Olympic Preparation Regatta Kicks Off in Florida

Competitors at the start of the 16th annual Rolex Miami OCR gratefully accepted the clear skies and moderate breezes yesterday. The conditions made for a near-perfect first day at one of the largest Olympic and Paralympic preparation regattas in the country. The event has returned to Biscayne Bay for a 16th year and is hosting 217 boats representing 26 countries.

New talent seemed to carry the day in several classes, including the Star. Andrew Horton and Brad Nichol (Newport, RI/Hanover, NH) topped the scoreboard with four points, with Mark Mendelblatt and Steve Erickson (St. Petersburg, Fla./Hood River, Ore.) officially in second, but also with four points total.

For Horton, a winning member of the 2004 ISAF Match Racing World Championship team, and Nichol, this is only their fourth Star regatta together. “It’s awesome to be here with all the old-school greats,” said Horton, referring to the class’s history of attracting incredible sailors and making them lifelong converts. In fact, the “Star of the Star Class,” Mark Reynolds (San Diego, Calif.), a four-time Olympian and three-time Olympic medallist, holds third place with crew Phil Trinter (Port Washington, NY), a Star-class Olympian from 2004.

“Horton and Mendelblatt are going to be good,” said Reynolds. “I just hope I can beat them a few times.” Mendelblatt also represented the US at the 2004 Olympics in the Laser class. He plans to launch an official Olympic campaign with Mark Strube (Palm Beach, Fla.) but when Strube was not available to sail with him for this event, Erickson stepped in. “I decided I needed mentoring,” said Mendelblatt, “so who better to ask?” Erickson has sailed Stars for 24 years and is an Olympic Gold Medallist from 1984.

Clearwater, Florida’s Paige Railey, a 2003 World Youth Champion, started out strong, topping the Laser Radial fleet after two races. The 17-year-old has come to get a taste of “Olympic-like” competition and is up against, among others, a real Olympic Silver Medallist (in Europe class), Lenka Smidova of the Czech Republic, who sits in third overall. Smidova gave Railey the nod as one of the competition’s top players. “I am not a fan of this class, really,” said Smidova, who says she is unfamiliar with the boat while Railey has spent much of her youth sailing it. The Laser Radial is a class newly added to the Olympics for 2008.

Railey’s older brother is testing his luck in the Finn class, having switched from sailing a Laser at this event for the previous four years. He currently sits in fourth place out of 26 boats. “I’m really happy with that,” said Railey. Canada’s Chris Cook holds the lead, while the USA’s Finn representative from the 2004 Olympics, Kevin Hall (Bowie, Md.), is close behind in second. Other US sailors turning in top performances were Morgan Larson/Pete Spaulding (Capitola, Calif./Miami Beach, Fla.) in 49ers; Brad Funk (Belleair Bluffs, Florida) in Lasers; Amanda Clark/Sarah Mergenthaler (Shelter Island, NY/Matawan, NJ) in 470 women’s; USA’s 2004 Olympic Silver Medallists John Lovell/Charlie Ogletree (New Orleans, La./Kemah, Texas) in Tornado; and 2004 ISAF Women’s Match Racing World champions Sally Barkow (Nashotah, Wis.), Carrie Howe (Grosse Pointe, Mich.) and Deborah Capozzi (Bayport, NY) in Ynglings.

The Netherlands team of Sven Coster/Kalle Coster leads the 470 Men’s class, while Stellan Berlin of Sweden leads the 2.4 Metres and the British team of John Robertson/Hannah Stodel/Steve Thomas leads Sonars.

In addition to Rolex, sponsors for the Rolex Miami OCR are Nautica, Team McLube and Zodiac. Regatta Headquarters for the 2005 Rolex Miami OCR are at the US Sailing Center, with classes hosted by the US Sailing Center; Coral Reef, Key Biscayne and Miami Yacht Clubs; the Coconut Grove Sailing Club; and Shake-A-Leg-Miami.