For those with patience and fortitude, this year's 80-mile Annapolis Yacht Club Skippers' Race made for a memorable night of sailing.
Sailors had to wait out more than six hours of drifting gently down the bay on an ebb tide Saturday afternoon before a breeze of about 15 knots filled in from the south to carry the fleet the rest of the way down to Cedar Point Light and back again to Annapolis.
There were dropouts in each of the three classes, including IMS I, II and a combined PHRF A and B class. But with only 20 percent attrition (the PHRF sailors went as high as a 50 percent drop-out rate), the five-boat IMS II class survived in the highest numbers and also finished with the best corrected times of the 14 total starters.
First over the finish line, just before 5 a.m. Sunday, was IMS I winner Morning Light, a Frers 49 from the Naval Academy skippered by Mid. 1/C Tom Fugelstad. Richmond sailor Strother Scott and his crew guided Scott's New York 40 Albemarle Pippin over the finish line 17 minutes later to take the gun in IMS II. Their corrected time for the race was about an hour and three-quarters better than Morning Light's.
"I wanted to quit at five in the afternoon," Scott said, "but my crew wouldn't let me. We had only gone 15 miles and the knot meter said 00.0 and the wind meter said 00.0. The tide was going a knot-and-a-half down the bay, and as it started to get dark you could just see the lights of the nuclear power plant, but you couldn't see the lights of the LNG dock until quite a bit later."
Scott said that as the evening darkened, the wind gradually built from the south until it was blowing very nicely.
"About 7 o'clock the wind and the boat speed had picked up, and we rounded 57 (now No. 1, south of the mouth of the Patuxent) around 11 or midnight," Scott said. "By that time the wind was up to about 15, so it was a beautiful spinnaker run all the way back."
Along with Virginians Tommy Call, Johnny Guy and Chip Hall, Scott's crew included Annapolitans Dave Dunigan and Rennie Johnson, Naval Academy midshipmen David Steel and Angela Hart, and Jim Robert from Solomons.
"It was a pretty unusual Skippers' Race," Dunigan said. "We're usually back before the bars close. I'd say it never was totally calm, but we weren't moving very much. We stayed in the middle of the bay with the tide until we decided to commit to something, and the guys who went to the Eastern Shore had a lot of trouble. We went to the Western Shore, but then it seems like we always go west.
"When Strother said he wanted to quit, everybody looked at him like he was nuts. The fish started jumping -- I guess the tide had changed or something -- so I told him about one time when I was sailing with Arnie Gay, and the fish started jumping, and Arnie said that meant the wind would come up in about 20 minutes. When it did come in about 20 minutes later, it certainly shut Strother up about quitting."
Dunigan expressed disappointment on the decreasing turnout over the last few years for the race, which has been a classic highlight of the fall season for a long time despite cold, nasty conditions, which were the norm many years ago.
"The Skippers' Race is a great race, but all of a sudden participation is down," Dunigan said as he explained that the race originally was sponsored by the old Rudder magazine to commemorate the 100 Guineas Cup -- which quickly came to be called by its more familiar name, the America's Cup.
"There's a new yuppie race to Baltimore that same weekend, but I think one reason a lot of people don't want to do it, is because they remember when it used to snow on the Skippers' Race, and it seems like people don't really like distance races in general any more. But Skippers' Race has always been a good one, even when it was really miserable and nasty."
With a margin of victory of about 35 minutes over the academy's Navy 44 Dauntless, skippered by Mid. 1/C Rob Glenn, in second in their class, the Albemarle Pippin team finished best in the fleet any way you cut it, especially since the fastest PHRF boats did not begin finishing until just before 6 a.m.
* The Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association's officially sanctioned championship for women sailors, the annual Roy Smith Memorial Regatta, underwent another phase in its evolution this year. It became a three-race event co-sponsored by the Shearwater Sailing Club and the Severn River Yacht Club, sailed in two straight days last weekend.
With a six-boat Spinnaker class and a four-boat Non-Spinnaker division starting each day, competition was excellent despite slightly reduced numbers of participants, said Race Committee Chairman Charlie Husar.