For one sailor, learning is bottom line

On the Outdoors

June 02, 1996|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

Before the start of the Santa Maria Cup, Lauren Abramson of Baltimore said she was nervous, unsure of what lay ahead in four days of match racing against some of the top women sailors in the world.

After the first five races of the regatta, Abramson had won once and lost to Betsy Alison, Felicity Clark, Dawn Riley and Melissa Purdy.

All four are top women's match racers with extensive international racing experience. Alison is a four-time Yachtswoman of the Year, Clark is ranked No. 15 among international women match racers, and Riley and Purdy were members of the America3 women's defense syndicate in the last America's Cup.

After the nine races of the round robin, Abramson was 3-6 and finished the regatta in seventh place.

"I thought it would be pretty challenging, because we haven't done a lot of match racing," said Abramson, 37. "We're learning a lot because we haven't done much J/22 sailing, either."

In match racing, where two boats race only against each other rather than against all of the other boats in the competition, tactical maneuvers can determine the winner before the start of the race. It is the dread of many novice match racers to lose position and control of the race before the gun.

On Thursday, with winds reaching 19 knots at times, Abramson said she believed she held her own in the pre-starts, and on Friday, in light, shifty winds, she won two of four starts.

"The starts were not as intensely aggressive as I thought they would be," said Abramson, who sailed with crew Liz Hancock, Bernadette O'Connell and Carol Kuchoa. "But maybe it will pick up in the semifinals."

Abramson did not get a shot at the semifinals this year because her two losses Friday were to Purdy and Klaartje Zuiderbaan, who finished first and third.

Abramson said boat handling was a problem initially, as she and her crew learned to balance the J/22 sloops and get them up on plane.

"One thing we learned early was that we were not hiking enough," said Abramson, who has sailed in Adams Cup, U.S. Women's Open and MORC competition.

"One of the surprises in this regatta is that the competitors are helpful, even on the race course. But there is definitely a learning curve here."

Abramson is a quick learner, but she also is a teacher who, as an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins Medical School, works with kids from East Baltimore.

"I love working with kids," said Abramson, who has been at

Hopkins for 5 1/2 years and works with the East Baltimore Mental Health Partnership. "We do things like artwork, where they can create something that comes from themselves and is their self expression."

Abramson said soon the children's program will begin displaying its artwork on billboard space donated by Penn Advertising.

"Yes, the idea is to give them a positive sense of self," Abramson said before the skippers' meeting Friday morning. "If they can create something and then see it displayed for others to see, then they know they have value."

Abramson recalled a conversation with one 9-year-old, whose work is scheduled to be displayed.

"He asked me, 'What about the keyboards? What are we going to do with them,' " said Abramson. "And I said, 'You mean the billboards?' And explained.

"He said, 'My picture is going to be on it? That will mean that I'm important.' "

Abramson's work with children, she said, is a rewarding vocation. But sailing is a method of getting away from the work-a-day routine.

"My work with kids is definitely very important to me," said Abramson. "Sailing is also important, and it's a way to keep me together outside of work."

In the future, Abramson said, she would like to introduce some of the kids in the Hopkins program to sailing, as another method of teaching self-reliance and heightening self-esteem.

Pub Date: 6/02/96

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