Volume XI, Issue 31 ~ July 31 - August 6, 2003

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Chesapeake Excursion
Destination — Governor’s Cup Yacht Race Turns 30
by James Clemenko

Suppose someone came to you and offered you the chance to stay out all night and party all the next day. What would you say? What’s the catch, right?

The catch is that you have to end up at St. Mary’s College, either by boat or by car. This is Maryland’s 30th annual Governor’s Cup Yacht Race, the Chesapeake’s longest overnight sailing race, covering 70 miles from Annapolis to St. Mary’s. Today, it’s a prestigious tradition, but 30 years ago, it was just a lark.

In 1974, two St. Mary’s College students, Russell Baker and Pete Sarelas, conceived of the idea and asked St. Mary’s alum Dale Rausch to help them get it started.

“We all worked together to make the race happen. Pete and I ran the race committee boat, the yacht Manitou,” said Rausch, recalling that very first year. “There were 47 boats entered.”

In 2002, over 160 yachts raced. About the same number is expected this year.

“The most exciting time was the ‘86 race,” said Rausch, who is the commanding officer, Marine Safety Office, in Guam. With over 450 boats registered, it was the largest ever. The wind was very light, which resulted in a long race.”

The annual Governor’s Cup race, commonly referred to as Gov Cup, begins this Friday, Aug. 1, at 6pm in Annapolis harbor and ends at St. Mary’s College sometime on Saturday, depending on wind.

Everyone knows when the race will start, but when the main fleet enters St. Mary’s is up in the air — and up to the air. The yachts will race according to classes at timed intervals. Each class must finish the race within the time limit, 21 hours after they began. Once the boats arrive in St. Mary’s, it’s party-time.

Over the course of 30 years, the Governor’s Cup race has gained a reputation for the after-race party. The celebration starts 11am and goes until 11pm. For entertainment, jam to live music all day, except during the award ceremony.

Lt. Gov. Michael Steele will officiate the award ceremony. In honor of the top three yachts from each class, the Governor’s Trophy will be awarded.

There is a new trophy this year, The Patuxent Partnership Trophy, won by the vessel with the fastest corrected time. But only eligible are boats with two or more crew who are employees of a Patuxent Partnership Trophy-member company, active-duty military or Department of Defense civilian personnel. Nowadays the defense contractor community is big in St. Mary’s County.

It’s almost too late to race on a boat, so where should landlubbers catch some of the action on the water?

The start line in Annapolis can provide excitement. As yachts jibe according to wind to get the best jump-start, they can often come close to contact with other vessels doing the same. Standing along the seawall on the U.S. Naval Academy grounds is a good bet. You will need binoculars as the boats head down the Bay.

On the Bay, you can follow in your own boat or simply sit on the sidelines and watch the parade — at dark it’s a light show — go by.

Chestertown schooner Sultana will help kick things off at the start line. At the finish line, the Maryland Dove, a replica 17th-century square rigger, will signal to crews that their race is over.

“The best observation point is the finish line at Church Point at St. Mary’s City,” said Rausch. “Check the wind conditions. With a favorable wind, the first boat could cross the line as early as midnight and most of the fleet should arrive by 8 or 9 in the morning. In light winds, it’s anyone’s guess.”

Winds will carry the fleet down the Bay, from start to finish in this Chesapeake Bay race. Will they carry you down, too?

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Last updated July 24, 2003 @ 2:45am