Fifty-two-year-old Winning takes 18ft Skiff title in US

Friday saw the lightest wind of the week in the third annual 18 Skiff International Regatta in San Francisco, and John Winning’s Computer Associates team from Australia took whatever air was left out of the competition by running away with victories in the last two races.

Over five days on San Francisco Bay, Winning and his crew of Euan McNicol and Jack Young won 5 of the 10 races with no finish worse than third. In the real world he owns six kitchen appliance stores in Australia – Winning Appliances.

On the extreme edge of the world of sailing, he was the oldest skipper here at 52 but arrived ranked No 2 in the world and enhanced his status. This victory, his first in the event hosted by the St Francis Yacht Club after a second and a third the last two years, will go on his resume alongside his JJ Giltinan Trophy (world) Championship four years ago.

Winning’s hottest pursuers were fellow Aussie Trevor Barnabas and Howie Hamlin of Long Beach, California. All had a shot at first place until Winning clinched it in Friday’s first race, then won the last one for fun. Barnabas, sailing Omega Smeg with son Trent Barnabas and Robert Greuter, took second place overall from Hamlin’s West Marine team (Mike Martin and Rod Howell) on a tiebreaker. .

The last day of racing started about one and a half hours late. While sunny and warm, it was relatively windless, so all eight teams switched to the big light-air rigs – masts 34ft tall instead of 31, with about 25 per cent more main sail area and larger spinnakers.

Then, with everyone committed, someone noted that whitecaps were popping up on the bay.

Winning shot out of the start like a kangaroo on steroids and was gone.

“We tacked very early and got to the breeze first,” he said, “and we came out of it with a very nice lead. Once we’re in front, I don’t think anyone is faster than us.”

They won that race by more than a minute, with Hamlin’s West Marine second, but, with the title in hand, had to work a bit for the second victory. Grant Rollerson, sailing Australia’s Fisher & Paykel with David Cunningham and Chris Cleary, built what appeared to be a solid lead on the first lap.

“Upwind we just kept plugging along going wide on the right, and he went to the shore,” Winning said, “and when he came back we were smothering him.”

As for being overpowered with the big rig, Winning said: “It was definitely the right call. The wind never got above 12 [knots]. We certainly weren’t overpowered.”

With the mild conditions, there were only a couple of capsizes. The most dramatic was when Dalton Bergan’s Vodka Surprise lost middle crew Jeff Nelson overboard and he had to swim a considerable distance back to the boat.

The regatta is one of the class’s three international events, along with the European International Championship and the JJ Giltinan Trophy Championship, the class’s premier event contested annually in Australia since 1938.

Overall Results (10 races, two discards)

1. Computer Associates, John Winning/Euan McNicol/Jack Young, Australian 18 Sailing League, Australia, 3-3-1-1-2-(3)-1-(3)-1-1, 13 points

2. Omega Smeg, Trevor Barnabas/Trent Barnabas/Rob Greuter, Australian 18 Sailing League, Australia, 1-1-3-2-4-(4)-3-1-(4)-3, 18 (wins tiebreaker)

3. West Marine, Howard Hamlin/Mike Martin/Rod Howell, Newport Harbor YC, Newport Beach, Calif., 2-2-(6)-4-1-1-2-(9)-2-4, 18

4. Fisher & Paykel, Grant Rollerson/David Cunningham/Chris Cleary, Australian 18 Sailing League, Australia, 6-4-5-3-(9)-(9)-4-2-3-2, 29

5. Sunrise, Patrick Whitmarsh/Paul Allen/Chad Freitas, St. Francis YC, San Francisco, 5-(7)-2-5-3-2-5-4-7-(9), 33

6. Vodka Cruiser, Dalton Bergan/Jeff Nelson/Kevin Richards, Newport Harbor YC, Newport Beach, Calif., 4-5-4-(9)-5-(9)-6-6-5-7, 42

7. Canada 1, Fred Eaton/Dan Cunningham/Rob Patterson, Royal Canadian YC, Toronto, 9-(9)-8-6-6-(9)-7-5-6-5, 52

8. Emery Worldwide, Dana Jones/Jon Bell/Campbell Rivers, Ventura (Calif.) YC/St. Francis YC, 9-6-7-7-9-(9)-8-(9)-8-6, 60