Casual crew sails for funon the water


Friendly competition

August 20, 2006|By ANNIE LINSKEY

The scene at Linstead Pier in Severna Park on Wednesday night looked more like a family reunion or pizza party than a yacht club.

Maybe it was the comfortable banter between the 50 or so sailors, or the fact that they were standing on a poorly lit dock, not in a clubhouse. Or maybe it was the stack of pizza boxes piled up in a corner.

While the casualness might not appeal to everyone, an evening of boat racing and take-out dinner is exactly the type of event that members of the Round Bay Sailing Association relish.

"We're out here to enjoy the sunset," said Mike Stefancik, 32, sipping a beer as he stepped off his boat.

The club usually has 10 to 15 sailboats on the line for its Wednesday races. They sail in Round Bay, a wide part of the Severn River about 5 miles upstream from Annapolis.

The water there is deep enough to accommodate a 30-foot boat. But the winds are fluky.

Last week, the wind was so light that the race ended early because the sun went down before the boats could reach the finish line.

Nobody minded. Members say they like sailing with Round Bay because the races are not as serious as the better-known Wednesday night series down the river in Annapolis.

"Here we all know each other, we all joke around at the mark roundings," said Deke Johnson, 36, who has raced in Round Bay since he was 10 years old.

"If you get in a tense situation, you are yelling at someone you have known for a long time," added Mike Stefancik's brother, John, 36.

Since the sailing association was founded in 1979, the club's membership has ebbed and flowed. At its height, there were 70 members, and 35 boats regularly came out to race each week. In the late 1990s the membership dipped to about 30, and there were only about five boats on the line.

John Stefancik and Johnson, who are friends from sailing at the club for years, said they embarked on an aggressive marketing campaign to shore up the club during the lean years.

They made up fliers and stuffed them in individual plastic baggies. Then the pair drove around in a motorboat and distributed their waterproof leaflets to boats moored in the river.

Their pitch was that their club emphasized enjoying the sport. The leaflets said: "When was the last time you had fun sailing?"

Keeping with the informal atmosphere, a motley collection of sailboats gathers on the start line. Last Wednesday the boats varied from an 18-foot dingy to 30-plus foot sailboats with cabins.

Skippers race directly against each other, but the club keeps score using a handicapping system that requires the faster types of boats to give time to the boats that are not designed for speed.

Club members rotate race committee duty. The chore isn't exactly arduous since the buoys that the boats race around are all fixed in the river - they are only taken out for winter.

That means nobody has to scoot around in a motorboat readjusting the course every time the wind shifts. The race starts around 6 p.m.

John Stefancik said that whenever he starts a new job, he tells his bosses that from April to October he will have to leave work at 4 p.m. on Wednesdays.

He says his employers have never given him a hard time. "They love that people are really truly involved in a sport that is really important in Maryland," he said.

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