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Upfront view keeps Nairn sailing AMERICA'S CUP


SAN DIEGO -- She is the one they call "Susie Bowchick." She is the one, all 5 feet 3 inches of her, who is hoisted up the 110-foot mast in a harness to make a repair. She is the one who, before she reached her teens, had sailed around the world.

This is Susie Leech Nairn, 28, a Severna Park High grad who is a member of the first women's team in the 144-year history of the America's Cup. The women, joined two weeks ago by only one man, as helmsman, are competing against two U.S. male teams for the right to defend the America's Cup against a foreign challenger in May.

Nairn, an Annapolis resident since she was 4 -- except for two years to sail around the world with her parents and four years at the University of Virginia -- is living a dream.

"The America's Cup is the biggest fish in the sea as far as sailing goes," Nairn said. "To think that 16 other girls could be doing my dream is something I couldn't accept."

For this opportunity, Nairn left her job as an aerospace engineering consultant to NASA. She and her husband, Bruce, a sales manager for North Sails/Chesapeake, are living on a friend's boat during the America's Cup trials. They own a house in Annapolis, but probably won't return to it until after the Admiral's Cup this summer in Europe, following the America's Cup.

It was two years ago during the Columbus Cup, a regatta in the Chesapeake Bay, that Nairn was christened "Bowchick," or as crewmate and nickname originator Hannah Swett noted, the chick who works in the bow of the boat. The nickname preceded her here.

"As soon as I got to San Diego, girls I hadn't even met were calling me Bowchick," Nairn said.

The bowman on the America's Cup crew hooks up headsails and equipment, serves as the eyes for the helmsman and is the aerialist who goes up the mast before and during sailing to check the rigging. It requires audacity, because movements when a boat is turning or climbing waves are more pronounced on the bow.

"There are a lot of reasons to go up the mast -- to look for wind, for example," Nairn said, noting that distant ripples on the water made by wind can be seen better from a height. "Or in an emergency, to cut a sheet loose from the rig or to adjust the wind wand."

Nairn has 17 years of racing and sailing experience. In addition to the around-the world trip with her parents, she has dozens of races in her dossier, including the 1994 Southern Ocean Racing Circuit, the 1993 China Coast Cup and the 1993 Santa Maria Cup.

More than 600 women applied for the America3 adventure. Ranging in age from 22 to 36, the 29 women selected for the main and alternate crews include not only experienced sailors but world-class rowers and weightlifters. Some of the women in the latter two categories are known as grinders, positions requiring the strength to handle and adjust the sails by cranking the winches.

"The selections were based partly on the experience listed in our resumes," Nairn said. "But contacts -- who you know -- were part of it, too."

The oldest crew member by four months, Diana Klybert, 36, the self-described "Ancient Mariner," also has an Annapolis connection. Or at least she did. All that remains from her Annapolis stay from 1990 to last March is a 4-by-4-foot storage locker.

"I was living in Hawaii with my boyfriend when he was transferred to Baltimore," said Klybert, who years before had transferred from Oregon State to Maryland for her final college year to get her degree in journalism.

"I told him I couldn't move from Maui to an urban area and survive. He suggested Annapolis, and I wound up loving it. I had never sailed on the East Coast before."

Klybert was working in the Caribbean early last year when she got a phone message from Kimo Worthington, America3's director of sailing operations. Even before returning the call, Klybert told her employer she was quitting.

"If you commit your life to sailing, as I have, this is the fulfillment of a dream," Klybert said. "Not only the sailing, but the maintenance and lifestyle. I love it."



Citizen Cup Defenders

Stars & Stripes, Dennis Conner, def. Mighty Mary, Leslie Egnot, by 1 minute, 31 seconds.

Louis Vuitton Cup

Team New Zealand, Russell Coutts, def. Nippon, Makoto Namba, 3:45. oneAustralia, John Bertrand, def. NZL-39, Chris Dickson, 1:28.


Citizen Cup

x-Young America, 6 points; Stars & Stripes, 3; Mighty Mary, 2.

Note: Victories are worth one point. Young America began round with two bonus points and Stars & Stripes with one.

Louis Vuitton Cup

x-Team New Zealand, 8 points; oneAustralia, 5; NZL-39, 3; Nippon Challenge, 0.

x-clinched spot in the finals


Citizen Cup

Mighty Mary vs. Young America. Layday: Stars & Stripes.

Louis Vuitton Cup

oneAustralia vs. Team New Zealand. Nippon vs. NZL-39.

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