Melges class in spotlight at regatta in Annapolis

270-plus boats will race in 17 one-design divisions

Sailing

April 29, 2005|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

One group of sailors will be double dipping at this year's National Offshore One-Design Regatta in Annapolis.

The winner of the Melges 24 class will claim not only the local title, but also the national championship. The race within a race has attracted some of sailing's top competitors and almost tripled the number of entries over last year's fleet.

"We have a fantastic lineup," said Bill Blank, Melges class coordinator for the Annapolis Yacht Club, the host organization. "There's a whole heap of talent out there. It's anybody's race."

FOR THE RECORD - Because information supplied by a public relations firm confused two persons of the same name, The Sun misstated the background of Annapolis sailor John Bertrand in an article in yesterday's editions. In February, he won the first leg of the nine-stop National Offshore One-Design regatta in St. Petersburg, Fla. He is competing in the Annapolis NOOD regatta this weekend.
John Bertrand of Australia won the America's Cup in 1993. He is not competing this weekend.
The Sun regrets the error.

Competition will begin today just south of the Bay Bridge at the mouth of the Severn River and will conclude Sunday. More than 270 boats are entered in 17 classes.

Perhaps the biggest name on the Melges 24 roster is that of Annapolis resident John Bertrand, skipper of Fusion M. The Olympic bronze medalist won the first NOOD event of the nine-stop circuit this year, and his local knowledge is an asset.

Bertrand is perhaps best known as the skipper of Australia II, which in 1983 beat Dennis Conner and broke this country's 132-year hold on the America's Cup.

But the rest of the 39-boat field won't roll over. The top three finishers here last year - John Pollard, Joe Woods and Bob Dockery - have signed up to compete again. Pollard, of Great Britain, was ranked No. 1 last year in North America and sixth in the world. Dockery, of St. Petersburg, Fla., leads the 2005 world rankings.

Two other entries will boast Olympic-caliber crews: Texan Charlie Ogletree, silver medalist at the Athens Games, will be crewing for Geoffrey Pierini aboard Gazoo; and Florida's Morgan Reeser, a 1992 silver medalist, is on Neil Sullivan's M-Fatic.

For authenticity, you can't beat Jeff Ecklund, who has an honest-to-goodness Melges - Harry, the son of the company owner - as one of his three crewmen aboard Star. The two men won the 2002 Melges 24 world championship.

Since its introduction a dozen years ago, the 24-foot boat has become racing's hot ticket. The design borrowed several elements from the 1992 America's Cup contenders, including a carbon-fiber spar, rudder, bowsprit and vertical keel fin.

"These boats are coming on strong," said Blank. "We're trying to gain attention for them and bring fleet racing to this area."

The NOOD, in its 18th season, is the nation's oldest racing series. The Annapolis event is the third stop on the nine-regatta North American circuit that started in February in St. Petersburg, Fla., and will end in Galveston Bay in Texas in September.

Sailors like the one-design events because the boats compete against others of the same design, which tests skills and tactics rather than technology.

Last year, the Annapolis regatta was the largest race in the history of the circuit, with 292 boats, bettering by seven entries the record set in Chicago in 2001.

But competitors will notice some changes. The regatta will have two fewer classes. Organizers dropped the Star, J/27, H30 and P30 classes and added the J/29 and C&C 99 classes.

In the 20-boat Etchells class, the favorite and sentimental favorite are one and the same. Gary Jobson, the heart and soul of the Chesapeake Bay sailing scene, is back in competition after a two-year battle with cancer.

The America's Cup winner and sailing commentator for NBC and ESPN will team up with Jud Smith, one of the best keelboat sailors in the world and the 2004 Etchells North America champion. The third man aboard will be Gary Gilbert, Jobson's longtime Etchells partner.

"Any boat that Jud is on is the one I'd bet on," said Sandy Morse, the Etchells class coordinator. "I'd say they're the prohibitive favorite."

Unless there are some last-minute local entries, the J/22 class, the largest fleet in 2004, will fall to No. 2 behind the Melges.

"We have a lot of the same players as last year," said Ray Wulff, the class coordinator. "Most of these folks will pack up afterward and head to Oklahoma City for the North American championship, so this is kind of a tune-up."

The winner last year, Annapolis' Scott Nixon, will not defend his title. Instead, he is crewing for Bertand. But the second- and third-place finishers, Dave Van Cleef and Henry Filter, will be returning.

Van Cleef, an Annapolis resident, finished third in the J/22 world championships last year, with Filter right behind him.

This time, Filter will have a formidable sailor in his crew: David "Moose" McClintock, a five-time winner of the J/24 worlds and two-time America's Cup campaigner. Earlier this month, McClintock was in the pit when Dean Barker beat Russell Coutts to win the 41st Congressional Cup in Long Beach, Calif.

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