Since 1985, the biennial Rolex International Women's Keelboat Championship, organized by the U.S. Yacht Racing Union with the Ida Lewis Yacht Club in Newport, R.I., as host, has been a milestone in women's sailing.
Contested in J/24s, the regatta typically attracts the top women sailors from across the nation and around the world, and thisyear was no exception.
Among the 46 skippers leading this year's teams were former RolexYachtswomen of the Year Betsy Allison, J. J. Isler, Heidi Backus Riddle and Jody Swanson. Also included were a number of Olympic-caliber sailors such as former Annapolitan Cory Fisher Sertl (with Annapolis'Susan Dierdorff Taylor, her former Olympic campaign teammate and herself a Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year,among her crew) and Naval Academy graduate Mary Brigden.
Top one-design, Adams Cup and other U.S. champions, and foreign sailing champions, including Soviet bronze medalist Larise Moskalenko and 1991 Japanese Women's Keelboat Champion Keiko Nogami, also were in the fleet.
Into this fray went three teams from the Annapolis area, and finally when the seven-race, one-throwout regatta -- which began on Sept. 9 -- was over last Friday, all had finished in the top half of the fleet.
Best of the three was three-time Rolex veteran Barbara Beigel-Vosbury. She led her Twisted Sisters team into ninth in the fleet -- a notch behind Sertl, who is half of Swanson's No. 2-ranked Olympic 470 team -- and nearly seven points ahead of 10th-placer Isler, who is currently the top woman on theU.S. Sailing Team.
Vosbury's crew included fellow BJS Syndicate members Joanne Schram and Sandy Grosvenor, Debbie Holt and Ronda Wohlgemuth. Many women typically sail J/24s with crews of six to get closer to the J/24 Class crew-weight limit of 882 pounds. But with only five crew members, the Twisted Sisters were on the light side at a total of 717, and predictably their two worst races in the series -- a droppable 23rd in the second race and 21st in the third -- came last Tuesday when the wind was above 20 knots.
"We've been sailing together for five years, except for Ronda, who's new to the team this year," Vosbury said. "Sandy was doing the starts this time, because she's more aggressive than I am, so we got off the line in clear air every time, which is the key in big fleets. I'd have to say our tactics have generally improved."
On the lighter-air days, in winds of 12 knots or so, Olympic courses were the rule, while windward-leeward contests were used when the breeze kicked up, since a heavy-air reach-to-reach jibe is difficult for even the brawniest of all-male crews.
Vosbury said that the big swells off Newport added to the excitement and challenge.
"We're not unused to them," Vosbury said of the waves on the course area near Breton Tower, "because we've sailed there before on several different occasions, but it really makes it more fun, because you can put all the things like pumping, that you mostly just read about in books, into action."
In the main, however, Vosbury said experience here on the bay helped as much as anything.
"I think the competition at the Rolex gets stiffer every year," she said,"because all of our learning curves are going up. But we've got a pretty good fleet down here to come out of. We're probably the second-largest fleet in terms of participation on the starting line, so the girls from Newport would have a little advantage because they sail there all the time, and they're more used to really big fleets of 40 or 50 boats. But our fleet down here is certainly good enough that you can get a lot of that experience without going too far from home."
Brigden, a former county resident now living in San Diego, placed fifth in the regatta after doing especially well in the last four races,while Gail Haberlin of Arnold, another Naval Academy graduate, and her team, including her three sisters and Amy Gibbons-Neff, placed 19th.
Rounding out the top half of the tough international fleet was Annapolitan Trish Yeoman -- also skippering her third Rolex -- and her crew, including local sailors Judi McKay, Nancy Rutsch, Beth Sertl and Erin Harrington, in 23rd.
"We had a great time," Vosbury said."It was a wonderful week. The weather was gorgeous, about as perfectas you can get."
The Gibson Island Yacht Squadron played host over the weekend to the annual J/22 Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship regatta, which drew 22 teams for a two-day, five-race series.
In very tight competition, overall victory in the regatta went to Annapolitan Drew Donald and his team, including his sister Beth and Craig Saunders, who topped out a fleet where less than two points separated first from third place.
"It was fun," Donald said. "It was pretty light, but there was always some breeze out there, and it was up around 10 knots or just a little under at times. We were in second after Saturday's three races, three points behind Greg (Tawaststjerna), so we figured to win it we'd have to win both of Sunday's races.
"In the first race we just got a good start, got out in clear air, gotaround every mark in first, and kept building our lead from there. In the second race, Greg covered us from the start, and kept covering us through the first and second windward legs and the first downwind leg. We were able to split from him on the second downwind leg, and the puffs were hitting us out there a little better. Then we had to worry about John Sherwood and not let him get too far ahead of us."
Despite placing eighth in that race, Donald and his team were far enough ahead of Tawaststjerna in the pecking order and close enough behind Sherwood to claim the overall win, leaving Sherwood in second and Tawaststjerna in third.
"Craig was calling great shots, and my sister's foredeck work was really good," Donald said.
NOTE: SEE HARD COPY FOR RACE RESULTS