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Old 05-25-2000
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Dobbs Davis is on a distinguished road
Nautica Star Class World Championships

 
Victors Magnus Lilijedhal (left) and Mark Reynolds celebrate dockside after winning the coveted Star Class World Championship trophy.
 
Excelling in conditions that ranged from ideal to difficult, the US representatives to this year's Olympic Games in the Star Class won the Nautica Star World Championship regatta, held last week in Annapolis, MD. Sailmaker Mark Reynolds of San Diego and his crew Magnus Liljedahl, a furniture maker from Miami, led the six-race, one-throw-out series on every day but one throughout the entire event. It was the second world championship title for Reynolds, who won also in 1995, the first for Liljedahl, and the second major victory for this team coming off a strong showing at the US Olympic Trials regatta in San Francisco in April.

"It's so hard to win the Worlds in this class," explained the 44-year-old Reynolds. "It took me a long time to win one. To get another one five years later is pretty special." This was the 18th consecutive World Championship regatta for Reynolds. At last year's event in Italy, he and Liljedahl, 46, finished third. With former crew Hal Haenel, Reynolds had represented the US at every Olympics in the Star since 1988, where they won a silver medal in Pusan, Korea, followed by a gold medal performance in Barcelona in 1992.

 
 
Long courses and a big fleet spread the competitors out across much of the Chesapeake Bay.
 
According to Liljedahl, "So much of the success in this very competitive class involves being with the right person at the right time. Mark makes me look good." This modesty ignores the fact that this former Swede helped anotherperennial favorite in the class, Vince Brun, achieve his prominence and success as well.

Becoming a world champion in an Olympic year, particularly when countries must qualify for a limited number of available berths at the Olympic Regatta, is a daunting task. Before the Annapolis regatta began, crews from nine nations had already qualified to represent their countries, but eight slots remained to be determined. That, coupled with the usual intensity of a well-qualified, 112-boat fleet with some of the world's top sailing talent, made this a particularly competitive regatta.

 
There's a reason that Star Class crews scale in at an average of 230 pounds—heavy air.
 
To cite one example, consider that the only team to lead the regatta other than Reynolds and Liljedahl were two young sailors from New Zealand with both America's Cup and Olympic racing experience. Gavin Brady's former residence in Annapolis qualified him to sail for AmericaOne in the Louis Vuitton Series earlier this year, but he and crew Jamie Gale will now represent their native New Zealand in Sydney due to their seventh-place finish at the Worlds. "We're really still just learning the boat, and what all these strings do," admitted Brady halfway through the regatta, only the third event he had ever sailed in a Star. He and Gale had chalked up an impressive 5-1-10 scorecard at that point in the series to hold the lead. When the September Olympic Regatta rolls around, it will be Brady's first appearance in that arena, and Gale's second, having sailed in the Soling in '96.

Besides Brady and Gale, the other teams that qualified for the Games include: Ross MacDonald and Kai Bjorn from Canada, who finished second; Mark Mansfield and David O'Brien from Ireland, who finished fifth; Mark Neeleman and Jos Schrier from the Netherlands, who finished 12th; Peter Bromby and Lee White from Bermuda, who finished 16th; Flavio and Rento Marazzi from Switzerland, who finished 15th; Halvor Schoyen and Asmund Tharaldsen from Norway, who finished 20th; Leonidas Pelekanakis and Diuistris Boukis from Greece, who finished 22nd; and Eduardo Farre and Eduardo Lucca from Argentina, who finished 30th. Despite having qualified their countries for the Games, it is still unclear if all these sailors will go on to Sydney.

 
A variety of conditions helped regatta organizers ensure that the eventual winners were deserving of the title "world champions."
 
Apart from hard-chined hulls, elite competition, and crews with World Wrestling Federation-like physiques, there's another element that distinguishes the Star Worlds—a one-race-per-day format that has been used in each of the Class's 76 previous world championship regattas. Though it seems antiquated by contemporary one-design class standards, this format is intentional. Class organizers feel that the winner of the Gold Star—the prestigious emblem of a Worlds victory—should be the team that has had to master a variety of conditions, which realistically only a full week of sailing can provide. Certainly this event provided just such variety, with the early days yielding classic Chesapeake conditions of light, shifty air and strong current, while the strong southerlies toward the end of the week challenged those without the experience and maximum weight needed to perform well in this demanding boat.

With two-mile legs and long starting lines, the boats can also get very spread out, so calling the shifts wisely can be as important as knowing how to tweak the Star boat's complex rig for optimal speed. Race managers from the Annapolis Yacht Club often postponed starts for up to two hours waiting for shifts to settle in, yet there were more than a few races where competitors found themselves well overstood of the mark by not properly reading the shifts or the current.

It's therefore no mistake that with these challenges, the Gold Star winners are among the world's top sailors, including such legendary names in the sport as Lowell North, Tom Blackaller, Dennis Conner, Paul Elvstrom, and Buddy Melges. In fact, on-site ESPN crews had imported Melges to provide commentary for a half-hour program being produced on the event.

 
Joe Landrigan and Mark strube lead the fleet around the top mark in Race 5.
 
For a class that has had over 8,000 boats built in 85 years, with over 2,000 still actively sailed in 170 fleets around the world, there must be some enduring attraction to account for this level of popularity and competitiveness. Jim Allsopp, a Gold Star winner from 1976 and one of ninepast World Champions sailing at this event, had not been in a Star for many years. Sailing with crew Jim Kavle, Allsopp didn't finish high in the standings, but he nonetheless had plenty of praise for the boat, the class, and the competition. "I had forgotten just how much fun it is out there, with all those great sailors. The starts were particularly awesome, and out on the course there's still a great sense of camaraderie. And even though the racing was close, and there was some barking at the marks, I think there were only 16 protests all week. I had a great time!"

Reynolds also had high praise for the organizers of this year's event. "I've been to 18 straight Star Worlds and this is the best one yet. As far as overall organization, race committee, and onshore parties, I haven't seen better." If the management of this event has set a standard, Reynolds and Lilijedhal have notched one of their own, and for the rest of the elite sailors who will gather in Sydney later this year for the Olympic Yachting Games, the gauntlet has been laid.

For complete results of the Nautica Star Class Worlds, log on to www.annapolisyc.com.

 

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