Mysterious shifting winds win big, swamp 30 sailors

Restart hampers Hall of Bowie after his strong opening move

Athens Olympics 2004

August 16, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

ATHENS - Sailors truly needed a weatherman to know which way the wind was blowing yesterday in Olympic competition.

The notorious Meltemi arrived, blowing at a steady 18 knots and gusting to 25. It ricocheted around the watery bowl known as the Saronic Gulf, turbocharging some boats and swamping about 30 others.

The Meltemi, which means "air with no route," is expected to continue today.

"It was a very hard day today," said Croatia's Carlo Kuret, in third place in the Finn class. "The wind shifts were very unpredictable. One minute I was in control of things, and the next I thought I had lost it."

Maryland sailors, competing closest to the coast in the Yngling and Finn classes, battled winds that shifted 65 degrees in a half-hour.

Finn-class sailor Kevin Hall of Bowie couldn't catch a break in either of his two races. Tied for seventh after the first day of racing, Hall appeared poised to move up.

He was in third place in the first race when the race committee called for a restart. On the first restart, a strong opening move and good tactics put him in front of the 25-boat fleet going into the first mark.

But a radical wind shift forced the race committee to call for a second restart. Hall was unable to recapture his momentum and finished 13th.

On the second leg of the second race, Hall was one of eight Finn sailors to capsize. He lost about two minutes righting himself and finished 17th.

"The racing was very exciting, but I would have rather kept the first two races we started today," said Hall, in 13th overall.

In the first of their two races, the U.S. Yngling crew of Carol Cronin, Liz Filter of Stevensville and Nancy Haberland of Annapolis had a good start and were in sixth place at the first mark. They remained in the hunt until the final leg, when spinnaker trouble took the wind out of their sail and they limped across the line last in the 16-boat fleet.

In the second race, they finished 10th, leaving them in 10th place overall.

"We can't really attribute it to any one thing," said Cronin, of Rhode Island. "We just didn't have very good downwind speed today. We basically just tried to sail too deep and wiped out."

In his Olympic debut, Florida's Mark Mendelblatt finished second in the first race in the Laser class, keeping Brazil's Robert Scheidt, a gold and silver medalist and a seven-time world champion, at bay at the finish line. In the second race, Mendel- blatt finished 16th in the second race for sixth place overall.

Their equipment problems behind them, the U.S. team of Paul Foerster and Kevin Burnham moved up a spot to second in the double-handed dinghy-470 class. But fouls in the second race prevented them from taking the top spot overall.

"We were just happy to finish," said Foerster, a four-time Olympian. "It was just totally different than anyone had seen."

Postcard from Athens

The Greeks are spending a lot of money to woo the world, probably too much.

New roads, mass transit and signs could leave the country with a huge bill once everyone goes home. But itM-Fs the small gestures weM-Fll take with us when we pack up at the end of the month.

The cautionary tale of the unscrupulous cabbie was debunked by an elderly driver, who spoke no English, and his fare, who spoke no Greek. Hopelessly lost, the cabbie shut off his meter and drove around until he could find a police officer to act as an intermediary.

Satisfied with the directions, the driver turned on the meter and delivered his passenger. We may have been lost, but nothing was lost in the translation.

M-y Candus Thomson

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