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The United States Optimist Dinghy Association (USODA) Midwinters Regatta was held at Southern Yacht Club (SYC) in New Orleans on November 28-30, where a record 197 junior sailors from Maine to Florida to California competed for a chance to represent the U.S. in several international Optimist regattas this spring. In recent years, the Midwinters has become a premier event on the USODA regatta calendar, attracting the nation's best sailors under the age of 16. USODA's Region 2, which includes New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, saw its share of local sailors compete, including Tedd and William Himler of Manhasset Bay YC, Scott Furnary and Cameron Cullman of American YC, Leigh and Emily Hammel of Noroton YC, Austen Anderson of Centerport YC, Ed Jude and Eamon Glackin of Northport Bay Sailing Association, Zander Ditkoff of Seawanhaka Corinthian YC, and several from eastern Long Island. During two days of racing on Lake Ponchatrain, seven races were completed in shifty winds of 5-12 knots on a modified trapezoid course. Teddy Himler, 13 years old and an eighth-grader at Manhasset Middle School, finished with an impressive 15th overall, earning him a top trophy and a spot on the South American Team, which will represent the United States at the South American Championships in Uruguay this spring. Anderson finished 21st and Furnary, 23rd, qualifying them for the annual Easter Regatta in Holland. More information about the USODA and upcoming regattas can be found at http://www.usoda.org.

Last week's column mentioned Ellen McArthur winning the Route du Rhum, making her boat, Kingfisher, the first monohull in the history of the Route du Rhum to be first over the finish line. She was in second place to Swiss Steve Ravussin on TechnoMarine but a vicious squall decided differently. Sailing under gennaker with one reef in the mainsail, the Swiss skipper, who was leading the fleet in the Route du Rhum, capsized just 734 miles from the finish line in Guadeloupe. Ravussin, who was rescued and brought back safely to shore, was in the interior of the boat when a fierce squall lifted the boat. The leeward bow crashed into a bigger wave than the others. Ravussin tried to ease the sheets and let go of the sails, but in vain the boat flipped over. Of the 18 ORMA trimarans that started the race, only three are still on the racecourse, which begs the question of the suitability of these trimarans for trans-ocean solo sailing where the wind and weather conditions are so unpredictable. Also questionable is the timing of the start of the race. The Route du Rhum is sailed in the worst of northern Europe weather in November in order to have a fabulous finish in the Caribbean. According to trimaran designer Nigel Irens, the race organizers should take a careful look at the weather for a late fall start, and analyze the past Route du Rhums and the effects of weather as many boats have received DNFs (did not finish). If the race were started in August or September the participants would race the hurricane season, so all that is left is a spring start as an alternative.

The Louis Vuitton Challenger Series Repechage is over - or is it? The NYYC as a trustee of the Cup and Yacht Club Punta Alla, the Challenger of Record - not the Sailing Teams - filed a joint application to the Cup Arbitration Panel regarding Seattle Yacht Club/OneWorld Challenge's possession and use of other Cup syndicates design information. The two yacht clubs allege "multiple contraventions of Article 15.3(c) of the America's Cup Protocol concerns design information, which specifically states that 'a Challenger must engage independent designers, having no involvement with any other Challenger or Defence program.'" While OneWorld was assessed a one-point penalty during Round One of the Challenger Series, it seems that additional information has become available (through the generosity of Team New Zealand). The 92 pages of alleged "new evidence" that were lodged with the International Jury must have some merit because the Jury has handed the information over to the Cup Arbitration Panel, which will meet for a Dec. 7 hearing. In preparation for the hearing, two New Zealand members of the Panel met yesterday, Wednesday, Dec. 4 to decide procedural matters, such as if the hearing will be open to the media, and whether parties at the hearing wish to cross-examine witnesses. Already known is that Team New Zealand will allow team members to testify at the hearing if required, and will make available relevant documents and designs. Team Dennis Conner and Prada have been asked to give $20,000 to the Arbitration Panel as security against the cost of the hearing.

Readers would agree that in a perfect world, the Cup should be won on the water, not in a courtroom. But if, in fact, the Arbitration Panel finds OneWorld has actually cheated and used the other syndicates' design information, and many people who are in Auckland believe this to be true, then they would be thrown out, throwing the Louis Vuitton Challenger Series into utter chaos. Since OneWorld beat all the syndicates in Round One, the teams that haven't advanced to the semifinals - Le Defi Areva, Mascolzone Latino Challenge, Victory, GBR Challenge, Team Dennis Conner - could file for redress and ask to be given a chance to compete again. This would force a delay in the semifinals, while these syndicates have a chance to improve their win-loss records.

One has to question the motivation of several of the syndicates who are major players in this new round of maneuvering. The syndicate that offered new evidence to the International Jury after the conclusion of the Repechage is none other than Team New Zealand, who lost 50 percent of their team members to other Cup syndicates after winning the 2000 Cup. And Team Dennis Conner lost to OneWorld 4-0 during the Repechage. Both these syndicates have everything to gain and little to lose in bringing this action against OneWorld. But the facts to date are that OneWorld admitted some time ago that their designer, Laurie Davidson, had possession of his previous employer's design data after he had been lured to OneWorld from Team New Zealand. What does OneWorld think of these new developments? "This is a desperate act, by desperate people who want to fight this on shore instead of on the water," said Bob Ratliffe, executive director of the OneWorld Challenge. "Our lawyers have reviewed the submission and there's nothing new in it. This information has all been around for a long time, and if they wanted to fight this, they should have done it before the Sept. 30 deadline." If there is nothing new to the allegations, then OneWorld has nothing to worry about, but sources indicate that OneWorld is very worried indeed. And the theater of intrigue continues. David Elwell, of the New York YC, which is sponsoring Team Dennis Conner, when speaking of the new evidence, said, "I hope in many regards that they are cleared up satisfactorily and OneWorld go on to win the America's Cup. Then they can go home with a wonderful feeling that they've done a great job."


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