Top-caliber racers were in Marina del Rey this past weekend, July 8th and 9th, to partake in California Yacht Club’s highly competitive annual King of Spain Regatta.

The King of Spain is a one-design event for the 23-foot keelboats known as Stars — the oldest active class in the United States and also a class that’s loaded with top-shelf sailing talent.

The competition in the realm of Star racing is on the highest level and, since this event is a qualifier for the World Championships to be held this year in San Francisco, it was also serving as a regional championship.

The King of Spain drew some of the most premier sailing talent California has to offer.

In attendance were world champions, Olympic gold medalists, future Olympians and many other talented sailors tightly battling for position in these timeless designs that date back to 1911.

Swedish World Champion and Olympic bronze medalist Fredrik Loof was victorious in the five-race series, posting three second-place finishes, one third and one first.

Loof is regarded as one of the best Star sailors on the circuit and some believe he is among the world’s best sailors — period.

But the team of local Marina del Rey sailor Rick Peters and San Diego’s Rick Merriman were just as likely to capture the blue star going into the second and final day of the regatta with two firsts and a third going in, but their fifth-place finish in the fourth race followed by a fourth in the final sealed their fate of second place.

“Freddy is just way faster than everyone else downwind,” said Peters. “We did good on Saturday holding him off.

“For two of the races he screwed with us the whole time, but never got by us. But he just sails all the time and has so much experience in all different conditions.”

Peters and Merriman will be competing hard in the upcoming major Star events, as they are vying for a spot on the next U.S.A. Olympic Team.

Peters placed third in the Olympic trials in a previous attempt, but hopes that this time around will be more successful.

“We’re thinking about making a real campaign out of it,” said Peters. “I’ve been in this position in the past and it really comes down to how much effort you want to put in. It’s a hard thing to have to make money and do the sailing at the same time.”

It makes sense that some of the local talent will make an attempt at the upcoming Olympics, since the World Championships will be held in San Francisco and the Olympic trials will be held in Santa Monica Bay, hosted by the California Yacht Club in October of 2007.

There will also be an Olympic pre-trial event in Marina del Rey in October of this year.

Besides Peters and Merriman, former gold and silver medalists Mark Reynolds and Cal Yacht Club’s Hal Haenel are expected to compete, as is the up-and-coming Eric Lidecis, who has been winning many of the races that he has entered lately.

Based on these important impending class events, it’s no surprise that the King of Spain was as competitive as it was.

“It was exciting racing,” said race chair Tom O’Conor. “[Merriman and Peters] were winning by one point coming into Sunday, but Freddy won.

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