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  1998 North American Championships on Kentucky Lake  
  Sailed on Kentucky Lake in conditions ranging from 0 to 15 knots of breeze, the 1998 J/80 North American Championship tested the patience and fortitude of all competitors. In a challenge of changing gears, Fort Worth sailor Roland Arthur proved that time-on-the water and an all-star crew were the ingredients necessary to bring home his first championship aboard Wild Thang.

With 14 entries hailing from Montreal to New York to Texas arriving on Thursday morning at the Adventures in Boating yard, competitors were introduced to the Les McWilliams one-man show. As the J/80 Class Association Director and host of the regatta, McWilliams performed duties that morning ranging from boat-launching Travel-Lift operator to hamburger chef. After splashing hulls and stepping masts, the "delivery crews" were treated to the beautiful scenery along Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley as they made the 17-mile pilgrimage to the Kentucky Dam.

Arthur and crew had arrived several days early for local practice, and this clearly paid off, as they dominated the first day’s racing with finishes of 1-1-4-1. Sailhandling was mastered by Carter Perrin, who is currently mounting an Olympic Soling campaign with John Kostecki. Fresh off recent second place finishes in both the Sunfish and Laser NA’s, New Zealander Cameron Dunn timed the oscillations so that Wild Thang could tack away from the fleet only to come back far ahead. In the shifty breeze, this was likely the key to winning the regatta. Houstonian Dr. Steve Hammerman gave chase to Wild Thang in the second race, reaching the leeward gates on Arthur’s transom and poised to strike. From his position on the mark boat, Jim Johnstone recalled seeing Hammertime approach the port gate, and as the boat turned to windward the only sign of Hammerman was his feet straight up in the air. A minor brush with the mark, followed by Hammertime’s penalty turn allowed Arthur to escape the challenge. At the completion of the first day’s racing, Arthur led by 6 points. Tied for second with 13 points were Hammertime and Ohio sailor Ed Taylor’s boat helmed by Skip Dieball.

Saturday morning saw the fleet motor to the race committee boat located just upstream of the Kentucky Dam. With no breeze in sight, a postponement was called. The breeze began to fill slowly; however, the day served up much lighter and less predictable wind than for the previous day’s competition. Finding the breeze and avoiding the enveloping holes proved to be critical to performing well in this epitome of lake sailing. Sailing World’s one-design guru Greg Fisher kept skipper Pete Carelli on target, taking bullets in races 5 and 8. Races 6 and 7 were won by Taylor and Arthur, respectively, although each fell back in other races. Consistency was the name of the game for Hammerman, who sailed conservatively to finishes of 2-3-3-4. Former Lightning World and J/24 National Champion Jay Lutz called the tactics on Hammertime, which recorded the lowest point total for Saturday and was the only boat to score all top-five finishes in the series. While Hammerman fought back from a poor start in the final race to finish 4th, Arthur managed to hang onto 8th place and a one-point lead for the championship.

With the prescribed 8 races completed by Saturday afternoon, the awards were presented at a steak cookout Saturday night at the Kentucky Dam Village. Trophies for the J/80 Southern Circuit were also presented, with Hank Vasquez’s Rasta Rocket winning by a point over Hammertime. Unfortunately, Vasquez and crew were unable to attend the North American Championships, as their Hummer vehicle had broken down in Memphis en-route to Kentucky.

Both on and off the race course, the fleet enjoyed the comradery of familiar old faces and friendly new ones. On Sunday, the journey back to the Adventures in Boating yard was complicated by pea-soup fog. The boats appeared out of the fog one-by-one, and were quickly broken down and prepared for trailering. As the competitors departed by land for their respective ports of call, promises were made to see each other at Key West Race Week for the 1999 Mid-Winters and in Annapolis next October for the 1999 NA’s.

~~Steven M. Hammerman