The rumors have become fact!

The Annapolis Yacht Club, which signed a contract to buy the former White Rocks boatyard on Spa Creek last year, is fostering a small-boat one-design fleet out of AYC.

AYC board member Art Libby, who is chairman of the project, says encouraging the new fleet of J/22s is a return of sorts to the club's roots.

"There've been a lot of people around the club talking about simple sailing, you know, the kind where you don't have to worry about all of the organization and logistics and things like feeding a big crew," said Libby.

"We were looking for simplicity, something comfortable, and something a little bit exciting. Years ago, AYCwas a small-boat club, and there was a regular inside (race) course committee, so it really isn't anything new."

But even Libby, an optimist about the project, was surprised by how quickly enthusiasticinterest in the idea has spread.

"The response has been great,"he said. "I put a notice in the December newsletter saying anybody interested in doing this call me. I got 35 calls, and now I think we had 48 people at the last meeting."

AYC has a strong reputation among offshore racers as part of major big-boat events, such as the biennial Annapolis-to-Newport Race, and regattas. It plays host to the popular Fall Series, which was conceived in part to take advantage ofopportunities to race against the migrating fleet of mega-racing yachts on its way south for the winter.

AYC's Race Committee members are among the most qualified and experienced race officials in the nation. Frequently, they are are called upon to assist in major yachting events across the country, as well as the Chesapeake Bay region, serving as on-the-water judges and protest committee members.

Somewhere along the way, however, the small-boat end of things eroded at the club itself.

Libby and his fellow small-boat, one-design sailors are going to bring it back in style.

J/22 Fleet 19 captain Kip Koolage says the AYC's choice of the J/22 as its small-boat, one-design will trickle down to other J/22 sailors in the area.

"It's a real shot in the arm for us," Koolage said. "The J/22s are going to have a house club now that eventually will be willing to host regional and national events, too."

Fleet 19, which has about 15 boats registered, is expected to double in size within a couple of months, Koolage said. Ten or 11 boats are already on order through Crusader Yacht Sales, and the hunt is heating up for used '22s.

"I knew they had several other kinds of boats they were considering, but the '22 had it all over those other boats when you compare the comfort and cost and what type of racing will be done," Koolage said.

Other boats considered were the Flying Scots, Impulse 21s, J/24s and Etchells 22s, but the vote went overwhelmingly in favor of J/22s.

Many of the fleet members will use their new '22s as second boats whilecontinuing to pursue their primary racing endeavors. Interested sailors quickly formed syndicates and partnerships to share expenses, responsibilities and fun.

"There are a lot of different factors coming together, and a lot of people in partnerships," said Libby, explaining that he was going into a syndicate with his son and daughter ona J/22, while continuing to race his Pearson 30 and sail with friends in the J/30 class.

"Sometimes also it's one fellow that's a racer in partnership with one that isn't, but would like to be."

The list of sailors entering this new fleet includes IOR, IMS, Cruising One-Design and One-Design High Point and overall CBYRA champions going back in some cases nearly 40 years, as well as younger blood. Theinherent talent and experience levels in the initial group are high by any standard.

Add to this mix of J/22 newcomers the strong skill and ability levels already in the ranks of Fleet 19, and it's going to be an exciting summer.

"I think it's going to be a blast going up against these more experienced, weathered sailors," Koolage said. "It's going to be real interesting."

To help accommodate its new fleet, the AYC Board approved plans to parcel off a portion of the former White Rocks boatyard lot for trailer-able keelboats and install a hoist for hauling and

launching the boats, which will be dry-sailed.

Preliminary racing plans for the new fleet include midweek involvement with the Thursday-night series for '22s and '24s, for which AYC has committed logistical support, as well as some weekend and frostbite events. The type of racing will be primarily short-course Olympic-type round-the-buoys competition.

One point stressed by everyone involved is that the new fleet's activities are not in anyway designed or intended to compete with the small-boat racing activities of any other club in the area.

Nancy Noyes is a member of the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association and has been racing on the bay for about five years. Her Sailing column appears every Wednesday and Sunday in The Anne Arundel County Sun.

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