The weather outside right now isn't especially conducive to thoughtsof summer yacht racing, especially offshore.
But that doesn't mean that it's too early to start planning for this year's biennial Annapolis-to-Newport race.
Set for a June 15 start, the 473-mile race down the Chesapeake from the mouth of the Severn River, then up the Atlantic Coast to Castle Hill Light off Newport, R.I., is one of the oldest ocean races onthe East Coast.
The race is co-sponsored by four venerable clubs with long histories in yacht racing: the Annapolis Yacht Club and the Naval Academy Sailing Squadron at this end, and the New York Yacht Club and Newport's Ida Lewis Yacht Club at the other.
The Annapolis-to-Newport event alternates years with the prestigious Newport-to-Bermuda Race and routinely attracts the same high-caliber fleet of boats and sailors from many parts of the country.
It draws handsomely from the Annapolis-area fleet, bringing in top local Newport-to-Bermuda contenders.
It also draws those who would not normally transport their boats and crews to Newport before starting a race to Bermuda in favor of the slightly longer -- but somewhat more convenientand generally less costly -- Annapolis-originating Bermuda Ocean Race. That race roughly coincides with the even-year-only schedule of its older Newport-to-Bermuda sister.
This year's classes will include IMS and PHRF divisions as well as a new PHRF-Nonspinnaker class. Race officials also will provide separate scoring and prizes for any one-design classes with sufficient numbers of entries.
Because theminimum length overall permitted in the race is 30 feet, there wouldseem to be a good possibility of one-design divisions for J/35s and J/30s, which have strong fleets here and on the East Coast generally,and perhaps for J/44s, whose numbers nationally continue to grow.
Although the conclusion of the race is in Newport, followed by theILYC's feeder race to Block Island and the Storm Trysail Club's famous Block Island Race Week, excitement at the Annapolis end is not limited to the starting sequence.
Competitors also are invited to join in prerace regattas sponsored by NASS, AYC and the Sailing Club of the Chesapeake in the weeks before it starts.
So the Annapolis-to-Newport Race brings in visiting boats to swell the ranks of local contenders, offering some challenging new competition.
Among themare usually a few hints of Annapolis' history as an important way-station for the big, exciting, glamorous ocean-racing yachts that routinely were seen here on their annual migrations up and down the coast before such campaigns gradually became rarer.
In the past few years, the Annapolis-to-Newport Race has drawn maxis such as Starlight Express and Congere, as well as the other nationally and internationally known vessels that are part of its traditions.
So what, you say. It's still six months away.
In fact, right about now is a pretty good time to start planning a long-distance offshore ocean race.
First, both owner/skipper and navigator must be sufficiently experienced offshore sailors that when their brief sailing resumes areoutlined on the reverse of the application form they will not be rejected by the Race Committee.
Of course, there really isn't time to gain the experience you need if you haven't got it. But this is a good time to start thinking, if you are an experienced offshore sailor, about potential navigators you can line up to help you in the race.
And if you, personally, do not yet have the required experience,you may be able to arrange for a guest captain to fill the bill.
Along with your navigator, experienced watch captains also should be located and lined up. It's important to remember that some people have jobs or professions from which they cannot easily take a week or more off in early summer without considerable advance planning.
Although the race begins on a Saturday, it will take three to four days to complete, and the All Hands Party in Newport on the 19th is considered by most sailors to be a necessary part of the event. If your boat is at the top of its class or the fleet when the race is over, being present at the awards ceremony on June 20 is not to be missed.
If you plan on racing to Block Island and taking part in Race Week there, you'll be asking for an even larger time commitment from your crew.
Don't forget to plan for and reserve any shoreside lodging accommodations you may want for your family or yourself in Newportor Block Island well in advance, too. Rooms are usually at a premium, and they will fill up fast.
Having your crew firmly together ahead of time can make a difference in your boat's performance in the race, too, because teamwork and boat-handling skills can be honed with practice sailing and in the bay races beforehand.