A few years ago, Max Skelley got bored with sailing, and that set him on a championship course.
The locals around Havre de Grace didn't offer much competition any more, so Skelley decided to try his luckin bigger races up and down the East Coast. During the past three years, he has won several of those races and has since branched out to some international regattas.
In about six weeks, Skelley, 25, will pack up his single-handed Laser sailboat and head for his biggest competition so far -- the Laser World Championships near Athens, Greece.
Skelley, who was born in Florida and grew up in Edgewood, has been racing since he was 11. His father, Ralph Skelley, got caught up in sailing and, 12 years ago,turned it into a family business, Skelley Sails in Havre de Grace.
Ralph Skelley, described by his son as a "self-taught engineer," has always installed the latest technology in his loft. Today, Skelley Sails is one of the few major lofts in Maryland. The younger Skelley still works with his dad designing and making sails, mostly for racing boats.
Both father and son also spend time on the water instructing customers on how to get the most out of their fresh-cut canvas.
Although he spends as much time as possible on the water these days, Skelley didn't always like to sail. "My dad used to make me go racing with him. At first, I really didn't like it. But finally I caught on, and I was hooked," said Skelley, whose racing has given the business tremendous visibility.
In 1988, Skelley also qualified for theLaser World Championships by winning the Atlantic Coast Championships, a regatta that drew 90 boats. But a knee injury kept him from going to England to compete for the world title.
Arthroscopic surgery repaired the knee, but Skelley, who also sails competitively on larger boats, didn't sail Lasers again until this past winter in the Havrede Grace frostbite series.
Then, he finished fourth at the Laser Mid-Winter Championships in Miami. As the second U.S. citizen to finish, Skelley qualified for the Laser Worlds. In June, he again won theAtlantic Coast Championships off Staten Island.
Skelley said he doesn't know how he will stack up against the stiff competition in Greece. "I'm pretty open-minded really. I've had a lot of friends who'vegone to the worlds. Some have not done well. Some have done well. Americans haven't done well in recent years, because they always have it somewhere real windy and it's not windy around here."
Finding a breeze on the waters off Havre de Grace in the summer is almost impossible. Still Skelley can handle a pretty strong wind.
"I'm one of the fastest guys in the country in what we call heavy air, 18 to 20 knots. But that's not heavy air to half these guys," Skelley said. "Some of them, like the British and Australians, are used to sailing in 30 knots."
To prepare for heavy winds, Skelley plans to sail in regattas farther north for the rest of the summer. He also will stop off at the Laser North American Championships in Kingston, on the northwestern side of Nova Scotia.
Skelley also is considering making abid for the Olympic team but not on the 16-foot Laser. There are sixclasses of boats in Olympic competition, but the Laser is not one ofthem.
Although he raced as part of a three-man crew while at St. Mary's College, Skelley said his preference for the Olympics would bethe J/24, which has a five-man crew. Before he seriously considers putting the time and money into Olympic training, Skelley said, he hasto find the right crew.
"I just don't want to go do it unless I have the right people. It's hard to get people to commit for four years."