Leigh Kempton of Island Heights, NJ, must have a guardian angel. After 12 challenging races sailed in difficult conditions on Pensacola Bay, the 14-year-old won the Optimist National Championships by what has to be one of the closest tie-breakers in the events history. Kempton and her friend and training partner Todd Hawkinsboth members of the Toms River Yacht Club and both sailing in the oldest age group Blue Fleetwere tied with 32 points each when the four-day series concluded. Based on her four wins in the series, Kempton was awarded the overall title over Hawkins, who only had three victories. Despite dropping to second, Hawkins still held a healthy 13-point margin over third-placeformer champion Pat Curran, who was also representing the Toms River YC.
Given the battle among the two young friends at the top of the fleet, Kempton's mom had mixed emotions about her daughter's success at the regatta. "It's bittersweet," said Ann Kempton. "They both deserved to win." The young Kempton, along with the other top-three finishers, had just returned from the Optimist World Championships in Spain where she had placed third among the girls and 32nd overall. Mitch Hall, a sailor from Floridas Clearwater Yacht Club who finished first in the Red Fleet and fourth overall here, was the top US finisher at the Worlds, taking the 15th spot overall. In that event, Curran had finished 29th.
The US Optimist Nationals were hosted by Pensacola Yacht Club with support from several Gulf Yachting Association clubs. The format called for two days of racing, a lay day, and then two more racing days, with all racing taking place after noon to take advantage of the likelihood of better breezes. With 180 sailors competing in Blue, Red, and White fleets, the youths were split into four divisions based on the luck of the draw, but modified by race officials to keep the top kids in different divisions.