Wiggins Leading The 2009 Melges 17 Spring Championship

10 May 2009

Article courtesy of Tommy Clough - It is that time of year when the ice melts and it is time to bring the sailboats out of storage. No place holds more true to form than Lake Geneva Yacht Club on Lake Geneva. Today is the start of the sailing season on this prestigious lake and what better way to open it with than the Melges 17 Spring Championships.

The fleet awoke to 20+ knots of breeze with higher gusts, a light rain, 50 degrees air temperature and 50 degrees water temperature. The race committee decided to postpone the race until the wind died just a little. Reason being that the water on Lake Geneva is still just a little too cold to capsize in.

Three races were planned and with 1st race going off precisely at 1:00. The 20-boat fleet split at the start with half going right and half going left with 12 to 15 knots of breeze. First around the weather mark was none other that the Labanauskas brothers, Iggy and Andy. This seemed to be a repeat of there 2007 National Championship. Next was Bill Wiggins with Florida boy, Tommy Clough on board and the husband and wife team of Mike and Stephanie Dow. The remaining fleet rounded within two minutes of the first boat. This is one tight class. Coming into the leeward mark, the Labanauskas brothers jibed and capsized giving Wiggins the lead. The mark roundings seemed especially challenging this year as the fleet would experience 20+ knot gusts in the first race that seemed to always roll down the course during the leeward mark roundings. At least three boats capsized during the first race. The fleet seemed to spread out for the remaining of the first race, but it was Bill Wiggins who came away with the first bullet with Vincent Porter 2nd and Tom Munroe close behind at third. Finishing out the top 6 was Mary Anne Ward, Jim Hilgard and Brian Porter, finishing respectively.

The second race followed closely after as the race committee was commited to getting all three races off in significant wind. Again, all boats were clear at the start and the majority of the fleet went left. At the top mark, current x-boat stud, Ben Biwer, rounds first with Bill Wiggins 2nd and Lesa Guntenkunst 3rd. Again, with the whole fleet rounding the weather mark closely, it was anybodys race.

Once again, the whole fleet seemed to finish at once with the Palmetto Performance team of Wiggins and Clough finishing 1st and Vincent Porter 2nd, who had a phenominal downwind run to sqeak out current Midwinter Champion Lesa Gutenkunst and crew John Gutenkunst for 3rd. Fourth place belonged to Jim Hilgard, Mike Dow in 5th with Chucks Chick of the week Stephanie Dow, and Ben Biwer in 6th.

For the last race of the day, the wind died a little with a small shift to the right, splitting the fleet at the start. Iggy and Andy Labanauskas rounded the mark first with Wiggins and Porter hot on his heels. The lead changed twice but it was Vincent Porter who extended and pulled out the win for the 3rd race with the Labanauskas brothers in 2nd and Bill Wiggins in third. Tom Munroe had a great 4th place finish, Matt Ripkey placed 5th and Chucks Chicks of the Week Lesa Guntenkunst rounded out 6th place.

At the end of the day, Wiggins and Porter are tied with Wiggins winning the tie breaker. But, the real drama lies with the rest of the fleet. Third thru 15th is only seperated by 15 points with 3 races to go in a 20 boat fleet. It is anybody's game. With Jim Hilgard in 3rd with 18 points, Lesa Guntenkunst with 19 points securing 4th place, Tom Munroe 5th with 21 and Iggy Labanauskas with 27 points, this is far from over.

Even though the Melges 17 is a scow boat, which is conducive of Midwest sailing, every year Mark and Blaine Unicume travel from Grand Lake Colorado to support most of the Melges 17 scow events. Other notiable travelers include Mary Anne Ward from Florida, Hans Dickel and Eric Bowers from Minnetonka and Bill Fauntleroy of White Lake Yacht Club in Michigan.

Tomorrow's weather calls for the a slight decrease in wind with a shift to the west, but, the drama on the water will be hot.