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.
Kempton opened the final day of competition with a three-point lead over Hawkins and the divisional rotation put them together for the first start of the day. A significant points advantage at the end of that contest would be hard to overcome for either of them in the closing race as both would be sailing in separate starts for the final race. Hawkins had a disastrous starthe was over the line early and had to restart after rounding the committee boat in very light winds. Meanwhile, Kempton pulled off a clean start and she was among the leaders when the race was abandoned due to the light windsa major break for Hawkins.
In the final race, sailing in separate fleets and controlling their own destiny, both Hawkins and Kempton finished fourth in the light air and the championship would come down to a tie-break situation. The sailing instructions called for the winner to be decided by the number of firsts posted by each sailor. Kempton had opened the regatta with three bullets and added another in
the closing race on Day Threeand that was ultimately the decisive factor.
For Leigh Kempton, the win at this national championship carries two special honors. She is the first girl to win the title since 1989, and only the second female winner since the national title regatta was established in 1975. In winning this event, Kempton also dethroned teammate Pat Curran, who had won the top honors for the past two years. Reflecting on the experience her slim, blond, ninth-grade daughter has gained by traveling to Europe to compete and then coming to Pensacola to sail, her mother said, "The best part of all of this is the friends she's made."
USODA National Championship Overall Results
(Top 15 of 180 boats)
1. Leigh Kempton (Blue) 32 2. Todd Hawkins (Blue) 32 3. Pat Curran (Blue) 45 4. Mitch Hall (Red) 57 5. TJ Tullo (Red) 67 6. Erik Storck (Blue) 72 7. James Howell (Blue) 75 8. Baker Potts (Blue) 78 9. Jackson Benvenutti (Red) 78 10. Chris Fontana (Blue) 80 11. Kyle Rogachenko (Red) 84 12. Edward Conrad (Blue) 89 13. John Sampson (Blue) 91 14. Royce Weber (Red) 91 15. Brian Kamilar (Blue) 107
USODA National Championship Overall Results
The Young and the Restless
The racers competing at this championship ranged from eight to 15 years of age, including 33 of the youngest kids racing in the Green Fleet for novice racers who sailed shorter courses on a different section of the bay. Brendan Ross of Lauderdale Yacht Club came from behind to take Green Fleet honors by four points as the early leader, Emily Dellenbaugh, dropped to second after a string of four firsts midway through the 12-race series. Other top finishers included Amy Hawkins in White Fleet (and third girl), and Shannon Heausler in Red Fleet (second girl).
The conditions for the racing were not extreme, yet still challenging. A few races saw the wind climb into the teens for a brief period of time, but the mix of very light and shifty breeze, followed by spurts of stronger winds and a quickly forming chop on the bay, made boat handling a test of concentration. The championship courses used 7/10-mile legs in most cases when the wind was up and slightly shorter legs in the lightest conditions so most courses were more than two miles in length. Determined to get four races logged on Day Four, the race committee began the race schedule at noon and the boats were still coming off the water at dusk, which meant a very long day for kids, coaches, parents, and the race committee. For additional details on the event and full scores log on to http://www.usoda.org.
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