Diverse crew vies for national title

August 27, 1994|By Kiah Stokes | Kiah Stokes,Contributing Writer

When the country's top women sailors begin their quest for one of their most coveted trophies today, Maryland will be represented by a crew of professionals.

The skipper is a psychologist. The jib and spinnaker trimmer owns a real estate agency. The woman in the cockpit owns a manufacturer's representative business. The sailor at the foredeck owns a construction company.

Laura Abramson, Carol "Rilla" Kuchta, Carol Dean and Liz Hancock, members of the Glenmar Sailing Association in Middle River, are the members of Area C, heading for the Adams Cup races for the second time.

The crew name comes from the regional eliminations in which they recently qualified to compete in the Adams Cup races, a national women's championship starting today in Cohasset, Mass.

During a recent practice on the Inner Harbor, they explained that although their careers are unrelated, they share a need for an escape from the pressures of business. They have found a bond on the water.

"Teamwork," the crew says in unison, and then laughs.

"Since I was 10, I've always dreamed about winning the silver cup," says skipper Abramson, 35, a psychologist who works at Johns Hopkins and who has sailed since she was 8. "We should do better than we did last year [ninth place]. We'll be able to relax a little more this time."

The women met through the Glenmar association. They have sailed together for only two years, but they have a combined 80 years of experience on the water.

As the sun's bright rays reflect off the pink, white and green sail of their practice boat, they work in harmony.

"Coming down," yells Abramson. She feels the direction of the wind on her face, then guides the boat. Hancock sets the spinnaker immediately. Timing is crucial.

"Racing is so complicated," harder than owning and operating a construction company, says Hancock, 41, who weighs a little over 100 pounds and lifts weights three times a week to maintain her strength.

Dean gets up from the cockpit to fly the spinnaker. She owns the manufacturer's rep business and is a 30-year boating veteran and a grandmother. She declined to give her age; she'd rather talk about her racing credentials.

"I started [sailing] in New York state with my husband, who was a sailor," she says. "We raced all the time. I'm ready for the competition."

"Rilla" Kuchta has been sailing for 20 years, since she was 27. She pulls the halyard and then trims the jib. Her nickname comes from her role in the crew, because the person who raises the halyard must be strong and is at times referred to as the "halyard gorilla." With two Carols on board, there's potential for confusion, so the nickname stuck.

The Adams Cup dates to 1924, when the event was known as the Massachusetts Women's Sailing Championship. It's considered one of the first national races of its type for women. At last year's event in Marblehead, Mass., the weather was too harsh to permit racing on the last day, contributing to Area C's finish.

Today, the competition will begin with a day of practice. Beginning tomorrow, 10 teams will sail in a total of 10 races. Each of the 10 International 210s will carry identical equipment; the teams will change boats after each race, a tradition devised to keep the race fair.

"Our only weakness is that we're not familiar with the boat we'll be racing in," says Dean.

The Baltimore team has been practicing in a Sonar rented from Getaway Sailing School in Fells Point. The Sonar was designed in the 1980s and is roomier than the International 210. Only two members of Area C have sailed together in one.

"We have to pay attention to all the specific details," as the team changes boats, says Abramson. "We've got to really keep our heads together."

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