The Columbus Cup regatta got under way in Annapolis yesterday with six races in breezy conditions that made for tense racing among teams representing Japan, PACT '95, the Santa Maria Cup and the Chesapeake Bay.
The Columbus Cup, which in previous years has been a match-race competition held on the Inner Harbor or the Patapsco River, has been split between Annapolis and Baltimore this year and changed to a team-racing format.
PACT '95, a team representing an America's Cup defense syndicate, came out of the first round-robin undefeated but not without some anxious moments.
"If we are all still friends by the end of the week, it will be a miracle," said Ken Read, one of the PACT '95 skippers. "The tension is fantastic. Sailboat racing doesn't get more exciting than that."
The tightest race yesterday was between PACT and Team Chesapeake, both 2-0 entering the fifth race of the day.
In team racing, boats are awarded points based on the order in which they finish (1-2-3-4-5-6), with the lowest total winning. In this regatta, the total points in each race are 21, and a combination of 10 or less wins.
In the fifth race, said Jim Brady, one of the Chesapeake skippers, his team started poorly and had to scramble to get back into contention near the top of the first leg.
From that point on, the race was a brief if somewhat confusing clinic on what team racing should be, with many subtle moves adding up to a major change in positions on the course.
At the first weather mark, Chesapeake skipper Brad Dellenbaugh set a trap for PACT skippers Kevin Mahaney and Read, forcing them wide around the mark and slowing them. Dellenbaugh's pick at the mark allowed Brady and the third Chesapeake skipper, Chris Larson, to slip inside and ahead.
"We got lucky at the first mark to even move ourselves into 2-3-4 after not having a very good start," said Brady. But Dellenbaugh's pick has put them in a winning combination (nine points) if they could maintain their positions through three legs.
Although John Kostecki, the third PACT skipper, maintained a solid hold on first place, Team Chesapeake held its positions through two more legs.
"We came around that last leeward mark with a 2-3-4 combination, which typically is a fairly safe winning combination," Brady said. "As we sailed up that beat, Read in fifth and Mahaney in sixth did a good job of splitting to either side of the course."
The split left Brady, who was in fourth place, with the responsibility of trying to impede the progress of boats in two different places, while Dellenbaugh and Larson tried to hunt down Kostecki.
"Dellenbaugh and Larson got very close to Kostecki and thought they could get a 1-3," Brady said. "If one of them could just get by Kostecki and the other finish right behind him, with a 1-3, it didn't matter what my position was.
"In the end, what happened is that Kostecki did a great job and didn't let us get to first."
What Kostecki did was to slow his pace, and by so doing hindered the progress of Dellenbaugh and Larson.
"I really don't know what happened in the back [of the field], but Read and Mahaney did a great job of getting back into the race," said Kostecki. "We just tried to slow down the second- and third-place boats, and everything fell together and worked out right."
The fifth race ended with perhaps two boat lengths separating first from sixth place.
"It is the way sailing should be, I think," said Read. "It is a mental thing. You have to make the right play. Make the wrong play and you're done. Make the right play and you are back in the hunt."
Racing continues at 11 a.m. today. Tomorrow is a lay day, and the semifinals and finals will be sailed in Baltimore Friday and