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Midwinter regatta gets wet

St. Petersburg's Mark Mendelblatt likes a lot of wind.

Growing up in St. Petersburg, where all wind comes to die, this is surprising.

Yet, sailing in one of the sport's most competitive classes, it is when the breeze increases that Mendelblatt excels.

The Laser Midwinter Regatta hosted by Clearwater Yacht Club made the sailors from the United Kingdom feel right at home. Rain and gloom were the conditions for the long weekend event earlier this month.

All but one of the races had ample wind. Mendelblatt, however, recorded a victory to remain in the top six of the 92-boat fleet.

The one light and fluky race resulted in his discard race in 34th position. This still was good enough to win the tie for third with Swedish sailor Fredrik Lassenius, a frequent visitor to Clearwater for competition.

Since Mendelblatt was sailing with the America's Cup One World team in New Zealand, he missed the required qualifying Olympic Pre-Trials in Miami.

He returned to the States in time to win the subsequent Olympic Class Regatta over top-rated Laser competitors worldwide.

So while Mendelblatt does not qualify for the perks of being on the U.S. Laser Sailing Team, he is in a favored position to capture the one available Athens Olympic berth in the class next year.

The winner of the Midwinters was Great Britain's Ed Wright, the world's No. 3 Laser sailor. He was followed by Andy Lewis of Honolulu and Mendelblatt.

Clearwater's Zach Railey was sixth and Brad Funk ninth.

The Laser U.S. Sailing Team has three of its five members in the Tampa Bay area.

Largo's Brett Davis, Railey and Funk will join Andrew Campbell of San Diego and Lewis on the five-man squad.

Add Robbie Daniel, the top-ranked Olympic Tornado Cat competitor, to the team and Tampa Bay remains a significant sailing area.

Putting into perspective the level of ability attained by the top-placing sailors in not only the Olympic classes but divisions such as Snipe, Thistle and Lightning, the commitment to the sport is impressive.

Physical and mental conditioning are as important as a prodigious amount of time guiding the boat. The best performers seek other quality sailors, knowing that one is only as good as the competition.

The club racer who does well in his or her local fleet would feel good if he or she finished on the same leg of the course as the winner of major events.

Yet for those with other priorities, there are aspects of the sport they can enjoy.

SPSA RACING: The wind was ample for the first annual Rich Gahn Memorial Regatta for keelboats off the St. Petersburg Pier.

Gahn was a popular competitor on his J-24 Greyling.

Some would say justice was served when Mike Siedlecki drew race-committee duty for the day. His boat, Tack Tick, does well for its handicap rating in the breezes experienced March 1.

TEAM FOR: If you are curious about this Team For that suddenly has appeared in Optimist Dinghy results, it stands for Florida Oceanic Racing.

It is a new Dinghy kids squad that has been formed from an alliance of families in the Clearwater area. Eric Bardes is the coach.

Any Opti sailor is welcome to apply.

ECKERD SEARCH AND RESCUE: The 17th annual Marine Yard Sale to benefit Eckerd SAR is scheduled for 9 a.m.-noon March 22.

Used boats, accessories and electronics are available.

For information, call 864-8288.

LESSONS: For those living in the Safety Harbor area, sailing, kayak and SCUBA camps are scheduled in June and July.

Registration for Safety Harbor residents will start March 24. For others, sign-ups will be on March 29.

Call (727) 724-1545 for information.

SAILING SCHOOL: Jerry Wood, 78, who in 1959 established the Annapolis Sailing School, including a St. Petersburg branch, has died.

The local division of the sport's oldest school is headed by Richard Johnson.