Annapolis-area sailors will have a chance to show they can outdo Baltimore's sailors on Thursday evening, Oct. 4, in the first Annapolis Sail For Sight Regatta.
The regatta is a kickoff event for the annual U.S. Sailboat Show, running at City Dock from Oct. 4 through Monday, Oct. 8.
Started a couple of years ago at the instigation of Washington sailor Jim Dickson, the regatta combines a fun evening's sailing and partying with a fund-raising event to benefit the RP Foundation Fighting Blindness.
"I got the idea when I found out that motorcycle clubs across Canada have kind of adopted RP as a cause, and so I figured if bikers can do events to raise money for RP, sailors can, too," said Dickson, who is blind as a result of retinitis pigmentosa.
The regatta will feature four PHRF classes, with the splits to match those normally used by the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association (A, B, C and Non-spinnaker), racing on a course in the Severn River near the Annapolis Harbor/Boat Show area.
Cups will be awarded to first- , second- and third-place finishers, just like in any other CBYRA-type regatta.
But what makes the Sail For Sight Regatta special is that there are other ways to win and, in a very real sense, everyone who takes part is a winner.
That's because in addition to enjoying a pleasant evening's race, the sailors are out there on behalf of sponsors who pledge money to the RP Foundation Fighting Blindness.
Special prizes will go to the crews that raise the most money. These include a $250 gift certificate from BOAT US as well as "other really good things," said Dickson, who made sailing history in 1987 when he attempted a solo Atlantic crossing that took him from Rhode Island to Bermuda before technical difficulties with the boat forced him to give it up.
"We hope to raise $20,000 to help fight blindness," Dickson said. "Contributions will come from corporations sponsoring particular boats and from individuals, but all the sailors have to do is get the pledges and go out and race."
In addition to the regular PHRF classes, a separate start for four or five Hunter Vision 32s is planned.
The Annapolis Sail For Sight Regatta is co-sponsored by the U.S. Sailboat Show, Severn Sailing Association, the Sail Annapolis Committee of the Greater Annapolis Chamber of Commerce, the Maryland Marine Trades Association, the Annapolis Lions Club, the Boat Owners Association of the U.S., the city of Annapolis, North Sails Chesapeake, CBYRA and MCI Corporation.
The race, with expert race management by volunteers primarily from SSA, and Teddy Turner's Challenge America as the committee boat, will begin at 5:30 p.m. and last approximately one and one-half to two hours. It will be followed by an awards party and reception at North Sails Chesapeake.
Skippers' meeting is set for 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 3, at the North Loft at Second Street and Spa Creek in Eastport.
Three successful Sail For Sight Regattas -- two in Baltimore and one in Boston -- already have been sailed. More than $35,000 has been raised.
"In the last Baltimore Sail For Sight, they averaged $235 per boat in pledges," said Dickson, adding that sailors also may want to approach their employers about corporate sponsorship of their boats as well as soliciting support from their friends. All contributions are tax-deductible.
"The entry fee is that each crew member should try to collect at least $50 in pledges or sponsorship," Dickson said, "but nobody gets turned away for not meeting that."
The official deadline for entries is Oct. 1, but Dickson said it will not be strictly enforced as long as the overall fleet limit of 50 boats has not yet been reached.
Entry forms and pledge sheets can be found at many local sail lofts; CBYRA headquarters at 612 Third St., Severn Sailing Association, and Marmaduke's Pub in Eastport; and at Fawcett Boat Supplies on City Dock in Annapolis.
If you can't find one, call Dickson at (202) 832-6564 or contact Laura Stees at the Baltimore-based RP Foundation at 225-9400.
"What's particularly exciting for us this year is that there has been an incredible set of scientific breakthroughs (in retinitis pigmentosa research) in the last year," Dickson said. "We could be looking at a treatment where none (the disease) exists by the end of the decade."
He said that in addition to raising money for the RP Foundation to help find a cure for RP, Usher Syndrome (deaf-blindness) and other retinal diseases, a key goal of the regatta is increasing awareness of these diseases.
Dickson said that at least one in 80 people carry the gene for retinitis pigmentosa. He said a new study by the Mayo Clinic indicates that as many as one of every two older Americans suffer from some form of the disease, which currently is incurable and has no known treatment.