail Kingston 2001/CORK Tornado Unlimited Class regatta in early July.

"This was the first event we sailed with a fleet of spinnaker-rigged boats," Daniel said. "We learned a bunch of things."

It was one of a series of events on Daniel's schedule. He is preparing for another attempt to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team.

The Olympic competition in the Tornado Class in 2002 will allow sailors to use spinnaker for the first time and requires even the best racers to re-learn their boats.

"It feels like a completely different boat," Daniel said. "It feels more like a big beach cat, and there is still a big learning curve.

"When you turn the corner, windward mark and head downwind, it's a lot of fun," he said. "I'm learning the boat all over again."

Daniel won twice at CORK, never finishing lower than third in 11 races.

Improving with each bigger competition, Railey posted a victory and finished second twice en route to a seventh-place performance in the Mondial ISAF/VolvozYouth Sailing Championships.

The event featured the best youth sailors, including England's Mark Powell, who captured the top position.

Railey will compete in the Laser Worlds in Cork, Ireland, in early August.