Once upon a time a group of hardy and slightly crazy sailors decidedit would be fun to race around the Delmarva Peninsula, and the annual Great Ocean Race, sponsored by the Cape St. Claire Yacht Club, was born.

The Great Ocean Race, or GOR, has been a Memorial Day weekend tradition for many years and always has offered a series of interesting challenges for competitors.

In years past, conditions have ranged from dead calm in the Southern Bay to gales along the Atlantic Coast (sometimes even in the samerace), and additional excitement even has included the rescue of a cruising sailor from the wreckage of his sunken boat.

The GOR is one of those things people who've sailed it seem to either love or hate, or maybe love to hate. And even though the distance has remained the same -- 365 miles from Annapolis up to the C & D Canal, down the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Coast, and back up the Chesapeake to Annapolis -- the fleet has been shrinking a bit over the years.

In response, the Cape St. Claire people have come up with a new format. In alternate years (even-numbered) the GOR will go on as before, but this year, and in subsequent odd-numbered years, a new race will replaceit.

This race, billed as the Chesapeake Lighthouse Challenge, is a there-and-back Memorial Day weekend experience, rather than a circular-route race. It will take the largest boats, in PHRF A and IMS I, on a 282-mile course to round Chesapeake Light off Virginia Beach, with shorter courses for smaller and slower boats.

PHRF B and IMS IIwill use a second course of 200 miles, rounding at Wolf Trap Light, while PHRF C, PHRF Nonspinnaker, and IMS III sailors will sail 182 miles to round Smith Point Light at the south side of the mouth of the Potomac River.

All courses will begin and end near Annapolis, withstarting lines to be set at Sandy Point Light and finishes at Baltimore Light.

CSCYC spokesmen say they gladly will arrange for one-design starts for classes of at least three entries.

As an example of the early response, the event already is listed as a highlight for masochists on the J/24 class schedule (J/24s, obviously, would sail the shortest course, while other Cruising One-Design classes likely would be assigned courses based on where they fit in the PHRF ranges).

A Multihull class, for which the course will be set depending on the entries, is planned.

The Lighthouse Challenge is the longest distance race sanctioned for High Point by the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association in this area this year, with the longest course nearly four times the 70-odd mile Governor's Cup course from Annapolis to St. Mary's, and the shortest about 2 1/2 times the distance.

In addition to being more attractive for smaller boats because of the shorter course, the new Lighthouse Challenge race has the advantage of virtually instantaneous scoring after the finish.

This is because itdoesn't have the GOR's leg through the C & D, for which skippers have to log their times of arrival, motor through, and then log restart times on the Delaware Bay end, and submit this record to the Race Committee before final scoring can be done -- a process that can involveseveral days of waiting for logs to arrive in the mail.

Another advantage is the Friday evening start, as opposed to the GOR's traditional Thursday start, making it easier to find crew and avoiding having to take too much time off from work.

The Lighthouse Challenge still has some similarities to the GOR, however.

First and foremost is the requirement that at least two members of the crew be over 18 years of age and experienced in distance racing of at least 60 miles. Skippers and watch captains must submit detailed sailing biographies documenting their offshore or distance-racing experience, and the Race Committee reserves the right to reject any entry.

Unlike the GOR, however, which is an Offshore Racing Council Category 2 event, withspecial safety-related considerations and requirements for equipmentand structural stability, the instructions for the new race do not specify an ORC category.

The instructions say only: "The skipper should be familiar with the (ORC) equipment recommendations and satisfyhim/herself that his/her vessel is properly prepared for any contingencies which may arise involving either the vessel and the crew."

The instructions add that all vessels must meet appropriate class, CBYRA and Coast Guard equipment standards and requirements.

The entry fee for the Chesapeake Lighthouse Challenge is $40 and is due May 11 to Race Committee, CSCYC, 1223 Riverbay Road, Annapolis, Md. 21401,along with a standard CBYRA entry form and the appropriate biographies of skipper and watch captain. Social fees of $8 per person in advance or $10 at the door will be charged for the post-race party, set for Monday, May 27.

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

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