Even a fun race in Santa Maria Cup proves to have competitive capability

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Yesterday on the Severn River, the Santa Maria Cup women's match-racing regatta kicked off five days of sailing with a celebrity race intended to do no more than get the attention of the media -- and perhaps to produce a few chuckles on the race course.

Aboard Frolic, one of 10 J/22 sloops donated by their owners for use in the women's match-racing championships that will run through Sunday, the mood was light as Betsy Alison and Nancy Haberland discussed starting strategies -- whether to hack around or go for the jugular.

"What do you think?" Alison asked about 10 minutes before the start off the city docks. "Do you want to go on port with the fleet or start on starboard and try to make everybody else tack away -- ruffle some feathers and have some fun?"

"You know everyone is going to want to start at this end," said Haberland as Frolic closed on the red bell buoy marking the left-hand end of the starting line. "Maybe we could [start on starboard], but do we really want to take that chance? Let's go for the start that puts us in the best possible position."

Alison, a sailmaker from Newport, R.I., and Haberland, a sailing coach at the Naval Academy, are professional sailors, or as close to being pros as is possible in women's sailing.

The BOAT U.S. Santa Maria Cup is as close to being a professional event for women as there is in this area, and the field for this year's regatta is impressive.

Several members of the America3 women's team from the last America's Cup are here as skippers or crew, including Hannah Swett, Melissa Purdy and Dawn Riley.

By the second mark yesterday, Frolic had moved into the lead after Riley's skipper had rounded the mark the wrong way and had to re-round.

With two legs to go, a J/22 skippered by State Sen. John Pica began to close the gap with Frolic, until rounding the last mark it was only a boat length or two behind.

With Haberland at the helm, Alison went forward to fine-tune the jib, and the Navy coach began to call out the trim with each minute change in wind speed and direction.

Together, they kept Frolic up and running well.

"Competitive?" said Alison, as Haberland angled Frolic toward the line to finish just ahead of Pica and Co. "I guess it is fair to say that even in a race like this we really do like to win."

The Santa Maria Cup, which will sail round-robin match races until every skipper has raced against the others at least once before final and semifinal pairings are determined, will be based at the city docks. Racing is scheduled to begin each day at about 9 a.m.

Pub Date: 5/30/96

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