LONG BEACH — It's not the Olympics, but in a potential preview Charlie Buckingham, a Newport Harbor High alumnus, started the second day of the 2014 Laser North American championships Friday one point behind leader Bruno Fontes of Brazil, the host nation of the 2016 Games.
What a start. He finished second to Erik Bowers of Minnetonka, Minn., while Fontes cruised to a trio of threes — then heard later back on the beach by the host Alamitos Bay Yacht Club that he had been disqualified for crossing the start line early.
"I was right at the pin [end]," Buckingham said. "I don't remember [hearing anything]."
Meanwhile, he went on his way, unaware of the ugly prospect of being docked 77 points (the total entries plus one), collecting a second and a first in the next two races as Fontes cruised to a trio of threes.
No problem. After six races on an open sea course everybody could discard his and her worst finishes, so Buckingham's 77 would be buried quietly between a pair of parentheses. As it is, he now throws out a three from Day 1 instead.
Even better, the OCS (on course side) infraction was withdrawn later, apparently on the possibility that a wrong sail number had been noted, leaving Buckingham with a scoreline of 2-(3)-1-2-2-1 for 7 points halfway through the regatta, with Fontes four points behind.
Buckingham didn't even need to hire a lawyer.
Actually, he said, "I've been getting off the line well. My speed feels pretty good and I haven't made any huge mistakes."
Fontes said his strategy for the last two days is clear: "I must keep my eyes on Charlie. He has more experience here."
Long Beach, with its trademark southwest breeze funneling down the San Pedro Channel between Santa Catalina Island and the mainland, was a bit milder than Monday's 19-knot blowout over churning seas that chased the less experienced sailors home early.
Friday was 8 to 11 knots with a more manageable sea state of scattered whitecaps.
The event also encompasses US Sailing's U.S. Singlehanded Championship for Americans age 17 and up, which has Buckingham and Chris Barnard — longtime rivals from Newport Beach — as the current two top Olympic hopes in the US Sailing Team Sperry Top-Sider lineup.
Luke Muller leads the Laser Radials with five firsts in six races, tossing a six. Paige Railey, another Sperry Top-Sider sailor, is four points back.
Macey McCann leads the Laser 4.7s with five firsts, ahead of Gage Wilson with five seconds.
Adults, juniors and masters, male and female, and members of the U.S. and Canadian national sailing teams and other competitors from Canada to the Caribbean and South America are racing in three classes: Laser Full, Laser Radial and Radial 4.7.
The schedule calls for three races daily on trapezoid courses starting at noon each day, conditions permitting.
The U.S. Sailing Singlehanded Champions will receive the prestigious George D. O'Day trophy for men and Helen Willis Hanley trophy for women.
The men's Laser and the women's Laser Radial are Olympic class events; Laser 4.7 features youth participants.
The Laser, a Canadian designed dinghy, is the largest dinghy class in the world with more than 200,000 boats built.
— Rich Roberts