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Tunnicliffe / Van Acker Share Early Lead

MARINA DEL REY, Calif.It may take the whole week for the best woman Laser Radial sailors on the planet to come to terms with the unearthly mysteries of Santa Monica Bay, where they opened their 2006 Laser Radial World Championships Sunday.

Light winds and a typically oversize chop of 2 to 3 feet made them work for results on Day 1 of six as Anna Tunnicliffe, 23, of Florida—No. 2-ranked in the world—parlayed a fourth place in the first race with a win in the second into a first-place tie with Evi Van Acker (No. 8) of Belgium (2-3) at 5 points, one ahead of another winner, Germany’s Petra Niemann (5-1).

Those women didn’t necessarily sail against one another Sunday. The 89 entrants are being split into Blue and Yellow fleets with separate starts for the first three days of qualifying races, with the fleets shuffled daily to balance the competition. Then, according to the standings, the top half will advance into the last six races over the last three days as the Gold fleet, going for the world title. The lower half becomes the Silver fleet. Both will carry over their qualifying results.

Steven Krol of The Netherlands leads the 71-boat men’s fleet after a 2-1 performance, followed by countryman Steven Le Fevre with a 4-4.

The Laser Radial is the new Olympic single-handed dinghy class for women. Men sail the full-size Laser in the Games.

Top-ranked Paige Railey, 19, of Florida opened with a third place but had to fight her way back through the fleet to make fifth in the second race. She had to execute a double penalty turn after drawing the dreaded whistle and yellow flag from an on-water judge for violating Rule 42 concerning kinetics at the start.

The rule is being strictly enforced, although Jeffrey Martin, the international executive director of the class, did not consider the overall total of 23 yellow flags, including the men’s fleet, as excessive.

“That’s not bad in these conditions,” Martin said, meaning when it’s light and lumpy and competitors are struggling to coax their little boats along.

Even so, principal race officer Bill Stump was pleased that all four women’s starts got off without a general recall, while the men had one before each of their races.

“They behaved themselves after we put up a black flag [threatening disqualification] each time,” Stump said.

Besides Tunnicliffe and Petra, other winners were France’s Sarah Steyaert and Great Britain’s Penny Clark, who finished deep in the fleet in their other races—although Steyaert had a protest working as this report was filed Sunday night.

The wind was almost due west—unusual here—and in single digits when racing started, built to a promising 10 or 11 knots in mid-afternoon but then faded,

Tunnicliffe won the second Blue fleet race, although she said, “It was difficult. I started really smart for the first beat and sailed for the shifts . . . just sailed by the numbers on my compass. I was farther right than most of the fleet but didn’t bang the corner.”

In her win, also in Blue, Steyaert found clear air at the start and broke away with three other boats.

“I had my best speed downwind,” she said, “and when it is just four boats we all have better wind.”

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