It took Dawn Riley a little time to adjust to sailing a 22-foot keelboat after months of training in the 75-foot International America's Cup Class, but during four days of racing in the Inner Harbor the skipper from Detroit learned quickly enough to win the Santa Maria Cup women's match racing championship.
Riley began the 57-race regatta on Thursday by losing two of three races. On Friday, her team won four of its five races, and on Saturday it won two of three to earn a berth in yesterday's final against Nicky Bethwaite of Australia.
In the first race of the best-of-three championship match, Bethwaite won the start by a slim margin, but had to tack immediately to the right-hand side of the course, and Riley was able to take advantage almost before the boats had cleared the starting line.
"She won the start," Riley said. "But she had to tack right on the line and was going pretty slow, and we had better boat speed while sailing in the puffs."
Riley built about a 15-second lead by the first turning mark at the top of the windward leg, but on the first downwind leg Bethwaite was able to close the gap considerably.
"She was getting puffs from behind," Riley said. "But we got inside position at the leeward mark, and that was key because the wind was going left, and we just played the shifts . . . trying not to let her control us from behind while also stretching the lead because we knew what happened on the first downwind leg."
Riley sailed well and won the race by more than 30 seconds.
In the second race, Riley thought she had pinned Bethwaite at the committee-boat end of the starting line just before the gun, but Bethwaite was able to tack clear.
"We knew that she was early [to the line], but we thought we had pushed her enough that she didn't have room to tack around at the committee boat and clear," Riley said. "We were in control until the last minute, and she ended up winning [the start and the race]."
the third race, Riley won the start and chased Bethwaite far left on the course.
"I think we wish we had done the last race differently," Bethwaite said. "We were trying to take them over there [left] because the wind was pretty light and patchy, and we thought it would be easier to get an advantage on them.
"We did cause them to tack away, but we caused them to tack onto better air. . . . That is the chance you take when you go into those fluky areas. Oh well, we gambled and we lost."
Riley built a big enough lead through the last race that not even a penalty turn taken just before the finish line allowed Bethwaite to come within shouting distance.
"This is the first time any of us have done this sort of regatta," Bethwaite said. "It is the first time we have all raced together, and we are happy that we came together so well in the end."
In the consolation finals, Hannah Swett of Jamestown, R.I., beat Diane Burton of Annapolis, 2-1. At the end of her round-robin series on Friday, Swett led the field with a 8-1 record.
"We only lost four races all week," Swett said. "So, we are extremely happy with our sailing. It just so happened that the two races that mattered, we lost."
Those two, of course, were to Riley in the semifinals.
From here, Riley said her efforts will be redoubled to find corporate sponsorship for a coed entry in the next Whitbread Around the World Race, a project that will require $6 million.
"There are occasionally one or two women, and with Maiden [in the last Whitbread] it was all women," said Riley, who is raising money through the New York City offices of Partners Around the World. "This would be the first time that it would be really coed and equal opportunity.
"Women don't want special treatment, they just want the same treatment. . . . I am not a women's libber or anything, I just want to go out and sail with the guys."
Riley said she hopes to have attracted enough sponsorship by August to make the project work.