Racers sail into the night

Competitors vie for governor's cup in overnight event

July 31, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Washington businessman Jim Muldoon is a sailor so rabid about his sport he has raced almost every summer since 1974 in 30 competitions up and down the Chesapeake Bay -- and won all of them.

Except for one.

Muldoon's elusive trophy is the one handed out at the annual St. Mary's College of Maryland Governor's Cup Race, a night competition in which sailors wend their way in twilight, darkness and sunrise from Annapolis to St. Mary's City, the state's first capital.

As the race started yesterday evening in the Annapolis Harbor, Muldoon was determined this would be the year his sleek, 73-foot-long Donnybrook would take the prize.

"To me, it's almost an obsession now," said Muldoon, 60, who owns several high-tech and telecommunications companies and is president of the U.S. Sailing Association. "It's the only one I've never won. And we don't do anything to lose."

Muldoon was among 162 competitors fighting for trophies in last night's 26th annual race. The tiny Maryland college on the Chesapeake Bay started the 70-mile race in 1974 when a handful of student sailing enthusiasts suggested organizing a race that would attract attention to the school and its sailing program. The college uses the race to recruit students and to encourage sailors to donate yachts to its program.

"This is a great PR tool, but it wasn't any kind of slick PR thing," said Mike Ironmonger, director of the St. Mary's sailing program. "We consider ourselves to be a sailing college. We don't have a football team, but we have the Chesapeake Bay."

The race attracted 47 entries the first year and grew through the years as more sailors were attracted to a competition that forced them to race in more challenging conditions at night.

Sailing conditions

In pitch-black, sailors cannot gauge wind speed or direction from watching the choppiness of waves and have to rely on computer software to navigate. They also have to be alert and look for other boats, some of which may not have lights on.

"People also aren't used to being up all night," said Rick Palleschi, 46, as he prepared his 39-foot-long boat, The Shanty Irish, yesterday afternoon. "You're sleepy and your reflexes are slower than during the daytime."

Which is why Palleschi, an Annapolis engineer, packs a mammoth bag with IVs, sutures, instruction books on how to handle medical crises, and numerous bottles of painkillers, Pepto-Bismol and pills for seasickness.

Palleschi also stocks his boat with cartons of iced tea and sodas -- and a 30-pack of Red Dog beer for a bet he has with the skipper of a boat named Coyote -- cold cuts, bread and pretzels for midnight munchies and, of course, boxes upon boxes of instant coffee for his nine-member crew.

Swigging a can of Milwaukee's Best yesterday in the shade of his tiny cabin, which was stuffed with wrapped-up sails that left no sitting -- and almost no standing -- room, Palleschi was relaxed as he thought about the night ahead.

He had competed in the governor's cup race since 1997, taking the trophy in his boat category the first year he entered and losing last year after a false start forced him to turn back after sailing five miles. Even so, Palleschi wasn't planning on sweating it this year.

"We'd like to place, I guess," he said. "If we won again, it'd be kind of unbelievable."

Muldoon also recognized that dinner and snacks are important to keep his 19-member crew on their toes, so he filled his luxurious, large and hardwood-floored cabin with tubs of lasagna, shepherd's pie, and pasta and cold chicken salad -- but no beer.

Preparing for race

The sentiment at Muldoon's boat was charged yesterday afternoon, with his crew -- all donning dark-green Donnybrook shirts -- getting to work when they arrived, unrolling Kevlar sails and preparing them for hoisting.

Muldoon talked often about winning the governor's cup -- an accomplishment important to him because he set the record for completing the race in six hours and nine minutes several years ago, while most boats finish in 12 to 20 hours.

But Muldoon did not get the trophy because of the speed handicap that St. Mary's organizers placed on the Donnybrook because it is longer than the other boats by about 20 feet and can travel much faster.

But if he doesn't win, Muldoon knows the race brings experiences that make it worthwhile.

"I sailed to Halifax recently and we saw this sunset that was so beautiful, it will never be repeated in the history of mankind," Muldoon said. "It was stupendous."

If that didn't happen last night, Muldoon and other sailors knew that at the finish line, there would be sunrise beers, eggs and a daylong celebration in St. Mary's City to make up for it.

Pub Date: 7/31/99

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