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SMOOTH SAILING, KIND OF : Despite Distractions, Nelson Hanging Close

August 10, 1989|LAURA PALMER

SAN DIEGO — In a sport where concentration is as important as physical skill, distractions can mar a performance.

So it might have been understandable if San Diego skipper Bruce Nelson hadn't done that well in the Etchells 22 Worlds Championships. But going into today's final race, Nelson is in fourth place overall.

Two days before the best-five-of-six-race series began Saturday off Point Loma, a back injury to co-skipper Larry Harvey forced Nelson and Stanley Gibbs to go to a last-minute substitute. Friday's practice day was the first time Nelson and Gibbs sailed with John Driscoll. And the day before, Nelson's wife, Anne, had their first child.

"We've been pretty lucky so far," said Nelson, who won Race 2 and finished third in Race 1. He finished 10th for the second consecutive time Wednesday; boats are allowed to throw out the worst of their six races. "Normally you spend a lot of time with the crew to automate boat-handling. Unfortunately, with the distractions of my son and Larry's injury, we're doing boat-handling drills as we race."

San Diego skipper Larry Klein is first overall after winning Wednesday. The co-leader after Tuesday, Race 1 winner Dave Curtis of Marblehead, Mass., is second.

"(Curtis) could sail with his eyes shut," Nelson said. "We have to have our eyes open and use every trick in the boat. It's like a chess match, a little good luck could hurdle you into the lead to beat a guy like Dave Curtis."

This regatta is being conducted with Olympic scoring, which Nelson said is an advantage to the top five boats because is gives bonus points for top places.

"Any of the top five boats could win the regatta," Nelson said. "With Olympic scoring, one big race could put you back in the lead."

Although Nelson is a veteran sailor, he is fairly new to racing the Etchells 22, a 30-foot boat. It is named after its designer, Skip Etchells, and for the length of its waterline.

Nelson usually races 50-foot ocean racing boats, but an offer by Harvey convinced him to co-skipper the Etchells.

"It was a very attractive invitation since my wife was expecting this past week, and I knew the regatta was going to be in town," Nelson said. "I knew it would be a chance for good competition locally and not having to travel."

Nelson, 36, grew up in a sailing environment in Long Island, N.Y. At the University of Michigan, he was a three-time All-American in sailing. In 1972, as a sophomore, Nelson helped Michigan win the Northern American Sloop championships in Newport Beach. As a senior, Nelson came to San Diego for the national sailing championships and was so impressed with the city that he moved here following graduation.

Anne, who also sails, this year won the women's Hobie 16 class. She was a silver medalist in the wind surfing exhibition event at the 1984 Olympics.

For the past 10 years, Nelson has made his livelihood designing ocean racing boats for his own company, Nelson/Marek Yacht Design.

With a newborn at home, Nelson wants to keep his schedule somewhat clear of races, but he is gearing up for two major regattas in which he will race Champosa, one of his own designs. Next month, he will compete at the 50-foot class championships in Newport, R.I., and in November, he will travel to Japan for the 50-foot class Japan regatta.

"With each boat, there is a set of challenges," Nelson said. "When racing the bigger boats, there is a certain sense of teamwork and camaraderie with 14 to 18 people working together well."

As a child, Nelson was involved in sports but stuck with sailing because of the mental and physical challenges it offers.

"Sailing is very fascinating because it's a mixture of physics with wind and water and physical strength and agility," he said. "Then there's the whole mental aspect. It's like chess and wrestling combined. You can be challenged by it your whole life."

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