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Skipper smooths over rough waters

Guy Jones knows how hard it can be to successfully sail the open ocean. Having sailed since 1973, the Michigan-born Vietnam War veteran has encountered rapidly changing weather, rough waves and navigational duties that have challenged his capabilities as a skipper. However, these have been just choppy waters for a man who has been through much more.

Jones, recently captained his 40-foot cutter, Gorgeous Girl, to first place overall and first place in its class in the 14th Marion-Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race from Marion, Mass., to St. David's Lighthouse, Bermuda.

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Jones also captured a trophy for the best performance by an electronically navigated yacht. The Pacific Seacraft yacht, which is berthed in Port Annapolis Marina on Back Creek, returned early Thursday from Bermuda.

Jones, 56, is no stranger to being in charge and providing leadership. From 1966 to 1969, he was a U.S. Army captain and helicopter pilot. In 1968 in Vietnam, his helicopter was shot down on a mission and he suffered a wound that resulted in the loss of his right hand.

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Being deprived of his grasp did not slow him down, Jones said, nor has it dampened his upbeat attitude.

"Am I competitive? Yeah, I'm competitive with everything. But I do know why I'm doing this," Jones said of his determination to sail. "I'll stop doing this when I don't find that I'm going to get any added benefit for me or my vessel."

Jones does not use the assistance of a prosthetic hand, yet appears agile performing manual tasks. Since he began sailing in 1973, he has logged more than 3,000 miles cruising on the open ocean and Great Lakes and says he wants to do a trans-Atlantic passage in the future.

On Gorgeous Girl, Jones makes extensive use of technology while racing. In addition to an onboard computer, the yacht has a GPS system, satellite phone, and SSB radio with which to operate.

The 645-mile journey to Bermuda began on June 20 with ideal conditions that persisted throughout most of the race. At one point, Jones and his crew were trying to sail to the west against the wind and encountered temporary difficulties. "This boat is particularly designed for those conditions, and quite honestly so is this crew as well," said Jones.

The four-person crew consists of Eldersburg resident John Hubbs, Toronto natives Denise and David Nielsen, and James Jaremka of East Aurora, N.Y. The camaraderie among them as they cleaned the boat in the marina after their ocean voyage was unmistakable.

"You never do this [ocean racing] with just strangers. You do this with people that you know and you trust," Jones said.

Gorgeous Girl made it from Marion to Hamilton Harbor in 102 hours, which left Jones disappointed that they hadn't reached Bermuda in their goal of 96 hours.

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"We didn't even think we had done well. Forget about winning," Jones said. "Dave Nielsen kept saying, 'Stop worrying, good things will happen.'

"We felt good that we had in fact got the crew there safely. That's our most important mission. The next is to get the boat there safely. And after that we try to win the race.

"We got the first two jobs done, but we didn't think we'd gotten the third job done. To find out the next day we'd gotten all three jobs done was exceptional. It still brings a smile to my face."

As it turns out, Jones and his crew learned they had won the race with a corrected time of 2:02:48:49 (4:05:34:35 elapsed time), nearly two hours ahead of the closest competitor.

Gorgeous Girl beat 78 other boats in the race, with four classes of electronically navigated boats and two classes of celestially navigated boats.

The Nielsens, who cruise with the Lakeshore Yacht Club of Ontario and met Jones on Lake Ontario three years ago, say Jones' disability has no impact on his ability to perform basic tasks on the boat, such as tying knots or cooking food. David served as starboard watch captain for the race, while Denise was the cook.

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Despite formal roles on board, Denise, who has been sailing for 38 years, said all the crew members perform all the tasks. "We always have two people awake, three people sleeping, and none of us sleep for more than a couple hours at a time when we're out to sea," she said.

Hubbs, who served as port watch captain, races with the Magothy River Sailing Association in Pasadena and has sailed since moving to Maryland 14 years ago.

He says Jones' style as a captain is different from any he has experienced. "He's very open to letting the crew have their input. He's much more egalitarian than any other skipper I've ever sailed with," Hubbs said.

Jones is a member of the Youngstown Yacht Club, near where he resides in East Amherst, N.Y., north of Buffalo. A consultant in the manufacturing industry, Jones is on the move more often than he'd like.

Jones' first open ocean race was the 2002 Annapolis to Bermuda, in which he finished first in class and ninth overall with Gorgeous Girl, acquired in September 2001 from an Annapolis couple. The same crew, but minus Denise Nielsen, accompanied him on that race, which was sponsored by the East Port Yacht Club of Annapolis.

When not at sea, Gorgeous Girl, which was commissioned in Annapolis in 1998, is maintained by various Annapolis companies, including Annapolis Yacht Refinishing, which Jones credits with helping get his vessel ready for the ocean.

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NOTE: Flirt, a Naval Academy entry skippered by senior Travis Wood, was second in Class A1 with a corrected time of 2:07:51:43 (3:22:57:44 elapsed time).


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