Tropical Storm Danielle cleared out of the area just in time t make Saturday a nearly perfect day for sailing.
More than 200 teams of racers started the Naval Academy Sailing Squadron's annual 29-mile Oxford Race down the bay from Annapolis, up into the Choptank and on into the Tred Avon River.
The race, informally known as the Fall Oxford when paired with the following day's 20.5-mile reciprocal Tred Avon Yacht Club Hammond Memorial Race from Oxford to Poplar Island, is one of the last big weekend events of the sailing season.
L It typically attracts one of the biggest fleets of the year.
Both Fall Oxford races are among the oldest continuously sailed and consistently popular events in the region, with 1992 being the 38th year for the NASS race and the 32nd for the TAYC contest.
Although the Sunday partial return trip usually is slightly smaller than its Saturday counterpart, both have remained strong, well-attended events over the years.
This year's total fleet of 202 starters for Saturday's NASS race was down from last year's 252. Sixty-seven who had registered fTC didn't start. TAYC's Hammond started 171 of its 226 entrants.
The nearly two-hour starting sequence for the NASS race was inverted from the usual order so that the biggest and fastest boats started last. The wind shifted and continually dropped in velocity as the afternoon wore on.
The first finisher over the line set in front of TAYC was Henry Starr, sailing his Pearson 30 Constellation, followed six seconds later by Alberg 30 winner Bruce Rankin, with the crew aboard Lingin.
Rankin's win Saturday helped make him one of five skippers to win his class in both of the weekend's races.
Joining him in that achievement were IMS II winner Dave Dodge and the crew on Privateer; Eric Crawford and his PHRF C-winning team on Restless; J/35 ace Bill Chambers and the crew on Wild Thang, and Dave Hoyt's Triton team on Overdraft.
"After about 20 years of sailing, we've finally got the boat cranked up to where we're doing pretty well," Rankin said. "I've been doing that race for 20 years or so, and this was the first time we were ever even close to finishing first."
Rankin said his grandson, Princeton sophomore Andy Williams, did most of the helming during the weekend, and the team also took strength from the addition of another grandson, Lehigh freshman Chris Menocal.
Both young men came home for the regatta.
"We were the first class to start on Saturday, and we reached all the way to Poplar Island," Rankin explained. "I understand that the later classes had to tack all the way down because of the wind shifting. Our fleet was pretty close together for the first part of the race, but once we were able to get a lead we just kept opening it up."
Sunday's race, he said, was similar in many ways despite differing wind conditions.
"Once again the fleet stayed pretty well together the first half of the race. We opened up a lead at Blackwalnut Point and just kept increasing it," he said.
For many of those who started Saturday's race later in the sequence or were slow getting down the bay on the first leg, the final crawl in dying air to the finish was agony. Two dozen crews dropped out before finishing.
It was as if there were a window of opportunity for doing well that shut during the course of the afternoon.
Sunday's race was nearly the opposite. The originally light air built from behind as the day went on, propelling those at the back of the pack forward.