by Rich Roberts
The 18ft Skiff International Regatta is being hosted by the St. Francis Yacht Club and Michael Coxon, an Australian, has a bit of advice for the world-class sailors who will soon be testing the waters of San Francisco Bay in the buildup to the 34th America's Cup in 2013: respect.
18ft Skiff International Regatta
That's respect not only for one another but even more for the beastly weather conditions that Coxon overcame in his introduction to the lively venue with crew Trent Barnabas and Aaron Links last year. They return to stand as the defending champions in the 10th 18ft Skiff International Regatta next Sunday through Saturday, Aug. 21-26, hosted by the St. Francis Yacht Club.
Coxon, 35, recently told Frank Quealey, spokesman for the Australian 18 Footers League, 'There is definitely no other venue that compares to the usual San Francisco conditions.'
The 18s will run one race each afternoon Sunday through Friday, with Wednesday off and will join sailboards, kite boards and others for the traditional five mile Bridge to Bridge Race Thursday starting under the Golden Gate.
The AC sailors will face a virtual layover of the 18s' windward-leeward course between the Golden Gate Bridge and beyond Alcatraz Island that the 18s have dealt with for a decade. That means a husky westerly wind building through the afternoon to twenty knots and occasionally into the 30s, bringing a head-on collision with an outgoing ebb tide of 3-4 knots. Let your bow down too much and you plow into a wave and … ask Russell Coutts about his AC45's cartwheel on a practice romp this summer.
Coxon, who last March won his third JJ Giltinan regatta---generally recognized as the class's world championship---had a similar introduction to the Bay last summer, but he learned. After flipping in the first race he won five of the last eight—and capped the week with a sweep by winning the traditional Bridge to Bridge race across the Bay as the 18s were joined by kite boards and sailboards.
He also paid attention to Howie Hamlin, an American from Long Beach, Calif. and a two-time Giltinan winner, as well as an original organizer of the San Francisco event, which he has won five times. Some mornings, from the Crissy Field staging area, it looks like a nice day at the beach. But wait.
Coxon said, '[Hamlin] said that even when [newcomers] are thinking about the number one [tall] rig, he tells them that the breeze will freshen and that they will need their smaller rigs. There is no other venue where the skiffs have to carry their number two (short) rigs for every race … none where the number two is always required. It's a different thing over there. It's particularly eerie going out under the bridge before the start of the Bridge to Bridge Race.'
As for the ebb tide, tidal charts promise that it will lay down every afternoon through the latter part of the week.
'Fantastic,' Hamlin said, tongue in cheek. 'We seem to stay on the ebb the last five years.'
Along with Hamlin, Coxon will be joined by fellow Aussies John Winning, an ongoing legend in the class; Nick Press, Jonathan Whitty and Grant Rollerson and New Zealanders Alex Vallings, Graham Catley and David McDiamid, along with local San Francisco teams.
St. Francis Yacht Club website