ST. MARY'S CITY -- From his position aboard the Maryland Dove, a replica of a 17th-century sailing vessel, Rob Bartsch got a first glimpse of the sailboats as they made their way up the St. Mary's River yesterday to finish the 30th annual Governor's Cup Yacht Race, one of the last overnight races on the Chesapeake Bay.
Using binoculars, Bartsch called out boat numbers to fellow race committee members. "Three, one, three, one, four," he cried as a craft from Annapolis named the Daily Grind slipped past the wooden bow of the Dove.
"This is great," said Bartsch, a St. Mary's City resident, between finishes, each of which was heralded with a blast from an air horn. Winners of the eight classes were announced with a cannon shot, and later received trophies and other awards.
The officially named 30th Anniversary St. Mary's College of Maryland Governor's Cup Yacht Race began at 6 p.m. Friday near City Dock in Annapolis. The 144 boats sailed south 70 miles to the wide-mouthed St. Mary's River, bending north to dock near St. Mary's College in St. Mary's City, Maryland's colonial capital.
Boats ranged in size, up to more than 70 feet. Crews numbered a handful to more than a dozen.
More boats used to compete, sometimes more than 300, but the event has scaled down in size and rowdiness since the 1980s.
"The type of sailing that is going on here today, there aren't that many people who are willing to exert that kind of effort anymore," said Mike Ironmonger, chairman of the race committee, referring to grueling hours most sailors put in during their overnight journey.
Still, Ironmonger said the Governor's Cup is holding its own at a time when overnight competitions are folding and sailboat manufacturers are emphasizing speed over amenities such as kitchens and sleeping berths.
Perhaps that's why a big part of the Governor's Cup is the post-race bash, which Sailing World magazine has dubbed one of the top 10 sailing parties in the nation. As weary sailors disembarked from their crafts yesterday, they were greeted by a lush campus, a hot and hearty breakfast, reggae music and vans filled with cold beer. Oh, and don't forget the showers. Or the dorm rooms filled with comfy beds and cool cotton sheets.
Who could ask for more after a 10- or 12-hour sail?
"I need coffee. Does anyone else want coffee?" asked Charles Manjo, a crew member on the Pipeline of Annapolis. Manjo and six friends were awake most of Friday night as they navigated the Bay. By 9:30 a.m. yesterday, they were beat.
At the congregation hall of St. Mary's Parish Trinity Church, the crew chowed down on scrambled eggs, hash browns, sausages, homemade muffins and coffee -- all for $6.50, the proceeds of which went to the church.
'A special day'
Church members started their preparations about 3 a.m., just 15 minutes before the first yacht, the Donnybrook, crossed the finish line. They used 75 pounds of potatoes, 25 pounds of onions, 60 dozen eggs and 10 pounds of cheese, among other ingredients, to feed several hundred sailors, a few of whom sacked out on nearby couches and overstuffed chairs after they'd finished their meal.
"We look forward to it," said church member Suzanne Hardin, 60, of St. Mary's City, of the annual race day. "It's a special day for this community. ... All last night I was thinking about them. Wondering about the weather and what it would be like out on the water."
After breakfast, many sailors headed to their boats to prepare for the journey home.
At the dock, Gortex weather gear was drying on booms and waterproof bags lined decks. Brightly colored flags identifying racing teams fluttered in the breeze, and a few sailors took naps in the afternoon sun or under tarps.
Bikinis and suntan lotion were also part of the scene, as were six-packs of Bud Lite and gregarious dogs. Between chores, sailors swapped stories about the trip down the bay. Although the race started in Annapolis under ominous cloud cover, racers said it never rained hard, and that the gray clouds parted during the night for glimpses of the starry heavens.
There were stories of shooting stars and Milky Way sightings, as well as an all-night martini party. One couple celebrated their first wedding anniversary on a boat called the Vixen.
Most of all, the sailors said they were thankful for a generous wind.
"The most exciting part was that we had wind all night and we didn't have to sit off Poplar Island all night," said Ruth Way, a sailor from Shady Side who with her husband, David, sailed a trimaran named Trinity.
A special guest at the event yesterday was one of its founders, Peter Sarelas of Annapolis, a St. Mary's alumnus who with two schoolmates held the first race in 1974 in an attempt to connect Maryland's first capital with its current one and drum up publicity for the college's sailing program, which is ranked among the top in the nation.
In that first race, the students used a 62-foot yawl once owned by President John F. Kennedy as the finish boat, said Sarelas. Gov. Marvin Mandel was to give away the first Governor's Cup trophy, but at the last minute he had to send state Sen. J. Frank Raley Jr. of St. Mary's City as a stand in.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. sent Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele to do the honors yesterday.
No one knows where the original Governor's Cup trophy is today. It's a mystery that few cared to investigate yesterday.
"It's the nice people that are here when you arrive that really make it worthwhile," said Donnybrook owner James Muldoon of Washington, who has participated for 27 years. "And the party is good. This race just gets better all the time."