Despite a severe storm that crippled coastal New England days earlier and despite a weak economy that has reduced participation in many major yachting events recently, they came.
They came from New England, New York, New Jersey, Florida, California, the Midwest and the northern and southern reaches of the Chesapeake. They came from Canada,Bermuda, even Sweden.
They came to Annapolis, nearly 80 teams in all, to sail in the annual J/24 East Coast Championships last Friday through Sunday out of Severn Sailing Association, with Annapolis J/24 Fleet 8 as co-host.
Although down a bit from highs of nearly 90 boats, the regatta remained popular with heavyweights. It drew the likes of America's Cup veteran John Wright, Canadian champion Peter Allen and Soling class Olympic hopefuls Gerard, Peter and Paul Coleman, as well as a healthy contingent of top local and regional amateurs.
In addition, skippersincluded sailmakers from across the nation, such as former two-time Collegiate Sailor of the Year Terry Hutchinson, a native of Harwood now associated with Shore Sails Great Lakes in Traverse City, Mich.; Doyle Sailmakers' Geoff Moore of Portsmouth, R.I., the 1988 East Coastchampion; Floridian Chris Larson and Marbleheader Steve Ulian of North Sails One-Design; and Max Skelley of Skelley Sails in Havre de Grace.
Many other professional sailors, some of whom served as crew for amateur helmsmen rather than skippering their own teams, also tookpart in the event.
Winner of the regatta was sailmaker Hutchinson, whose disqualification as a premature starter in the first race of the series was overturned and whose second-place finish was reinstated when he won a request for redress because a tape recording of the line judges' calls proved inconclusive in identifying him.
Hutchinson sailed a very strong regatta last year, only to lose first place as the result of a 20 percent premature starting penalty after being forced over early and restarting one of that series' races.
He found himself at the top of this year's highly competitive heap with finishes of 2-19-6-14, while the Coleman brothers' team placed 14th when their request for redress and reinstatement following a second-race PMS disqualification was denied, despite some of the regatta's otherwise most consistently strong finishes, including a third, a fourth andan eighth.
"Last year I really thought we deserved to win," Hutchinson said. "This year was different, and I can really sympathize with the Colemans. We got a lucky break when we were reinstated based onthe evidence on the tape recording."
Hutchinson, whose crew included Norfolk, Va., sailors Kevin Downey and Mitch Brindley, New YorkerCharlie Ulmer and Bruce Lockwood of Traverse City, tied on points for the lead with upstate New York sailor Kirk Reynolds on PT Blister. Hutchinson won the tie-breaker to take the title.
Light air at theregatta's opening meant that only a single contest of a scheduled two could be sailed before dark Friday. Saturday's breeze settled in toa more cooperative 6- to 11-knot west-northwester and allowed two more windward-leeward races after a major wind shift on the first beat forced abandonment of the day's first start.
On Sunday, the breezedropped from 15 to 18 knots at the start to 3 or less and began to oscillate wildly before settling down at about 6 knots. That seemed toconfound many sailors, who had been going strong earlier in the regatta, while it helped some of those whose first three finishes had been weaker when, through luck, skill or both, they pulled out their best finishes of the regatta.
Wright, who had been leading the regatta Saturday after the series' third race, and Allen, his next closest rival, fell to fourth and fifth, respectively, overall, with finishesof 31st and 30th in the tricky final race Sunday.
Wright, who lives near Philadelphia, was the top finisher from J/24 District 6, which includes Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, southern New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, and won the District 6 qualifier fornext October's J/24 World Championships in Annapolis with his finishposition.
"The main thing is that the boat was pretty good," Wright said. "I had never done this kind of big-fleet J/24 sailing before, but I got married and my father-in-law had this thing sitting around, about 12 years old, so I fixed it up, and here we are."
Despitehis long list of professional-level credentials, Wright also won theNorth Sails award for best amateur helmsman in the regatta.
"It just goes to show that it pays to sell your boat business three years ago," he joked.
The top team from Fleet 8 was the Annapolis-based Rainbo crew, headed by Peter Cramer and Bo McBee, in seventh at the East Coasts on top of already having qualified for next year's Worlds by winning this year's CBYRA High Point title in J/24s with a consistently strong season.
Trophies were awarded to the top nine crews, with foul weather gear from Patagonia, a regatta sponsor, going to Hutchinson's and Reynolds' teams.