The turnout was a little light, as were the winds, but competition was heavy for the fleet of Catalina 27s assembled in Annapolis for the annual National Championships Sept. 5-8.
This year's event was presented by the Annapolis Yacht Club.
Thirteen teams, 11 of them from Annapolis Fleet 8, took part in the Gold Fleet spinnaker-class competition. Three additional crews sailed in the non-spinnaker Silver Fleet series, with five "official" races for each class and an "unofficial" pre-series tune-up race sponsored by Doyle-Allan Sailmakers on Wednesday.
Barney Hathaway, a sailor from southern Maryland aboard Chandelle, won the 1990 National Championship. Hathaway is probably more familiar as a PHRF-C competitor who recently won the overall best-in-fleet Waldschmitt Trophy in this year's Yachting Governor's Cup Race from Annapolis to St. Mary's City.
When the fleet assembled at the mouth of the Severn for the first race on Thursday morning, haze over the water was so thick the Bay Bridge was invisible. But a light northeast wind of 5 to 8 knots allowed the fleet to start a five-legged 7.5-mile windward-leeward course. In dying and sporadic air and an increasingly foul ebb current, however, it proved to be the only contest of the day.
"The first two legs were sailed in flat water," said Arnold sailor Derick Lynch, who placed second in the regatta aboard Swell.
Lynch said the resulting tightly packed fleet began to separate as the leaders neared the second windward mark in less wind and much more current. "Those who couldn't reach the mark were forced to anchor," he said.
The experience, he said, came as a surprise for visiting San Franciscans Tom Walsh and crew on Four Little Ducks, "who were used to 20-plus-knot winds, who were now faced with zero wind and were being swept down the bay."
The sailors who managed to get their boats around the windward mark without anchoring were pulled down to the leeward mark by the tide, where they in turn were forced to anchor before they could head back up the bay to the finish line in the wicked current and non-existent wind.
With the fleet now split by as much as a full leg, teams that had been behind were able to catch up with, and eventually pass, the leaders in a new breeze that had backed about 20 degrees, Lynch explained.
"This allowed Bruce Johnson in Pussycat to come back from sixth place to get the gun," Lynch said. Johnson's first was corrected to a score of 8 points for the race after he accepted a 50 percent penalty for a foul prior to a protest hearing.
"Finesse (sailed by Ernie Becker and Cedric Baxter) should have taken second," Lynch said. "But due to the strong ebb and the onslaught of starboard tackers, they were set back to eighth place. The first boat to finish made it within 20 minutes of the time limit, (but) it took another two hours for the remainder of the fleet to finish."
Johnson said he had flown an "I" flag immediately after the incident on the course, and believed that action and his acceptance of a 20 percent penalty had been acknowledged by the finish line committee boat. But apparently that was not the case.
Friday's conditions were much better for racing, as the first of the day's three races went off in a light 6- to 8-knot southerly which built to 10 for the second race and increased again and shifted to a 12-knot westerly, which built to more than 15 for the final race of the day.
Lynch said that in the first race, the three-legged, windward-leeward course had initially been signaled with green courseboards (starboard rounding), which were changed to red (port rounding) before the start. "Cool Breeze (sailed by George Schultz) was first to the windward mark," Lynch said, "but to everyone's surprise, she left the mark to starboard instead of the designated port course. The approaching boats seemed to slam on brakes in indecision before leaving the mark to port."
Lynch was able to take the lead in the resulting confusion, and won the race. But he, too, fell victim to confusion as the next race began.
"The race started in a much stronger ebb and about 8 to 10 knots of wind, which forced several boats over early and caused considerable confusion as many thought it was a general recall," Lynch said.
The day's final race was the most exciting, set on a four-legged triangle that "kept the entire fleet close together, with an exciting two reaches in the building wind," Lynch said. "The last windward leg found many boats overpowered as the wind built."
But Hathaway's Chandelle was again the victor, putting him only half a point behind series leader Jack Graham on Chaos at the end of the second day's racing.
"Saturday was a beautiful clear day," Lynch said, describing the series finale. "It was terrific. Winds were 15 to 20 knots from the northeast with a 1- to 2-foot chop.
"At the start of the 9-mile, six-legged Olympic triangle most of the fleet started with No. 3s and (Louis Ruppert's) Hassle blew out her headsail right after the start."