At the helm of the Seasaw, a 34-foot sailboat, skipper Todd Lochner clutched the giant steering wheel and barked orders to his novice crew over the crackling of his hand-held radio.
"Can you undo the knot in the blue line?"
Billed as the nation's largest charity regatta, about 80 boats set sail in the Chesapeake Bay near Annapolis yesterday to compete in the 26th annual Hospice Cup.
The event drew sailboat enthusiasts and hospice workers, who raised about $400,000 for not-for-profit hospices in Maryland, Virginia and Washington. The hospice organizations provide care and counseling for terminally ill patients.
During a cloudless day with an accommodating breeze that averaged about 10 to 15 knots, the sailboats journeyed through the bay. Boats like the Seasaw carried seasoned crew members, but also local hospice donors, volunteers or employees, who were given the opportunity to race and learn about the sport.
"This is designed for folks who are not usually racing," said Lochner. "It's a little bit of a thank you to the people."
The six-member crew of Seasaw pulled the ropes, raised the sails and fanned out the green-and-white-striped spinnaker. Some fumbled with the knots and looked to the more experienced crew members for help.
Karen Jones-Lantzy held firmly onto a rope that controlled a sail. Since 1995, she and her husband, who is a board member of the Hospice Cup, have been involved in the annual competition.
"It's a fun regatta," she said. "There's an adrenaline rush that takes all your stress away."
This year, Capital Hospice, Calvert Hospice, Hospice of the Chesapeake, Community Hospices and Montgomery Hospice participated in the event. They provided volunteers and will benefit from the fundraiser. The first Hospice Cup regatta was held on the Chesapeake in 1982.
Similar regattas designed to benefit hospice organizations are held at 28 different places across the country, including New York, California and Florida. The winners of the regional regattas will convene at the National Hospice Regatta Alliance Championship to be held in May in Annapolis.
Yesterday, the sailors competed for a variety of glass and silver trophies. Some of them are named after donors, including Pat Sajak, host of the television show Wheel of Fortune, who served as the honorary chairman of the Hospice Cup in 1999.
For five years, Emily Hall has volunteered at two summer camps run by the Hospice of the Chesapeake for children who have experienced a traumatic death in the family.
"Some kids don't know how to let go of their anger," said the 61-year-old Annapolis resident. "They don't know a good way to let go of it, so we try to teach them."
Hall, a retiree, also takes care of terminally ill patients in their homes. When asked why she volunteers, she said: "I don't want to be sitting at home. Like my mom used to say, if you can't do something for somebody, you're not any good to yourself."