U.S. Olympic Sailing Trials : New Generation Has Been Making an Impact in Soling Competition

Times Staff Writer

When Thad Hutcheson of Houston was raising his son, Curtis, to respect his elders, he didn't necessarily mean Curtis had to do so at the U.S. Olympic sailing trials.

Young Curtis is handling the family Soling as if he's afraid his dad won't give him the keys again.

For example, Hutcheson has had several encounters with Dave Curtis, one of the senior members of the class.

"My dad will tell me, 'Tack right on him,' " Hutcheson said. "I'll say, 'Naw, Mr. Curtis made my sails.'

"My dad will say, 'Call him Dave.' "

Hutcheson, who just turned 18, is the youngest helmsman competing in the class here. Considering his lack of experience, he is giving a good account of himself in 11th place at the front of the second echelon of sailors who came in knowing that they were longshots for the sole Olympic berth that goes to the winner.

Hutcheson finished 13th in Wednesday's light and shifty breezes and sent runner-up Gerard Coleman of Newport, R.I., and his brothers back to 15th, opening a slight, 7.6-point gap for San Francisco's John Kostecki at the top.

Coleman seemed to steal the start when he ducked the committee boat on port, quickly tacked to starboard and went hard to the right side of the course.

But it wasn't long before the Colemans realized the wind was going left, leaving them far behind by the time the fleet hit the first windward mark.

Then, on the second beat, the Colemans went left, but when the wind continued to veer, they overstood the mark and had to reach back, having sailed far out of their way.

Such are the fortunes in San Diego's fluky zephyrs, which were at their capricious worst Wednesday. They started at 10 knots, then settled into a shifting 6-knot drifter that even some of the locals couldn't figure out.

One, Star class leader Mark Reynolds, finished ninth, his worst race of seven so far, to revive the hopes of his nearest competitors--Vince Brun, who was third, and Peter Wright, who won. Reynolds has 15.7 points, Brun 33.1 and Wright 46.4, with three days to go.

The wind was so tricky that Kevin Mahaney of Bangor, Maine, had to restart after jumping the gun but still beat the Soling fleet to the first mark, although he later slipped to sixth.

It was significant that Wright, from River Forest, Ill., and crew Todd Cozzens were the only Star boat that sailed out to the race course, disdaining the customary tow from the committee boat.

"We've sailed out every day by ourselves," Cozzens said. "You get a much better feel for the wind--how it's oscillating, how strong it is."

Wright: "I get wind readings all the way out. I think it's important, especially on a day like today. The puffs seemed to be coming out of the left."

Cozzens: "We kind of played the shifts up the left side."

They played them so well that, despite spotting the faster Soling fleet a 10-minute head start, had overtaken all but 14 of the 21 Solings at the second mark.

Kostecki led the Soling race for a while but finished third as Brodie Cobb of Dallas and then Curtis passed him on the final leg.

Hutcheson, who will enter the University of Texas in the fall, had no problems with Curtis Wednesday.

"We've been neck and neck with him in two races, but at the end he gets us by a couple boat lengths," Hutcheson said. "(The experienced sailors) always seem to come through at the end.

"Even though I want to beat them, I don't want to do anything to make them mad because there's so much in it for them.

"Like, one race we really had (Curtis) down to leeward of us, and we didn't tack on him. He just went on up with us and got to weather of us, and we lost about four boats. But yesterday, coming to the finish, he tacked right on me . I'll learn."

Hutcheson's crew consists of his father and a friend, Jason Downey, who also just turned 18 and may be the least-experienced sailor in the event. When they sailed the Soling nationals in March, it was Downey's "first race--ever," Hutcheson said.

"This is great," Downey said, "probably the best experience I ever had. It's the only sport where you can get thrown in with all these pros and do all right."

Thad Hutcheson is a longtime Soling sailor who might be expected to be steering the boat, with his son crewing.

"But he had knee surgery from a football accident so he can't hike anymore," the father said.

"The idea really came from Kostecki's crew, (Bob) Billingham. He called the house during the Winter Olympics and said Curtis ought to be at the helm and have the goal of finishing in the top 12 or 15.

"Normally, you move up fast in that level if you stay with it for four years. The Colemans were 10th (in the trials) four years ago.

"If I had him crewing for me, I don't think we'd be doing any better. I can look around now. That means a lot coming off the starting line. He's got better reflexes, anyway.

"Another thing for the kid, while he's in awe of the (veterans), he hasn't got as much in his head. He never thinks about all the things that might go wrong."

The main thing on his mind, young Hutcheson said, is, "We can't wait for '92."

Olympic Sailing Notes

In the Soling class, Dave Chapin's protest against leader John Kostecki Tuesday was disallowed. The jury also disallowed the spinnaker protests against four boats after checking the sails Wednesday morning . . . . At Newport, R.I., John Shadden of Long Beach snd Allison Jolly of Valencia won again to move near clinching the men's and women's 470 berths. With light winds, however, the Tornado and sailboard classes failed to finish within the time limit. . . . At Marblehead, Mass., early leader Stewart Neff of Cambridge, Mass., bounced back to win a 3-hour, 10-minute race in only 8 knots of wind. Series leader Brian Ledbetter of San Diego was sixth at the last mark but placed third when Richard Byron of Long Beach hit a finish marker and had to re-round, placing fourth.

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