Weather Leaves Sailors In A Fog


Long Windless Lull Dooms Major Events

October 30, 1991|By Nancy Noyes

It was just one of those weekends.

Actually, it was a situation the likes of which nobody could remember around here. Thick white fog blanketed the bay from the middle of last week through Sunday night, and not a breath of wind appeared to blow it away or to make racing possible.

The victims were sailors who had come to Annapolis from across the country -- and their local hosts -- for major sailing events.

The annual Fall Soling Bowl at Severn Sailing Association, the J/29 North American Championships out of Maryland Capital Yacht Club, the Naval Academy Sailing Squadron's national collegiate big-boat championship MacMillan Cup regatta and the collegiate single-handed championship, and the new IMS East Coast Championship managed by Annapolis YachtClub, all were affected.

Even the Gibson Island Yacht Squadron's annual semi-serious contest with the Sailing Club of the Chesapeake, the Race For The Broom, fell by the wayside, as did the skipjack and other racing at Chesapeake Appreciation Days.

None of the events will be rescheduled this year, but a slim chance exists that the MacMillan Cup will be restaged in March in response to a unanimous vote bythe team skippers.

"The bottom line was that there was a lot of moisture in the air, cold water and no wind to blow it away," said NOAA satellite analyst and meteorologist Rob Mairs of Edgewater, a longtime bay racer whose successes demonstrate that being attuned to weather patterns can be a big help on the race course.

"During the day it would burn off a little over the land as the ground heated up, butit never could burn off enough to extend out over the water."

He said that the protracted windless lull that began late Tuesday or early Wednesday and continued through the weekend, leaving the thick white stuff over the water for days, was extremely rare at this time of year.

"There was a building high offshore and a strong low to the west," Mairs said. "We just kind of

got caught in the middle, and the front to our west could never punch through. At this time of year, weather usually changes in a matter of a day or two, so the length of time that it sat in there was very unusual."

Mairs' son is a member of the Dartmouth College sailing team, one of the participants in Navy's MacMillan Cup regatta.

"We had half the team staying at the house with nothing to do but wait," Mairs said. "They handled it pretty well, even though they had a nine-hour drive each way to deal with. I guess the Maine Maritime Academy team, who was there too, had about a 12-hour drive, which was even worse, but everybody seemed to stay in pretty good spirits."

Despite -- or perhaps because of -- the on-the-water disappointments, the social side of things apparently thrived.

Even Californian Kimo Winterbottom, who brought his entire J/29 crew all the way from San Francisco and chartered a boat locally for the North Americans, seemed to be in good spirits Sunday evening. He said that for him and his team it was nearly as satisfying to settle for an excuse to enjoy the company of old friends at a couple of fine parties as it would have been to try beating them on the water.

"We don't even get fog like this in San Francisco," Winterbottom said. "This is more like a Tulle fog, hugging the ground so closely, so thick and persistent. It's amazing. But hey, it's been a really fun weekend anyway."

Despite the lack of racing possibilities, event Chairman Jeff Scholz was optimistic about the future of the brand-new IMS East Coasts, a first-time event that evolved from some just-for-fun things like the old IMS Halloween Open Regatta to a serious championship regatta.

It drew sailors from as far away as New England, New Jersey andNorth Carolina, as well as several from the upper and lower reaches of the Chesapeake and many local competitors, for atotal fleet of 47.

"It was a disaster in terms of there not beingany racing, but overall it was a very positive event," Scholz said. "We had the boats, the concept was great, but Mother Nature let us down and we never got to really test the racing aspects of it. We can'tpredict the weather, but most of the guys said they'd come back."

Scholz said that one particularly popular feature of the abortive regatta was the use of a harbor start, so that postponements and ultimate abandonments were relayed to the fleet at the dock, before they all wound up out on the bay bobbing aimlessly around waiting for wind.

"While we were all hanging around the dock waiting for the fog to lift, guys had a chance to work on their boats, to go get food or supplies or whatever, and we had a chance to have some very interesting conversations with each other," Scholz said.

"The reaction to the harbor start especially was very positive, and we had a lot of guys saying, 'Hey, we should be doing this all the time, it really works.' I absolutely agree, that it's great to have the mark boat go out and look for the wind, and let the rest of us all stay at the dock until they find it."

Scholz said that the sailors themselves seemed to generally agree that a single-weekend, multirace format for big-boat racing was the wave of the future in terms of popularity, manageability and so on. He credited the high level of participation from out-of-towners to this format.

"This was the first time we had more than 10 boats from other areas coming in to participate in an IMS regatta on the bay," he said. "There are more than 1,000 boats registered in IMS in the country, and the Chesapeake Bay has 10 percent of them, but it's really good for the future of this event to have had so many boats from other places interested in coming here to sail in somethinglike this. I'm excited about it."

Nancy Noyes is a member of the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association and has been racing on the bay for about five years. Her Sailing column appears every Wednesday and Sunday in the Anne Arundel County Sun.

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