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American boat finishes eighth

8/17/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- One by one, the flag spinnakers popped
open as they caught the breeze, propelling a fleet of colorful
49ers downwind on the Saronic Gulf.

No one needed a program to figure out where these Olympic crews
were from.

The Swiss boat rounded the windward mark first and hoisted a
spinnaker with a red background and white cross, followed by the
Ukraine boat and its blue-and-yellow chute, then the Brits with
their Union Jack.

The Stars and Stripes spinnaker appeared when Tim Wadlow of
Boston and Pete Spaulding of Miami rounded in eighth. The Rising
Sun, a few tricolors, the crosses of the Scandinavian countries and
even the flag of India were in the fleet as well.

The only problem was that there was only enough wind to fill the
splashy sails on the high-performance skiffs for one race Tuesday,
another frustrating day on the Saronic Gulf. The sea breeze and the
northerly Meltemi battled for domination, leaving light, patchy
wind. Wadlow and Spaulding were in fifth on the third of four legs,
but fell back three spots.

"It was pretty sketchy today,'' Wadlow said. "Not the greatest
conditions for racing.''

A strong Meltemi had blown out three scheduled 49er races
Monday. But on Tuesday, two American skippers strengthened their
standing.

Paul Foerster of Rockwall, Texas, and crew Kevin Burnham of
Miami had finishes of 10th and fourth, respectively. They remained in second
place but pulled within two points of Britain's Nick Rogers-Joe
Glanfield with five races left. Foerster and Burnham are former
silver medalists.

Mark Mendelblatt was 20th and sixth in the Laser class to move
up to fourth, one point out of bronze medal position with seven
races left.

Although it was an annoying day for the sailors, at least the
49ers looked sharp with the flag spinnakers.

"They're awesome,'' Wadlow said. "It's easier to know who your
competition is, and it looks cool. Everybody loves it. You go out
training at home with that kite on and everybody's going around in
their power boats taking pictures of you and waving.''

The 49er class flew flag spinnakers during its Olympic debut on
its home waters of Sydney Harbor in 2000, but only for the first
two races. The chemical process used to emblazon the sails reduced
their strength and a few small tears showed up in some of the
sails. They were replaced by spinnakers in the colors of the
Olympic rings: red, blue, green, yellow and black.

For these games, the spinnakers were sewn from pieces of colored
silicon cloth.

"So like every single star is individually sewn into our
kite,'' Wadlow said. "The amount of work that went into that
spinnaker is just mind-numbing. A sailmaker looks at that and just
goes, 'Oh my God.' It's like three spinnakers.''

Tuesday's wind was about 11 knots at the start and extremely
patchy. The leaders were hurt when they sailed into a big wind hole
on the last third of the final leg.

"The wind was filling from behind and boats would come up from
behind going twice as fast as you, and they just carry the wind
right up to you and then roll right over you,'' Wadlow said. "You
might get a puff and sort of leapfrog back over them. It's what we
call a bit random.''

The skiffs -- named for their 4.99-meter length -- were a big hit
in Sydney and should be again, if they get a good breeze.

"It was so puffy and so shifty that it's the kind of day where
tacking in the right place is 100 times more important than how
fast you're going,'' Wadlow said.

Just after the finish, the wind dropped to practically nothing
and the boats bobbed around under the blazing sun for almost two
hours waiting to see if the breeze would fill in again. It didn't,
and they came back to shore.

The 49ers have retractable wings and little natural stability.
The crew, held by safety lines, prop themselves out over the water
to try to keep the boat level.

The 49er is the only class scheduled for 16 races. Crews will be
able to throw out their two worst finishes.

The other U.S. 470 crew, Katie McDowell of Barrington, R.I., and
Isabelle Kinsolving of New York, were ninth and second to move up
to seventh overall with five races left. Europe skipper Meg
Galliard of Pelham, N.Y., was 14th and ninth, and is 10th overall
after four races.