The crowd favorite in Ann Arbor was Amy Bauer, a ponytailed Michigan State freshman from Grosse Point Farms. In the semifinals she faced her former baby-sitter, 25-year-old Justin Palm, a University of Detroit law and business student whose sister, Merritt, trimmed the jib on Mighty Mary. Bauer had never raced Palm before, but she knew what to expect because they grew up sailing on the same stretch of Lake St. Clair. "I'm scared," Bauer confessed before they faced off. "Justin is a very intense racer."
Sure enough, Palm beat Bauer by 6.42 seconds and advanced to meet Thomas LaBelle of Canton, Mich., in the finals. LaBelle, 31, had a 6-0 record until he mistakenly began the first heat of the finals ahead of the starting line. By the time he had doubled back to restart, Palm was out of reach. LaBelle acknowledged the hooting crowd with a bow. "My brain disengaged prior to the race," he said. "In my mind I'd already started. I was already thinking ahead to the leeward mark."
LaBelle came back to win the next two races and a place in the national finals in San Diego, where he would finish third. In Ann Arbor the losing skippers awarded him the customary push into the pool. When he hauled himself out, dripping and smiling, his 11-year-old daughter, Kristin, announced that she would be available for the trip to California. "We'll talk about it," he said.