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Boat makes sailing a breeze

Tom Holbert has watched his golf handicap slide from a 10 to a 13 thissummer, but don't feel too sorry for the Medford physician.

Instead of spending most of his free time on the golf course, Holbertis spending it on the water as skipper of Quantam Leap, hisnew 24-foot sailboat.

Holbert is testing his skippering skills this week at Whidbey IslandRace Week in Bainbridge Island, Wash. The five-day race on Puget Sound,which began Monday, features 150 sailboats from throughout the West Coastand is considered one of the top regattas in the country.

Joining Holbert on his boat is his wife, Colleen, as well as Steve andCrissy Barnett.

We're not going up there with the idea that we're going to winthe race, Holbert admitted before he left, but I do think wecan finish among the top 25 percent. That's our goal.

Holbert's boat is a 24-foot Melges, a state-of-the-art sailing craftthat is constructed of carbon fiber. It cost $40,000 and weighs just 1,750pounds. Boats nearly identical to Holbert's have been clocked at 25 knotsin high winds.

The boat is unbelievably fast, the 50-year-old Holbert says.It will actually surf ­ get up on a plane.

It is the ultimate in high-tech. Even the mast is made of carbonfiber.

But how well Holbert fares at the Whidbey Island race will depend moreon his abilities as a skipper than on his boat.

A handful of other 24-foot Melgeses are in his division and each of theboats in Holbert's class is required to carry the same main sail, jib andspinnaker.

Additionally, no modifications are allowed.

Whoever wins will be the best sailor, and that won't necessarilybe the guy with the most expensive boat, Holbert says.

Holbert is manning the rudder while Steve Barnett is in charge of trimmingthe sails.

Sailing in a race like this can be incredibly exhausting, bothmentally and physically, Holbert says. There are a lot of tacticsinvolved ­ when to tack, when to make a move for the marks, when toput out the spinnaker ­ those types of things.

Steve is the one who will be physically taxed, grinding in thosesails, but I know he'll be up for the task. He's a big, strong guy who'sin great shape.

While Holbert has done his share of sailing ­ he belongs to the yachtclub at Howard Prairie Lake and has competed in the San Francisco Bay Area­ his experience pales in comparison to many of the other veteran yachtsmen.

In places like the Bay Area and the Puget Sound, junior yacht clubs areavailable for kids, Holbert says.

We were cruising in an estuary near Oakland last year and we sawa bunch of 9- and 10-year-old kids sailing like little demons,'' Holbertsays. They were yelling `starboard,' `prepare to come about' and abunch of other sailing terms. The junior clubs are very active down there.

When you go against guys who have been in a sailboat most of theirlives, it makes it tough for someone like me to keep up.

But regardless of what happens, we're going to have a great time.

And not just on their boat.

Several other activities are scheduled during Whidbey Island Race Week,including bowling, golf, volleyball, an air show and a night of reggae music.

That's enough to knock the wind out of anyone's sail.

Tom Holbert and his wife, Colleen, will test their 24-foot Melges sailboat at one of the top regattas in the country this week. - Photo by Andy Atkinson</P