The good news out of the recent Pan-American Games in Havana, Cuba, was that Karen Long of Edgewater came home last weekend with a bronzemedal in her hand.
Long, a Snipe and Laser sailor who belongs to the Severn Sailing Association in Annapolis, competed in the Women's Laser Radial class at the Pan-Ams and placed third in a highly competitive fleet of six, behind Canadian Schona Moss and Brazilian Maria Schell.
Four days of practice and one full-scale practice race were all that could be completed in the face of regular thundersqualls each afternoon during the practice period. But the seven-race series using Olympic triangle courses, with one race each day for a week, was unscathed by bad weather.
"I had only sailed Laser Radials three times before," Long said as she reflected on her early-series scores, including two fourths and a sixth.
"After the first three races our coach gave me some advice on trimming the sail, because it's different from a regular Laser, and I was first to the weather mark in the last three races. I dropped back on the reaches, though, because I still haven't quite figured out the right sail shape off the wind."
Her performance improved overall, however, and she took third in the next three races and fifth in the final contest.
Long said that the racecourse area was in the open ocean off of Hemingway Marina, reached by a series of canals linking that harbor to the open water.
With 10 classes competing, three course areas were used, and the area in which Long raced was the westernmost on the north side of the island.
Because the Gulf Stream was running close to the Cuban coast duringthe regatta, its strong currents and eddies were often major factorsin the racing, particularly when marks of the course were set insidethe stream itself.
"Because the Gulf Stream runs opposite to the prevailing winds, it tends to be very choppy," Long said.
"We had hiking conditions the whole time, with wind ranges from about 10 knots to days when it was 15 to 18. There were definitely tactical strategies to playing the course, and they changed every day.
"It reallywas optimum conditions -- you couldn't ask for anything better -- but it was kind of weird trying to figure out which way to go in the Gulf Stream and the wind shifts. Some days (the Gulf Stream) comes in pretty close to shore and there are back eddies to worry about, and the current is really ripping along."
Long qualified for the Pan-Am team by winning pre-regatta trials, which she entered at the suggestion of Annapolis Olympic hopeful Diane Burton.
"Only three people showed up for the trials," Long said. "I won the first four of six races, and didn't even have to sail any more after that, but I did, and I was second in the fifth race and won the last one, too."
Although the racing was challenging and being part of the Pan-Am Games was exciting, Long was also interested in the opportunity to visit Cuba and brought home some fascinating memories along with her medal.
"I wasn't sure exactly what to expect in a Third World communist country," she said.
"The Cubans really went out of their way to do the best they could for us. They mostly seemed to be a little afraid of us,afraid of talking to us too much, but everyone was nice, and we had a lot of fun. We went to a street party one night where they closed off this middle-class neighborhood and had dancing and beer out in thestreets, and that was a lot of fun."
Long said that Havana was inmuch better condition than she had expected and was very clean.
"I thought it was kind of rundown, since it's a wet climate and everything is cement and stucco and it tends to crumble, but they don't think it's rundown," she said.
"It's a poor country, but not really poor like India. But people went without food so the athletes could eat well, eggs and meat, we heard. There were lots of fabulous fresh fruits, though, which were great. They really went all out for this."
As for cultural differences, some things are the same all over.
"Castro does the wave," Long said.
In a building breeze and heavy chop, a stalwart fleet of 26 boats had a real workout in this year's 14.5-mile Rock Crusher race, sponsored by the Cape St. Claire Yacht Club last Saturday.
Despite the rough conditions as the southeasterly winds increased from 12 to more than 20 knots, racing was extremely close throughout the four-class fleet. Some finishers were separated by only a few seconds after handicap corrections.
"We started at '12B' northeast of Baltimore Light and had a very good beat down to Craighill No. 4 in about 12 knots," said race organizer Chad Doherty of CSCYC, who sailed his Pearson 26 Flambeau to second in the PHRF C-1 class.