Hannah Swett received the "death penalty" during the second race of the Santa Maria Cup championship yesterday -- and not even a reprieve by the regatta judges and endorsed by her opponent could keep her from being eliminated.
At the top of the third -- and what should have been the final -- windward leg, Swett and Julia Trotman came to the mark almost dead even, with Swett trying to maintain inside position and force Trotman wide around the mark.
The on-the-water judges ruled that Swett had not allowed Trotman clearance and assessed a penalty, which would require Swett to make a 270-degree turn at some point on the final run to the finish line of the windward-leeward course at the Inner Harbor.
Such a ruling at that point in a close race is called the death penalty because only a gross error by an opponent or exceptional sailing by a penalized crew can overcome it.
On that third leeward leg, there were both -- Trotman's crew twisted its spinnaker at the top of the leg, and Swett sailed out from under a close cover on a furious spinnaker reach toward the finish line.
And then both boats turned around the lower mark and headed upwind again -- instead of toward the finish -- for a fourth lap of a three-lap race.
"That was some of the most exciting racing I have ever done," said Trotman of Syosset, N.Y. "The lead changed hands more times than I can remember. We flagged them, they flagged us. We were penalized, they were penalized. Then we both lost count and raced an extra leg."
Swett of Jamestown, R.I., said the two teams were well matched, and the racing reflected it.
"These guys [Trotman's crew] were very good at just sailing their
boat fast," Swett said, "and we were very good at match racing. We were continually hunting them down.
"And it was fun because the lead changed hands so many times."
In the opening race of the final, Trotman led at the first mark by 10 seconds. Swett led at the second mark by 17 seconds, at the third mark by 30 and at the fourth mark by 28.
Starting the third leg to windward, however, the race committee signaled a course change, and by the top of the leg Trotman had regained the lead and held roughly a 23-second margin she was able to hold to the finish line.
During prestart maneuvering before the second race, Trotman was penalized, but still managed to complete her penalty turn by gybing to the weather mark and take a lead of about 12 seconds. Trotman led at each mark thereafter, including the roundings on the extra lap.
"It was incredibly tight racing," Trotman said, "and luckily -- even with an extra lap -- we managed to stay ahead and win."
Trotman and Swett both said that neither had ever raced an extra lap in her racing career, but the intensity of the competition had both skippers and their crew aware only of their opponent.
"You are so focused on the other boat and how to stay on top of them," Trotman said, "that I certainly lost track of the course."
Swett said that the consensus among her crew was that they had completed three laps and should take their penalty and head for the finish line.
"But," Swett said, "if they were going to go around again, we were going to go right after them."
In the words of the regatta judge, whose voice crackled over the radio after Swett and Trotman turned the lower mark and started a fourth lap, "I think we have three laps here, but if they want one more, let's let them go at it and may the best one win."
Dawn Riley, last year's winner, defeated Paula Lewin, 2-1, for third place.