Gale force winds stop sailboat racing in Clearwater

CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – As the winds picked up, sailboat masts went down, splintered in two by gusty breezes. Athletes were in Clearwater competing in a world championship. The competition is a qualifier for the Summer Olympic Games.

Just before 2 p.m. Tuesday, word went out to bring everyone ashore. The northwest winds were just too much for the little skiffs and catamarans to handle.

Clearwater sailing

Several boats capsized south of Pier 60, prompting a water rescue by the U.S. Coast Guard.

RELATED: Olympic sailing hopefuls to race in Clearwater

News Channel 8 spotted one boat capsized off Sand Key Park. It was later towed in with a broken mast.

Despite the race suspension and damaged craft, these sailors enjoy the challenge. “I prefer for it to be as windy and wavy as possible because that’s the most difficult condition and that’s the one we feel the most comfortable in,” Team USA member Fred Stammer said.

Clearwater sailing

Stammer has dislocated his shoulder twice in four years. “The boat we sail is one of the most challenging in the Olympic games. And it’s really important that you kind of learn to sail in the extremes, the very light and the very windy,” he said.

He got his wish with whitecaps, heavy swells and strong winds. The sailors think of the wind like gas for a car’s engine. “They’re a lot of fun. It’s a lot of horsepower and it’s like riding on a bull, ya know? You’re just trying to hang on and harnessing the power of the wind,” US team member Brad Funk said.

It’s a balancing act that could propel the athletes to the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Days like Tuesday separate the amateurs from the professionals.

“It’s like a big surf board and souped up sailboat,” Funk said.

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