From Annapolis keelboats, a view of Athens

All-women Rolex regatta has Olympics as subplot


September 29, 2003|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

With its purple spinnaker marked with an orange flame, the Up and Coming will stand out in the fleet of 67 teams from seven countries competing this week in Annapolis.

The Rolex International Women's Keelboat Championship, one of the most competitive of the all-women regattas, is even more so with the Summer Olympics less than a year away.

But the dockside chatter may have more to do with Team Levitra, the crew aboard Up and Coming, whose sponsor is duking it out with the maker of Viagra.

Marie Klok Crump, the skipper, joked about the position of the boat's mast, and teammate Townley Everette acknowledged others are making quips, too.

"We've heard the jokes," said Everette, a sales representative for Glaxo SmithKline and Bayer Pharmaceuticals, who coaxed her bosses into a financial commitment for the race.

"Everyone keeps asking for samples," added teammate Blair Hamilton, a Duke University senior who grew up sailing the Chesapeake Bay.

In the Rolex, which begins today and ends Friday, spectators will see five skippers who have their sights set on Athens. Next summer, women's keelboat sailing will make its Olympic debut in the three-crew Yngling class.

This regatta will be sailed in J/22s, which, as the name implies, are 22 feet long and weigh about 1,800 pounds. They can be sailed single-handedly or, in the case of the Rolex regatta, with a crew of four.

Although the boats and crews are different, the skippers see the Rolex as part of the tuneup strategy for the U.S. Olympic Trials Feb. 12-22 in Key Biscayne, Fla.

Americans Betsy Alison, Sally Barkow and Carol Cronin - ranked the top three Yngling skippers by U.S. Sailing this year - are entered. Bermudan Paula Lewin, who finished seventh in the Pre-Olympic Trials, and Canadians Lisa Ross and Deirdre Crampton, who finished 16th, also are in the field.

Team Levitra has been together only three months and hasn't raced together. Crump and Hamilton were half of the crew that won the J/22 Mid-Atlantic Championship held last month out of the Severn Sailing Association.

Crump, a Dane, has been match-racing about a decade, but took most of this season off to finish her master's degree thesis and get married to veteran Annapolis sailor Will Crump.

"My strategy is actually very simple," said Crump, smiling. "It's to have a lot of fun sailing. We'll be competitive, but don't expect top numbers out of me because I've been away from it and I have no clue."

With seven years of sailing experience, Everette, of Annapolis, calls herself the rookie of the bunch. When she was invited to compete this summer, she went to her boss to beg for an extra vacation week.

"This is Marie Klok," Everette explained to him. "If your son had a chance to play with Michael Jordan for a week but he had to miss school, would you let him?"

Her boss not only said yes, but he's also bringing the rest of the office staff down to cheer for the boat.

The team is rounded out by Sarah Lynch, a crew member on Steve Fossett's 125-foot catamaran, Playstation, which this fall will attempt to break the record for longest run in 24 hours. The $8 million boat is berthed in Norfolk, Va., and the crew is on standby, waiting for the perfect weather to make the run.

"The hurricane was an inconvenience for us one way, but it gave Sarah time off," Crump said.

The Rolex keelboat regatta, held every two years, is part of U.S. Sailing's national championship series.

Two years ago, the regatta was won easily by 1995 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year Cory Sertl of Rochester, N.Y., who sat out the fifth and final day of racing. Cronin (who won in 1999) finished second and Lewin, third.

In addition to Alison, the five-time winner of the regatta and five-time Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, and the other Olympics aspirants, others to watch include:

Corrie Clement, a three-time ICSA All-American at Old Dominion and Quantum Female College Sailor of the Year, aboard Invasion of the Butterflies.

Team VC Performance Rigging , skippered by Naval Academy sailing coach Nancy Haberland, who with crewmates Karina Shelton and Aimee Hess won this year's Santa Maria Cup. The fourth team member, Dina Kowalyshyn, was aboard the second-place boat in the Santa Maria and was on the crew of the winning boat in the 2001 IWKB.

Team Levitra has already generated some jokes at Annapolis' favorite sailing watering holes. Its presence in the regatta has raised some interesting dueling possibilities. There's Hot Flash, a team of four women, all age 50 and older, from Minnesota; Hot Kis!, from Marion, Mass., and Yeah Buoy! from Arlington, Va.

"It bounces off me," said Everette, with a smile. "My life is one big innuendo."

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