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Boats battle fickle weather in eight events

What a difference two weekends make. From a gear-busting wind to almost total calm marked eight sailing events over two weeks.

The annual St. Petersburg Yacht Club Valentine's Day Optimist Dinghy regatta has been a kid's regatta standard for many years.

On Feb. 11, the Gold fleet had three races in increasing wind for the 132 boats divided into two starts. Race official Colin Park sent the fleet back to the dock before the strongest winds occurred.

"We had about 40 powerboats out there, both official and parents watching," Park said. "We felt confident in the safety of the event."

On Feb. 12 the wind was stiff and the temperature much colder. The young competitors from the upper Midwest were more accustomed to the cold.

J. Taylor Lutz and Will Haeger of the Midwest Optimist Sailing Team were 1-2 in the fleet. Jason Kuebel of Clearwater's Team FOR placed third, followed by Ian Holzworth of SPYC. Fifth place was taken by Dodge Rees of FOR. He was followed by Mateo Vargas and John Wallace, both of SPYC.

Mary Kate Hall, Melany Johnsonand Teal Strammer, all of Team FOR, were the top three girls in the fleet.

Kids and their parents had the option of sailing in the Silver fleet, generally for newer sailors.

After one race for 65 boats, race official George Pennington wisely sent the sailors to shore. When the wind continued to rise and the temperature dropped, this was the only race completed. Madison Gates of SPYC was fifth in Silver fleet.

The 505 Midwinters were held over the same three-day weekend.

Ethan Bixby and Eric Boothe of St. Petersburg won the regatta in medium winds the first day and strong winds the next day. Since seven races were completed and the winners established, sailors packed up their boats Sunday.

On the Tampa Sailing Squadron side of Tampa Bay the annual Gasparilla keelboat regatta started after a polling of competitors on whether to sail. About 25 percent of the fleet stayed at the dock.

The racers started in a fine 15-knot wind. In the afternoon there was a marked increase in the wind and many boats experienced broken spinnaker poles, travelers, rudder fittings and torn sails.

One sailboat in the vicinity of the racing was knocked down after a tack and did not recover until the boat filled with water. With 3 feet of the mast and the top of the sail showing above the waves, the three crew members were rescued by competitors and the race patrol boat.

The True Cruising class was won by Scott Peter's MacGregor 65 while the Mother Lode fleet was topped by the Pearson 30 Flyer of John Martini.

Fire and Ice, sailed by George and Anne Cussins, was the Spinnaker A victor with the J-30 of John Mrva winning B and the Catalina 22 of Darin O'Neal in C. Non Spinnaker A was led by the Wylie Cat 30 of Hall Palmer and B by Woody Fraser's Morgan 27.

During the week before the NOOD regatta the Olson 30 and Sonar classes staged midwinters from St. Petersburg Yacht Club.

Mike McGagh of Texas was the top Olson 30 sailor. Bob Bolman of St. Petersburg was third. In the Sonar racing Josh Goldman of Connecticut won with Jim Miller of Bradenton second.

Clearwater Yacht Club organized the Laser Master Midwinters this past Saturday and Sunday outside of Clearwater pass. These Olympic racers are a handful for a strong sailor. This regatta was for Lasers sailors aged 35 to 70 and over, arranged in age groups.

Chris Raab of Newport Beach, Calif., has won the event before and prevailed over the 56 boat fleet. The top local sailor was International Laser Class president Ian Lineberger of St. Petersburg in ninth place.

Lake Eustis was the venue for the George Washington Birthday regatta that included a fleet of 10 A-Class catamarans.

These one-person speedsters are 18-feet long but weigh only 165 pounds including sails. Woody Cope of Tampa placed first or second in all five races to win handily. Rush Bird of Tampa was second and Jennifer Lindsay of Gulfport Yacht Club was third.

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