For the 187 teams that left the starting line in Annapolis on July 19 on the Eastport Yacht Club's annual Solomons Island Race, a 55-miledown-the-bay chase from the Severn River to the Patuxent, it was a lovely night for a sail.
Conditions for the race were a pleasant 8-to 10-knot southeasterly breeze at the early evening start, which built and shifted to a 15- to 18-knot southwesterly before dropping offat dawn in the Patuxent River.
The initial wind direction and the big shift to the right meant that the course became a long beat followed by a tight reach, with no opportunity to use a spinnaker at any time during the race.
Many of the fleet's successful racers kept to the Western Shore early in the race, following the shallow waters down to Herring Bay before crossing the deep-water channel to hug the Eastern Shore down to Hooper Island Light before crossing the bay again to head up the Patuxent to the finish line. But most of those with the largest margins of victorywent hard east to the Eastern Shore from the start and rode that line of shoals to Hooper Island. With the current running in a strong flood, it was clear that staying near the middle of the bay was definitely not the way to go.
First over the finish line was Gem, a Briand 50 raced by a student team from St. Mary's College, arriving at 3:22 a.m. The team received the F. Rollins Maxwell Jr. Memorial Trophy for its feat but corrected into second place in the 33-boat PHRF A class behind Annapolitan Tom French and his crew on his Olson 30, Moonlighting.
Although the biggest boats had some of the most dramatic finishes in the wee hours before dawn, those who started later and sailed smaller and slower boats had the added challenge of finishing before the wind died shortly after daylight.
In the 25-boat PHRF-C class, it was a case in point for co-skippers David and Marlene Lee on Leeway, the Islander 37 they have owned for about 12 years and regardas a member of the family.
After sailing for 10 1/2 hours, the Leeway team crossed the finish line in the Patuxent at 6:14 a.m., a full 24 minutes ahead of the second PHRF-C finisher, St. Mary's College sailing coach Mark Hergan on Marmalade, who corrected to fourth in the final scoring.
Despite being scratch boat in the class, and therefore owing time on handicap corrections to all but two of their competition, the margin of victory was sufficiently substantial to keep the Leeway team at the top of the heap by 4 1/2 minutes corrected time.
"She's 22 years old and still winning races," Marlene Lee said proudly. "We had a good start, popped out in front right at first. TheEastern Shore was favored as usual, so we headed over there. We haveto be careful over on the Eastern Shore because we draw over 6 feet,so we were riding the edge of the shoal area watching the depth finder and waiting for the shift. When it came in, we were in the right place at the right time. Navigation at night is critical, but we didn't really expect to win. We do well on a reach, and when that shift kicked in she just picked her tail up and ran."
Lee said that although the team members felt they had done fairly well, they were worriedabout boats coming in from behind in the steadily lightening air that accompanied the sunrise, and they had no idea they had won both line honors and the race until about seven hours later.
"When we finished, there was no gun, so we thought someone had beaten us over the line," she said. "The boats that were finishing with us have the samecolor class flag, so I guess they couldn't tell we were the first inour class. We didn't find out we had won until about 1 o'clock in the afternoon. We were in the Holiday Inn sound asleep in about 60 degrees of air conditioning, and one of our crew called and woke us up totell us when they posted the results."
Lee explained that beyond good navigation and the arrival of the wind shift when it was most needed, a key to their success was excellent, well-practiced teamwork. She praised her crew, which included Dan Steadley, David Zeiders, KenDur, Lauren Urich, Anne Scully and Karen Black.
"We're very fortunate in having a permanent crew," she said. "Most of them have been with us four or five years, and everyone knows their job and can communicate pretty well without talking about it."
A unique feature of this year's Solomons Race was the provision for J/29s to race both ina one-design class and in MORC, and be scored both ways.
Getting both guns at once at 5:35 a.m. was Dave Lewis and Fred Salvesen's team on Mirage, over the finish line first in both classes nearly 20 minutes ahead of the next MORC boat -- fellow simultaneous J/29er Steve Olinger and his team on Tops Optional. The Mirage crew was more than 25 minutes ahead of MORC winner Bob Dunning and the team on his Andrews 26 Skylarkn, but fell to second in this class by 26 minutes corrected time.