It goes only 53.5 miles to the mouth of the Little Choptank and back these days, but the Gibson Island Yacht Squadron's annual Cedar Point Race is alive and well after a history stretching back more than 60 years.
This year's race began at the mouth of the Severn last Saturday morning for 79 boats in eight handicap classes. It was one of the event's fastest and most exciting, and it wasn't due only to being some 30 miles shorter than it once was.
Last year the PHRF and IMS classes requested that their big-boat A and I divisions be allowed to sail the shorter course to the Choptank and back, which had been in use for smaller boats for many years.
"This year I was actually glad we were just using the short course," said Race Committee chairman Claude Engle. "We finished everyone by the time it was dark, and it was nice to be able to go home afterwards and get a good night's sleep in my own bed."
Conditions were excellent, Engle said. "We started in 17 to 18 knots of good wind, out of the north-northeast, so it was an exciting spinnaker start and a long reach down to the mark. There were two big holes -- one just as they came back through the bridge, then a nice north-northeasterly again while we got the first few finishers in, and then it died again. Then it roared back in from the east. It finished in a howl."
The fluky wind near the finish line gave an advantage to many of the smaller boats with higher handicap ratings, who were able to catch up to the front of the fleet in the old wind. Many of the leaders were stalled in light air so that the corrected times of the top performers in PHRF-C and IMS III were generally better than the top three in the classes ahead of them.
First-to-finish and best-elapsed-time laurels went to George Wilson and his J/44 First Light, who crossed the line just before 7 p.m. after sailing the course in a little less than eight hours. Wilson corrected to fourth in his 14-boat class, however. He was beaten by Butch Michel on Flying Colors, the BFSS&W Syndicate's Yellow Jacket and the Naval Academy's Navy 44 Dauntless, skippered by Midshipman Robert Glenn.
The biggest margin of victory went to William Chambers on his Alberg 30 Sundance, winner of the 11-boat PHRF-C class by more than 20 minutes and best in PHRF by more than an hour and 20 minutes over PHRF-A winner Tom Curtis.
Curtis, sailing his 2-year-old Olson 34 Pegasus, had his hands full to win his class when his tiller broke off near its base during a roundup under spinnaker opposite Sharps Island Light five or six miles north of the turning mark at R78 (ex-R64). "I guess I should have suspected something when I found a mushroom growing on it a couple of weeks ago," Curtis laughed. "It was pretty exciting. We were being rounded up when it just snapped off in my hands. I yelled for the crew to get the spinnaker down, and they all sort of looked around at me like I was crazy or something until they figured out what had happened, and then they got the spinnaker down right away."
With the boat under better control, Curtis quickly lashed on an emergency tiller left over from outfitting the boat for last spring's Great Ocean Race, and the crew raised the genoa.
"They thought we were going home after that, but I said 'no, we can do it anyway,'" Curtis said. "We couldn't put the chute back up, not with that thing just held on with duct tape and line, and we lost some time while we were bareheaded rigging the replacement, but yeah, we did all right."
Despite the four or five minutes of lost time and the slower speed without a spinnaker for the last few miles of the off-wind leg, Curtis said the deciding factor in his win was playing the return upwind leg correctly along the shallows of the Eastern Shore to catch up.
"There was a certain line just outside of Bloody Point, where if you went outside it, you were headed," he said. "When you went up above it, you could very easily get blown away. Then, after the wind quit, it came back in from the east-southeast, so it paid to be as far east as you could go. And we were there. We finished right behind all the other boats in our class who owed us time."
The race's closest competition came in the PHRF-Nonspinnaker class, where John Clark on Elusive beat Tony Sanpere on Cayenne by a mere 19 seconds. Since the boats rate identically, the separation time was both real and corrected.
"That's the way they came across the line," Engle said. "It really was that close."
Cedar Point Race Preliminary Results IMS I (14 starters/finishers): 1) Flying Colors, Butch Michel, Glen Burnie, 6:45:56 c.t.; 2) Yellow Jacket, BFSS&W Syndicate, Annapolis, 6:50:33 c.t.; 3) Dauntless, Mid. 1/C Robert Glenn, USNA, 6:57:05 c.t.
IMS II (9 starters/7 finishers): 1) Wahoo, Henry Fretz, Greenville, Pa., 6:38:23 c.t.; 2) Anthem, Peter Geis, Severna Park, 6:42:60 c.t.; 3) Privateer, David Dodge, Annapolis, 6:46:49 c.t.