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Sometimes it's hard to break old habits, or to draw players into a new game.

But when the first Chesapeake Lighthouse Challenge race began Friday evening, the breezy start was a breath of fresh air for the hosts and race organizers of Cape St. Claire Yacht Club, as 46 starters in five classes set off down the bay.

The Lighthouse Challenge race is the longest-distance event of the season for local racers who don't go offshore for an event like theAnnapolis-to-Newport Race.

It was created as a biennial replacement for the 365-mile Great Ocean Race, a grueling circumnavigation of the DelMarVa Peninsula that slowly had been decreasing in participation as an annual event.

Many of the dyed-in-the-wool veterans of the GOR were along for the new race, joined by a substantial contingentof sailors hungry for a less brutal long-distance challenge without the Delaware Bay and long ocean legs.

"We were pretty thrilled with the participation," said race organizer Sue Davis. "It was a good turnout, and everyone seemed to really enjoy the race."

Three courses were used, all starting at Sandy Point Light about 5 p.m. Friday and finishing at Baltimore Light between midnight Saturday and late Sunday.

The biggest and fastest monohulls, sailing in the 11-boat PHRF-A class, completed a 282-mile circuit down to Chesapeake Light, beyond the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, and back, while the eight PHRF-B boats turned back at Wolftrap Light on a 200-

mile course.

The 10 boats in the Multihull class also competed on the 200-mile Wolftrap course, and the smallest boats, sailing in a 10-boat PHRF-C division, and the three Nonspinnaker finishers completed a 142-mile course down to Smith Point Light south of the mouth of the Potomac and back.

First over the finish line was Connecticut sailor John Barry, winner in Multihulls with his high-performance Newick 40 trimaran Greenwich Propane, returning from his 200-mile sail a little before 1 a.m. Sunday, a mere 31 hours, 27 minutes after his start.

The rest of his class was primarily smaller cruising multihulls that finished much more closely grouped, starting about 14 hours later. Leading themwas Edgewater sailor Tony Smith on Gemini II, one of four Gemini cruising catamarans in the race that were built by Smith's yard, Performance Cruising in Mayo.

"It was a dead beat down the bay and a spinnaker run back up again -- almost equal time each way," Smith explained.

"True winds were probably 15 to 18 until about two-thirds of the way down, when it lightened up to eight or nine. Coming back again, probably 10 knots was the highest it got, and some people had flat calm around sunrise. But then it was a nice windy day on Sunday."

Completing the longer 282-mile PHRF-A race a little before 2:30 p.m. on Sunday -- with an average speed less than two-tenths of a knot below that of the top multihull -- were co-skippers Nick Brown and Paul Mikulski on

Brown's J/44 Iona, with an elapsed time of 45:22:59.

"It was really perfect conditions," Mikulski said. "We had very consistent winds. The current was a big factor, and there were two main tactical aspects. First, on the first leg it was playing the flood tide and short-tacking James Island. Then at the Bridge-Tunnel, it tookus 45 minutes just to get around the mark.

"We came within half amile of the entrance on a starboard tack that had started all the way up at Hooper's Island but the wind died and the tide prevented us from reaching it. We actually rounded backward (stern-first). We grossly underestimated the funnel through there with the current, and there was very little air."

In the light air and strong current, Mikulski said it took 2 1/2 hours to get from the Bridge-Tunnel to Chesapeake Light, but only 1:40 to get back again as the wind built up againfrom the southwest.

"The wind filled back in again, we set a chute, and bam!" he said.

As scratch boat in her class, Iona owed someof her competition six hours or more over the long course, and was nailed on correction by Paul Kaplan and his team on his Baltic 42 Incessant, who arrived more than 4 1/2 hours later

but floated to the top of the heap by a 36-minute margin.

The Iona team managed to save enough time to hold second place over the boat it was most worriedabout, however. Gerry Smernoff and crew on his Frers 36 F-3 Bam verynearly caught Iona when they arrived at the finish just after 8 p.m., but Iona corrected ahead of Bam by a mere 45 seconds -- after two days and all those miles of all-out racing.

"The wind filled in from behind Sunday afternoon -- from the southwest, a sea breeze -- but we had already finished and they were still coming up the bay," Mikulski said of the Incessant team. "They were on a spinnaker reach in a flood tide a lot of the way, and we had to gybe downwind and fight anebb."

Brown and Mikulski were using the race primarily to qualifyfor the legendary Fastnet Race in England. Iona is being shipped overseas tomorrow for a European season, which will include a number of events such as the Round-Island Race in June, the Cowes-St. Malo Raceand a week of racing on the Brittany coast in July, and the Channel Race, Cowes Week and the Fastnet in August.

"It was the last time the crew would be able to get together and practice here before the boat was shipped, so it was an important tuneup," Mikulski explained. "It was a good experience. We accomplished everything we wanted to do."

Veteran GOR champion Peter Driscoll and his team on his Irwin 30 Triple Dee III arrived at 1:25 a.m. Sunday to win the PHRF-C class'142-mile race, while PHRF-Nonspinnaker winner George Fox and his crew on Au Revoir won their class when they got in a little

after 3 a.m. from the same course.

Finishing about 2 1/2 hours behind Driscoll were Andy Davis and his crew on L*A*S*S, a J/24 and the smallest PHRF boat competing.

Davis nailed down a solid second place after a stretch of light air on the run north slowed him from a mere 22 seconds behind Driscoll at Smith Point, his wife explained.

"It just went so light, and Triple Dee is so fast," Sue Davis said. "We've given Pete Driscoll a lot of silverware over the years for the GOR, and he's really good at the long-distance races."

Chesapeake Lighthouse

Challenge results

PHRF A (282 miles, 11 starters/9 finishers): 1) Incessant, Paul Kaplan, Alexandria, Va., 42:53:53 c.t.; 2) Iona,Nicholas Brown/Paul Mikulski, Baltimore/Annapolis, 43:30:11 c.t.; 3)Bam, Gerald Smernoff, Annandale, Va., 43:30:56 c.t.

PHRF B (200 miles, 8 starters/finishers): 1) Runaway, Lawrence Vanderveen, Washington, 35:09:28 c.t.; 2) Seraph II, David Littlepage, Severna Park, 35:38:54 c.t.; 3) Aquamarine, William Rogers, Baltimore, 35:41:29 c.t.

PHRF C (142 miles, 10 starters/9 finishers): 1) Triple Dee III, Peter Driscoll, Beallsville, 25:52:26 c.t.; 2) L*A*S*S, Andrew Davis, Annapolis, 27:58:26 c.t.; 3) Jaguar, Eugene Horn, Mitchellville, 28:22:37 c.t.

PHRF Nonspinnaker (142 miles, 7 starters/3 finishers): 1) Au Revoir, George Fox, Coopersburg, Pa., 29:54:40 c.t.; 2) Doxy, Joseph Mazziotti, Pittsburgh, 38:12:48 c.t.; 3) Tempest, Henry Pitts, Monkton, 38:14:04 c.t.

Multihull (200 miles, 10 starters/8 finishers): 1) Greenwich Propane, John Barry, Greenwich, Conn., 33.371397 (33:22:17) c.t.; 2) Gemini II, Anthony Smith, Edgewater, 37.432341 (37:25:57) c.t.; 3) Gemini, Jere and Lloyd Glover, Annapolis, 38.274866 (38:16:30) c.t.

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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