With participation up a bit over last year's 72 starters, this year's Yachting Race Week at Solomons drew 87 teams of sailors from North Carolina to New Jersey for the three-day, six-class event that ran Monday through Wednesday out of Zahniser's Marina in Solomons.
Title-sponsored by Yachting magazine, with additional sponsorship from Mount Gay Rum, IBM and North Sails, the regatta featured extremely close competition in classes composed over generally tight ratings bands, as well as good parties each evening and lots of prizes for lots of sailors.
Winning the most of all, however, with an unbeatable four-ace hand in the Class C series, Paul Awalt and the crew on his Century 30 Frog Legs earned the prestigious Yachting Chelsea Clock Award for best overall.
It was Awalt's second Chelsea Clock, because he also had swept his class with nothing but bullets in the 1990 event.
"The most important thing this week, because the wind was so shifty, was tactics -- being in the right place all the time," said Awalt.
He gave special credit to Sobstad sailmaker Larry Leonard of Annapolis for excellent tactical calls during the regatta, but was quick to add that each member of the crew aboard his Century 30 Frog Legs had been equally instrumental in the win.
"We had guys getting up early every morning and going in the water with the sea nettles to clean the bottom of the boat," he said, "and we had guys who sat down below in the heat to keep the boat steady in the light air -- and they were just as important as the guys up above."
Awalt commented on the closeness of the competition and the narrow ratings spreads in the various classes -- a spread of 21 seconds a mile in C, 12 in D and 15 in E, in particular -- saying the regatta was "probably the best competition we'll see all summer."
Courses were windward-leeward with the start and finish in the middle of the weather leg, using a closer leeward mark for the E and F classes to make a longer course for divisions A through D.
Winds for the week were generally light, although Monday's air, which was on the light side for the first of the day's two contests, improved to a healthy 15 knots or more for the second, a 12-miler and the longest course of the week.
Although two races were planned for Tuesday, uncooperative wind gods forced the committee to abandon plans for a second race after the first was finished in dying breeze and a strong adverse current, creating a bit of a pile-up on the finish line.
On that day, which was IBM Day, the class winner who posted the largest corrected-time margin of victory over the second-placer in his class was awarded a laptop computer. The day's big winner was the team of Floridian Skip Purcell and Annapolitan Will Keyworth, sailing Purcell's Tripp 33 Imp to Class B victory by a margin of nearly 13 minutes -- highly unusual in a series where most victories were measured in margins of only a few seconds.
"Man, those little Tripps just love the light stuff," Keyworth said, as he described the difficulty in finding the right course to balance the positive effect of an expected wind shift and the strongest negative effects of the tide.
Imp's mixed performance on the first day, with a 12th in the first race and a second in the next, before winning Tuesday and placing second on Wednesday, left the team in second behind class winners Seward Lawlor and his crew on his Serendipity 43 Chesapeake, however.
With two races hoped for on Wednesday, to bring the series to five contests before closing, the first went off in a light northerly that topped out at six to eight knots and drifted away again as it turned northeast.
Some upsets in the various classes occurred, giving some sailors their worst finishes of the series, while others enjoyed their best races of the week.
At last, a fifth race was started, but as the wind shifted radically to the right and lightened, while the adverse tide continued unabated, the committee mercifully abandoned the contest shortly after 3 p.m., leaving the series at four races.
"Really, the best part of the whole thing is how close the competition is," said Karen Yeigh, who sailed with her husband John and the crew on their S2 10.3 Fast Track to first in Class D, the tightest in ratings spread, in the first race and third in the second and third.
"It might as well be one-design since the handicap range is so narrow. It's really exciting -- we are all so close together."
After holding a narrow lead in the class going into the final day, the Yeighs' Fast Track crew finished the series in second behind Bob Muller and the crew on his Merit 28 Stingray after a difficult time in the light and fluky air for Wednesday's series-ending single race left Fast Track in 12th behind Stingray's fourth that day.