Riley ready to defend in Santa Maria But still has eyes for America's Cup

May 20, 1993|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,Staff Writer

A year ago, Dawn Riley just had completed 18 months o intensive sailing with Bill Koch's victorious America3 syndicate in the America's Cup when she won the Santa Maria Cup at the Inner Harbor.

In the months since winning the only women's match racing regatta in the United States, Riley has been in among the big guns of yachting, a woman skipper in an area of the sport dominated by men.

Today, Riley again will take the helm of a 22-foot sloop in the regatta that launched her on the same race courses with Russell Coutts, Peter Isler, Ed Baird, Paul Cayard and Chris Dickson.

But, this year, the pressure will be off.

A year ago, Riley, the only American woman in the only all-woman crew to have completed the Whitbread Round the World Race, was trying to put together a co-ed syndicate for the Whitbread.

Riley also was seething over a decision by the America3 group that kept her from sailing in the final America's Cup series against Italy.

The Whitbread venture is dead, Partners Around the World a victim of a weak economy and the lull before the coming storm of sailing interest that will build as the 1995 America's Cup nears.

"Maiden was a very special thing," Riley said Tuesday of the Whitbread campaign. "It was the first, I was the first American, and we did well. We were second in our class.

"There is nothing more to prove. It's kind of like I have been there, got the T-shirt."

In the America's Cup, Riley said, there are still marks to be made, points to prove. The Santa Maria Cup is one of many steps she is taking along the way back to yachting's most important regatta.

"I was in the defender finals, and I was in every single race up to that point," Riley said. "There was a political problem, and I am not at liberty to say more about it."

Riley, 28, was one among almost 300 people employed in Koch's merry-go-round campaign.

"Possibly I would sail again for Koch," said Riley, who now lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

"I do want to do the America's Cup again. There is still this unfinished business. I know I should have been racing in the last one. It had nothing to do with skill level or effort."

After the Whitbread, the America's Cup, the World Match Racing Championships in Italy and competing against the top men in the world, the Santa Maria Cup presumably could be a breeze.

"It is very much a challenge," Riley said. "There is excellent

competition this year. J. J. Isler and Betsy Alison -- the big names -- aren't here, but Julia Trotman and Hannah Swett are back, and they have always been strong."

In all, 10 skippers, including Diane Burton of Annapolis and Melinda Berge of Baltimore, will sail a round-robin series today and tomorrow before the top four square off in the semifinals Saturday. The final will be sailed Sunday. All courses will be set in the Inner Harbor channel inside Fort McHenry.

"The group is deeper this year," Riley said. "I don't think anybody is going to win every race and coast into the semifinals.

"Hannah has been there three times; she now has more match racing experience than a lot of people. . . . The first time I was here, there were a lot of people out there who had no clue because they had never done it before. This year, a lot of people are back."

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