With the National Weather Service predicting a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms this afternoon in the Baltimore-Annapolis vicinity, the opening sailboat race of the sixth-annual Northern Bay Race Week could be rough.
"Thunderstorms add greatly to the excitement and skill required to race," said George Culbertson, general chairman of the race committee and skipper of Red Streaker. "The race was wiped out by a very severe storm last year -- the Northern Bay wind monster -- and we hope he'll be sociable and not wipe us out like he did last year."
The three-day racing event begins today about 11 a.m. off the mouth of the Middle River and features 60 sailboats from 24 feet to 44 feet.
The sailors compete on Olympic triangle or windward-leeward courses for an overall trophy and for points toward the High Point Championship of the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association.
"We have tried to make this the most colorful racing event on the bay," said Culbertson, who equates sailing with other "personal skills" sports such as skiing, flying and golf. "There may be bigger events in Annapolis because there are so many yachts there, but we've endeavored to create a high level of competition. Our sailors have won the overall championship of the bay and they go to Annapolis and win a lot of their races, so we are proud of our sailing prowess."
The local favorites to win the regatta are Dan Miller sailing Knotbobs, a Pearson 30, and the father-son team of Willard and Paul Scott. The Scotts were the overall champions in 1991, winning the Labrote Trophy on their yacht, Haiku.
"We've got a lot of good people to keep up with," said Willard Scott, who has been racing 25 years. "My son and I are co-skippers, but I let him do the hard work. He's become quite good and quite competitive."
The regatta is sponsored by three local clubs in Region 1 -- Glenmar Sailing Association, Columbia Sailing Association and Havre de Grace Yacht Club.
Culbertson estimates that there will be $4-5 million worth of equipment on the bay during the weekend competition.
"Sailing is a very equipment-oriented sport," he said. "The average investment is $80 [thousand] to $100,000 per yacht. Modern yachts are using sophisticated materials in their sails, which cost an average of $2,000. But it's a very colorful sport when the spinnakers are up."
In addition to the spinnakers, the beauty of the Chesapeake Bay adds to the atmosphere of the race, Culbertson said.
"They only race sailboats a few places in the world like this," he said. "We have the friendliest water. You go to New England and you have these 20- to 40-foot tides and rocky bottoms. In San Francisco, you've got dangerous ocean conditions. Here you are in a land-locked body of water which is not limited by commercial interference."
Facts and figures
What: Northern Bay Race Week
Who: 60 yachts in four PHRF (Performance Handicap Racing Fleet) divisions
When: Today through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (approximate times)
Where: Race starts at the mouth of the Middle River and follows an Olympic course around the area between the Middle River, Poole's Island and Miller-Hart Island.