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Soft wind, hard competition

The Baltimore Sun

The force has been with Paul Van Ravenswaay and his crew during the past two Sperry Top-Sider National Offshore One-design regattas on the Chesapeake Bay.

Aboard the Millennium Falcon, the skipper captured the J/24 class title in 2006 and 2007. Last year, he won in such a convincing fashion that he was awarded the overall Annapolis NOOD regatta title.

After a tuneup in February at the St. Petersburg, Fla., NOOD, in which he finished sixth, Van Ravenswaay is hoping for a J/24 threepeat and another shot at the big prize.

The same could be said of Greg Fisher, an Annapolis resident and winner of the 2006 overall title, who is looking for his third consecutive win in the J/22 class.

However, both skippers say the quality of the competition during the three-day event that begins today will make it difficult to keep their winning streaks alive.

"We'd love to have a shot at it, but who knows what will happen," Fisher said.

The NOOD regatta, in its 10th season in Annapolis, has attracted a flotilla of more than 1,000 sailors aboard more than 250 boats. The entries are competing in 17 classes, with one addition and two subtractions from a year ago. Organizers have reinstated the Star class, which was dropped last year, and eliminated the S2 9.1 and C&C; 99 classes.

Although the NOOD is largely considered a showcase for local talent, entries have also come from 20 states, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.

In the highly competitive J/22 class, Fisher will face last year's J/22 runner-up Peter McChesney, a St. Mary's College Hall of Fame sailor and two-time NOOD winner, and Kevin Doyle of Niagara Falls, N.Y., who finished third.

Fisher said that though he has yet to do much racing this season, he has confidence in his standing crew of his wife, Jo Ann Fisher, Jeff Eiber and Sarah Paisley to carry out their assignments so he can concentrate on driving.

A rematch from last year is also in store for Van Ravenswaay. Tony Parker of Washington made a contest of it on the final day, when he roared from fourth to second place to finish just two points behind the winner.

Van Ravenswaay said the combination of the Millennium Falcon's skinny keel and expected soft winds this weekend will challenge his crew of tactician Mike Zinkgraf, Eric Hannenberg, Terry McDonald and Nicole Curran "to make the boat go faster in light air. We haven't quite figured that out yet."

Winners in six other classes will attempt to defend titles. In perhaps the tightest racing outside the J/22 competition, Les Beckwith of Wolfeboro, N.H., will be contested in the J/80 class by a pair of local sailors: St. Petersburg NOOD winner Brian Robinson and last year's Annapolis NOOD runner-up, Chris Johnson.

In the Melges 32 class, Mike Carroll and Marty Kullman of Tampa, Fla., will try not only to retain their title but also to build on their win in St. Petersburg.

Traditionally, the Annapolis NOOD, the third stop on the nine-regatta national circuit, rewards local knowledge. Last year, for example, Maryland sailors took 12 of 19 classes.

"It's a strong field this year, but it can be done" Van Ravenswaay said of taking a third consecutive title. "It's fun to be on home territory."

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