Railey endures flags, lessons at worlds

Published August 9, 2006

"The Worlds was tough," Clearwater's Page Railey said. "I had media scrutiny, the worst I had ever experienced. I had some great sailing. The only thing that was killing my scores was my yellow flags."

Railey was ranked No. 1 in the world and was the defending women's Laser Radial world champion, having won in South America last year. This year the Worlds regatta was in California and included all the sailors in the women's single-handed division vying for the 2008 Olympics in China. Railey trained at major regattas in Europe for most of the summer, with excellent results at first, but faltering in the last two events.

The Laser is a boat that rewards a physical, forceful sailing style. On the college sailing scene, an aggressive style is permitted. But elsewhere, the rules of sailboat racing limit any crew action that makes the boat move independently of the wind on the sail and water under the hull.

Sculling the rudder forcefully moving it back and forth has always been prohibited.

Fanning the sails and rocking the boat back and forth is now prohibited, as is lunging forward with a sudden stop, as if moving a chair across the floor by lunging.

In some regattas, especially in Europe, more of these tactics take place than would seem normal to the average sailor. Susie Pegel, who won the Laser North Americans years ago, decried the sculling that took place before the start at the Laser Midwinters West in California this year. "People were sculling to windward, sculling to leeward, sculling right across my deck. It was insanity," she said.

During the Laser Radial Women's Worlds, several judges patroled the course in small power boats, looking for rules infractions. They yellow-flagged Railey early in the event. After the first infraction, the sailor must do two complete circles with the boat before sailing on. But the second yellow flag results in having to drop out of that race. Railey's third flag, for rocking, came in the penultimate race and meant complete dismissal from the regatta. She had been in the top five in the 89-boat fleet until that race.

"It was a horrible feeling," Railey said. "Here I was in my home country being thrown out of the Worlds."

With the selection trials for the Olympics a year and a half away, many 19-year-olds would be crushed, especially when her biggest U.S. rival, Anna Tunnicliff of Plantation, finished fourth. But not Railey.

"I used to be the person who would criticize someone for starting to perform poorly or just say they don't have it in them. But now that I am going through it, I get to see a different side," she said.

"I realized that we are just human and you can't be perfect all the time, but it's the great athletes who are able to pull through times like this. As my dad has said to me, 'You can't enjoy your highs unless you've experienced a low.' "

The next event in her quest to be the Olympic representative is at the 2008 venue in China in mid-August.

TWILIGHT SAILING: Friday evening racing has been excellent despite the afternoon threat of thunderstorms. One race had 30-knot winds for a short time.

The St. Petersburg Yacht Club race organizers encourage sailors to monitor VHF channel 63. If the weather looks threatening, a cancellation announcement would come at 5:30 p.m.

The same radio channel will be used, on low power, to inform sailors who jump the starting gun. Also, if the race is to be shortened or abandoned due to weather, it will be announced on channel 63.

The Twilight Series awards dinner will be at 6 p.m., Aug. 25 at SPYC. To sign up, e-mail Jwalker98@tampabay.rr.com.