In what has become an annual homecoming for Anne Arundel sailors, the Governor's Cup Yacht Race will begin this afternoon with about 160 boats crowding the Annapolis Harbor and setting sail for St. Mary's City.
The longest overnight race on the Chesapeake Bay, the 70-mile Governor's Cup is a chance for the local sailing community to get together in its back yard and show off for friends.
"At the starting line, all those guys become our enemies," said Albert Holt of Annapolis, whose 33-foot boat is named Stalker. "We don't want to kill them or even see them get hurt, but we want to damage their egos."
The race is for serious sailors, but not professionals. With no prize money, the race attracts competitors with day jobs to finance their watery weekend pursuits. About two-thirds of the registered boats are based in Anne Arundel County, organizers said. Boats will set sail at 6 p.m. and, if the weather cooperates, will finish tomorrow morning at Horseshoe Cove on the St. Mary's River.
St. Mary's College of Maryland is the host of the race, which was started in 1974 by two college students and an alumnus. (St. Mary's sailing team this year won the national championship in Oahu, Hawaii).
St. Mary's College of Maryland will put on an all-day party tomorrow on the banks of the river with live music, food and dancing. Sailing World magazine called it one of sailing's 10 best parties, and it is free and open to the public. The music begins at noon and continues until 11 p.m.
The race's start boat, The Maryland Dove, will be open for free tours at the Annapolis City Dock on tomorrow and Sunday. The Maryland Dove is a replica of the 17th-century square rigger that brought the first English settlers to St. Mary's City in 1634. Costumed guides will be on board to explain to boat's history.
"This is the survival test of the season," said Matt Tove, 41. The Annapolis resident has raced in the Governor's Cup about a dozen times and today will lead a crew of seven about his 30-foot Ovation.
"It's what I call total heads-up sailing," Tove said. "There's no drinking for us at night. The crew needs to be visually aware at all times because of the commercial traffic going up and down the bay."
Night sailing presents different challenges from the daytime, sailors said. They must be able to read the visual lights on tugboats, use traditional navigation techniques and deal with fatigue. But sailors say the timing is part of the appeal.
"Many days in the summer it's very light winds," said Holt, 64. "But there's almost always a breeze at night. And you don't get sunburned. It's not a bake-out."