U.S. Olympic Soling and Star Trials : Tow to Sea Near Tragedy for World Champion Kostecki

Special to The Times

What began as a peaceful trip to the ocean almost turned to tragedy Friday for John Kostecki, leader of the Soling class in the U.S. Olympic yachting trials.

During the usually routine tow ride to the Olympic sailing course three miles off Point Loma, Kostecki's boat turned to the right, flipped onto its left side and quickly began to take on water.

Kostecki, the helmsman, said he and crewman Will Baylis were dozing at the time, while the other crewman, Bob Billingham, kept the boat lined up behind the left side of the tow boat.

Without warning, Kostecki said the tow line got caught under the boat, jerking it to the right and causing it to tip over.

Billingham was thrown overboard, while Kostecki and Baylis received a rude awakening as sea water rushed into the boat.

Dick Stratton, who was driving the tow boat, immediately slowed to a halt. Just as he did, the rope tied to the boat and the main tow line snapped. Had that not occured, Kostecki said his mast probably would have broken off.

When the rope broke, the boat flipped back upright, allowing Kostecki and Baylis to scramble to their feet and help Billingham into the boat.

"One of us could have been seriously hurt or drowned," said Kostecki, the 1988 Soling world champion from San Francisco. "We're very lucky to be alive."

Kostecki said his boat suffered minor damage, but he and his crew were able to hook back onto the tow and continue to the course--bailing water all the way--for the fourth race of the Olympic trials.

There, with the wind blowing a healthy 12 knots, Kostecki not only sailed but challenged for first place all afternoon. At the last mark, he was one boat-length behind leader Gerard Coleman and took the lead at one point on the final leg.

But Coleman held on to win, and Kostecki fell to third behind Ed Baird.

Kostecki remains in first place in the trials that will determine the lone U.S. Soling berth in the Olympics. With six races left, Kostecki has a five-point lead over Coleman.

In the Star class, the competition continues to fall farther behind Mark Reynolds of San Diego.

Reynolds won for the third time in four races Friday and holds a 23.7-point lead over Peter Wright of River Forest, Ill., who finished third.

Olympic Sailing Notes

John Kostecki's protest Thursday against winner Dave Chapin of Newport Beach was disallowed. . . . Harry Melges was disqualified from Wednesday's Soling race for failing to yield right of way. The disqualification dropped him to last and cost him 29 points. If not for that, he would be among the top three in the overall standings. . . . With the good breeze, it took Coleman just 2 hours 17 minutes 2 seconds to compete the course. Reynolds finished in 2:31:12.

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