Sails are full in Annapolis this weekend

NOOD regatta has field of 283, two short of record


April 30, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

If there is such a thing as nautical gridlock, Annapolis may provide Exhibit A this weekend.

The National Offshore One Design regatta, three days of racing that begins today, has so far attracted a field of 283 boats, just two short of the record for an event of this type.

Organizers say the combination of a highly competitive field that includes a number of world-class sailors, the prediction of consistent winds and the possibility of 50,000 spectators overhead Sunday during the Bay Bridge Walk, will likely push Annapolis past Chicago, which set the record three years ago.

The deadline for registering was last night.

"This is huge," says Dick Franyo, owner of the Boatyard Bar and Grill in Eastport, which will be producing daily video highlights of the regatta. "You have 1,000-plus people who will be heading out on the town after the official events."

The NOOD, in its 17th season, is the nation's oldest racing series. The Annapolis event is the third stop on the nine-regatta North American circuit that started in February in St. Petersburg, Fla., and will end in Galveston Bay in Texas in September.

The field today is expected to include Olympic silver medalist John Bertrand of Australia, Swiss Olympian Othmar Mueller von Blumencron and several former world champions and America's Cup veterans.

Sailors will be racing on four courses laid out from the Bay Bridge south to Thomas Point.

"The race committee is going to have its hands full," says Ray Wulff, coordinator for the J/22 class, with about 80 boats the largest sailing this weekend. "It's going to be a shock for some of these teams that aren't used to racing with that many boats. They may be used to 40, but 80 is a whole different animal."

Last year, the fleet of J/22s numbered 50, which still caused logistical and tactical problems. On the first day, it took the race committee four tries to get a clean start for the hard-charging fleet.

Sailors like the NOOD events because the boats compete against others of the same design, which tests skills and tactics rather than technology.

But the reason NOOD sailors flock to Annapolis, says Etchells class coordinator Sandy Morse, is that "the business of this town is sailing, and that makes it attractive to out-of-town boats."

Indeed, the NOOD kicks off a high-profile season that includes the J/22 World Championship, May 17-21, and the ISAF Women's Match Race World Championships, once known as the Santa Maria Cup, June 6-12.

Wulff says 77 of the competitors in the J/22 will sail in the world championship, which has attracted a field of 124.

"This is a great tune-up for the worlds. It's the primer," says Wulff, who is the chairman for that world championship. "But this is a deep field. I don't see someone walking away with the NOOD and then walking away with the worlds."

The 18-boat Etchells fleet will be missing Dennis Conner, ranked No. 1 last year, who used the 2003 event to tune up for the world championship. But Morse says there will be other top-ranked sailors in the mix, including Jud Smith, the best U.S. Etchells sailor this year.

The Mumm 30 class has 15 entries crewed by top sailors, who are competing for scores in the 2004 East Coast Championship.

"There are a lot of good sailors in the fleet who could be mixing it up pretty good," says class coordinator Renee Mehl.

The events boost the city's national and international profile and help the economy, says Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer.

"We are the sailing capital of the United States, so it's only natural that they should be here," Moyer says. "Maritime businesses are small and they don't have high profit margins, so these events help provide an economic floor."

In addition to the sailing and the Bay Bridge Walk, Annapolis also will be having the Maryland Maritime Heritage Festival tomorrow and Sunday and its walking tour of downtown historic homes and gardens on Sunday.

"We don't know where we're going to put them all," says Franyo of the guests. "But it's a nice problem to have."

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