By DORAN CUSHING
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 1, 2001
The overall winners had been determined a day earlier so the only surprise on the closing day of the world disabled sailing championships was the weather. After a week of punishing winds and white-capped waves, the wind and waves moderated to provide a classic fall day of racing on Tampa Bay.
Heiko Kroeger confirmed his dominance in the single-handed 2.4 mR class bringing to this event a Paralympic gold medal and the world champion title in the open class for able-bodied sailors. Kroeger, from Germany, posted one more impressive win to remain undefeated through the nine-race series. As in each race before, Kroeger sailed out in front alone at the finish, trailed by a pack of four to six contenders.
Thomas Brown of Maine finished second in Wednesday's lone race but was disqualified for having crossed the starting line early. The tactical error made no difference in the final standings as Brown had a lock on second place. The third place championship trophy was up for grabs with three skippers within striking range as the final race began but Bjornar Erikstad of Norway, protected his position with a mid-fleet finish and beat countryman Jostein Stordahl by two points. On the Sonar course, Canadian skipper Brian Mackie , with crew Brian MacDonald and Paul Tingley, elected to sit out the final day with an unbeatable lead after eight races. With the exception of one over early start and were disqualified, Mackie's team won six times and finished second once.
"Overall, we made less mistakes than anyone out there," Mackie said."Ours was by far the best prepared boat."
The windy conditions favored Mackie's crew, which he believed was the heaviest team. "We sailed faster and higher upwind, and faster and lower downwind," Mackie added. "We did way better than anyone expected and it was fun."
Olympian Andy Cassell of England, who won the Paralympic gold at Atlanta in 1996, finished second Wednesday to protect a narrow lead over Germany's Jens Kroker for runner-up honors. American skipper Paul Callahan had worked his way up the standings to fifth place in the Sonar fleet until a back injury to crew member Keith Burhans forced the team to sit out the final four races. Rick Doerr moved into seventh on the final two days and posted the top American finish in the Sonar class.
The unusually windy weather, punishing as it was, was still better than what most of the international fleet would have been sailing with in their homelands.
"It was great to escape from the German winter," Kroeger said at the closing ceremonies, where he was presented with a Rolex watch and the world champion's trophy.
Recognized as the most improved sailor in the 2.4 mR class, Danny McCoy of Canada, said, "The wind caught me off guard, it certainly beat me up."
Linda Merkle, a technical advisor from the International Foundation of Disabled Sailing, attended world championships in Europe and the 2000 Sydney Paralympics and said there conditions in Tampa Bay were difficult. "The conditions (on Tampa Bay) were tougher than Sydney," Merkle said. "The first race was right at the edge of the top limits (for wind and sea conditions) but each race it got better."
Said event chairman Serge Jorgensen, "A few years ago at Lake Lanier (Ga.), they would not have gone out in these conditions. They all overcame it."