Martie Wells of Colton survived dropping his tow line and following the wrong boat Sunday but recovered in time to win the 62-mile Catalina Water Ski Race from Long Beach to Avalon and back.
Wells, 28, finished 32 seconds ahead of Darren Kirkland of England.
The winning time was 1 hour 1 minute .09 seconds. Defending champion Kurt Schoen of Mesa, Ariz., who led at the halfway mark, finished third, followed by Corey Cook of Rowland Heights, Gary Tomlin of Long Beach and Mark Pickering of Australia. It was the first victory in three tries for Wells and driver Jim Duvall of Long Beach.
"I let go of the handle about halfway over and we probably lost five minutes stopping and getting going again," Wells said.
"Then, when we got under way, we were in such a hurry to catch up that we started following Bill Dunsmore's boat (pulling Pickering) and it took us a while to realize he was heading way too far to the right. By the time Jim (Duvall) and Mark (observer Mark Hoffmeyer) got us back on course again, we'd dropped a couple of more positions."
Wells was fifth when he rounded the turn boat outside Avalon harbor, but Duvall picked up the pace on the return trip despite some rough water that bothered the other skiers.
"I think we were about a mile behind the lead boat when we started back, but we just kept pushing as hard as we could," Wells said. "When we passed Corey Cook I figured we had it if nothing bad happened after we got inside the breakwater. There were so many boats it was like a washboard until we passed the corner of the Queen Mary and saw the finish line."
Wells, a general contractor, finished third overall last year when he also won the novice class.
Lori Dunsmore of Lomita, who trains with Wells on the Colorado River, won the women's overall championship in her sixth try. Dunsmore's time of 1:06.56, behind driver Mike Drews of Lomita, was ninth fastest overall and nearly seven minutes faster than Shelbey Guardalabene of Azusa and three-time defending champion Rose Johnson of Oakley, Calif.
"We had our problems, too, but luckily for me I didn't know about them until after we crossed the finish line," Dunsmore said.
Her boat's transmission locked up with about 30 miles to go and then the power steering went out. Drews had to steer the boat by alternating power from his engines.
"We had the hatch open and fumes from the hot transmission were so bad we just hoped they wouldn't bother Lori," Drews said. "The worst time we had was after the race when he had to thread our way through all the boats to get to the dock with no steering."
Eleven-time winner Chuck Stearns, 52, won the 45-and-over class, but could manage only 26th overall. He was timed in 1:16.23, which was still faster than his first four winning races.