Sweden's Marie Bjorling, the top-ranked women's sailor in the world, handily won the Boat US Santa Maria Cup yesterday after sailing a near-perfect regatta in the waters off Annapolis last week.
Bjorling won all but two of her 18 races in the round-robin tournament that started Wednesday, then she and her crew swept the semifinals and finals on a day when racing almost didn't start because of a lack of wind.
"We made some mistakes the first day, then we didn't make them anymore," Bjorling said at dockside after yesterday's racing.
Carol Cronin, an Annapolis sailor in her first match race as a skipper, with a crew that never had sailed together, came in a surprising second after a slow start.
"You could feel us get stronger as the matches went on," said Cronin, whose crew went 3-4 in the first day of racing. "From the minute we got on the water, it felt like we were a crew."
Italian Giulia Conti, by far the youngest skipper in the fleet at 16, finished third, and Elizabeth Bayliss of California was fourth.
Without a hint of breeze, the racers, all in J22 sloops, wallowed in swells created by other boats' wakes for nearly two hours before enough wind to sail in kicked up out of the south. Bayliss and Bjorling would face each other in a rematch of the World Championships in the first set of races and Cronin and Conti in the second set. The winners of those matches would battle for first and second and the losers for third and fourth.
In the first race, Bayliss and Bjorling circled each other in the starting area like boxers in a ring, looking for advantages or trying to force the other into a foul. Bayliss controlled the start, but had been flagged for tacking too close to Bjorling in the pre-start maneuvering and would have to do a 360-degree turn at some point during the race.
Bayliss led through the first two legs - against the wind and with the wind - but in the second windward leg, Bjorling found a little more breeze and crawled into the lead just before the turning mark for the last leg. Bayliss finally executed her penalty turn as Bjorling rounded the mark and headed for home with a secure lead.
Bjorling was never headed after that, controlling the starts of the next two races and building comfortable leads.
Cronin won her semifinal races leading all the way, but faced a savvy veteran in Bjorling in the final races.
In the all-important pre-start maneuvering, one of Bjorling's crew members waved a protest flag nearly every time the two boats got close to each other. The umpires, watching like football or basketball referees from small powerboats nearby, rejected the claims, however. Later, Bjorling conceded she was trying to rattle Cronin.
"We knew that Carol is not used to being the skipper in match racing, so we wanted to make her not so aggressive," she said.
Conti was extremely aggressive at the start of the races for third place. She and Bayliss played tag around the committee boat and back, each one tacking to get away from the other or to get upwind of the other.
Less than a minute before the start of one race, Conti got between Bayliss and the starting line and drove straight for the committee boat, squeezing Bayliss away, then turning toward the line with only a few feet to spare.
Later, an aggravated Bayliss said she and her crew "didn't sail very well."
"It just wasn't our regatta."
Conti, who came into the semifinal round only a point behind Bjorling, said the choppy waters hampered her performance yesterday. She and her teammates are more used to the smooth waters of Lake Grade in Italy.
"Today, it was maybe too many waves," she said. "Maybe we didn't like that."
Among the rest of the competitors, Marie Faure of France was fifth and Sabrina Gurioli of Italy, who is ranked ninth in the world, was sixth. Annapolis' Sandy Grosvenor, a Santa Maria Cup veteran who recently won the Sundance Cup in Texas, was seventh, and Texan Deborah Willits was eighth. Charlie Arms of California was ninth and Capucine Pin, who carries a French passport but lives in Annapolis, was 10th.