Volume 12, Issue 33 ~ August 12 -18, 2004
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Bay Reflections

The Governor’s Cup Races Through Time
by Maureen Miller

photo by Craig Miller
History evokes the past, today the present, and tomorrow the future. As the 31st Annual Governor’s Cup race began August 6, I was not sure in which of the three realms I existed. For brief moments, I felt embraced by all.

We left Annapolis City Dock on this glorious early August evening aboard the 54-foot yacht Endless Search, lent by Let’s Go Cruising for a press boat. At the mouth of the Severn River, within sight of the soaring Bay Bridge, I beheld the present. There, over 150 sleek, contemporary sailboats waited for the start of the 2004 Governor’s Cup.

Before them, and me, was their destiny: a 70-mile race south down the Bay to St. Mary’s City. The race would take them most of the night to complete. How fast would they sail, and who would get to the finish line first: That was the future.

Thirty-one years ago, two St. Mary’s College students and one alumnus dreamed up the idea of an overnight race down the Chesapeake. History prompted them to consider a race between two cities: St. Mary’s City, Maryland’s first capital, chartered by Lord Baltimore in 1668, and Annapolis, which preempted St. Mary’s to become Maryland’s capital in 1695.

Out on the water, we’re reminded of the historical significance of this race by the presence of the schooner Sultana at the starting line and the prospect of the square-rigger Dove at the finish in St. Mary’s.

The Dove is a reproduction of one of two ships that brought settlers from England in 1633 to form the first permanent Maryland settlement at St. Mary’s.

The Sultana is a replica of a 1768 Boston-built merchant vessel that served the British Royal Navy patrolling Bay waters.

This 21st-century evening, Sultana was both race committee boat and the east end of the starting line. She bobbed majestically in the cool 15- to 18-knot north-northwest winds against deep blue skies filled with puffy white clouds.

Ironically, the race course would have been ideal for these two old square riggers, which were designed to sail before the wind. It looked to me to be ideal conditions for this year’s race skippers and crew, too. For what better course could you have than one with a following breeze? Set your sails for the start, then sit back, relax and watch the day turn to night and a million stars dance around you. Right? Apparently not.

As the first gun sent the multihulls (catamarans or trimarans) southward, I was mesmerized by the speed at which the wind filled the big colorful spinnakers. Too quickly they were gone, specs fading on the horizon as the gun sounded the start for the remaining eight classes.

But many in the next classes didn’t have it that easy. Gusty winds were playing havoc: wrapping lines around the big multicolored chutes and twisting them madly. Across the water, I could hear skippers shouting hurried commands at hustling crews. Eventually corrections were made and all the big sails filled as the boats moved southward.

Last, but not least, the non-spinnaker group started. Having watched the harried start of colleagues before them, I imagine they were breathing sighs of relief that they didn’t go spinnaker.

We followed along with some of the race boats to Thomas Point Lighthouse, shouting encouragement and wishing we could go all the way. Turning back, I looked behind. What a sight: little dabs of colorful confetti on the horizon being blown across the Bay waters.

The race start was now just memories: history. The present would fade into a starry night with more challenges. And the future — how long it would take, and who would win — was still unknown.

Find race results at www.smcm.edu/govcup.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.