After handily winning today's tenth and final race of the Rolex International Women's Keelboat Championship, Carol Cronin of Jamestown, R.I., claimed 35 points and a second-place finish at the regatta, in Annapolis.
Her score was five points behind that of winner Cory Sertl of Rochester, N.Y., who yesterday had secured the championship title with a race to spare and chose to sit out today. Taking third was the Bermudan team skippered by double Olympian Paula Lewin.
Cronin sailed underneath Lewin at the start, leaving the Bermudan choking in the third row off the start line. Jody Swanson of Buffalo, N.Y. and local sailor Nancy Haberland fought it out neck-and-neck with Cronin on the first half of the beat, the lead switching from one team to the next as the gusty 12 knot northwesterly swept across a cold but sunny Chesapeake Bay.
Meanwhile, Sertl and her crew were enjoying watching the final race from the comfort of a spectator boat. "It sure was easier watching it than racing it today," she said. "That was a tough race out there."
Swanson lost her way in the unpredictable shifts at the top of the first beat. Lewin capitalized on the wayward breeze to haul herself up from a dire position halfway up the beat to lie in third as she rounded the windward mark for the first time. She was now ahead of Swanson and Haberland, her two closest rivals for third spot.
Lewin's shot at second overall was looking unlikely as Cronin sailed off to a significant lead. The top ten placings kept on changing behind Cronin, but she held her nerve to cross the line first, and the diminutive skipper punched the air in delight. "To win the last race and take second overall was fantastic," she enthused afterwards. "I guess if you set yourself low expectations you're easily pleased," she added modestly. To get second overall was beyond her greatest expectations.
Back on the race course, the Bermudan team was sticking closely to its series rivals, covering Swanson and Haberland and accepting a drop from third to seventh as the penalty for doing so. Another local sailor Margaret Podlich was one of a number of skippers to sweep in from the left on the second beat and surge past Lewin, Swanson and Haberland. No matter to Lewin; she had wrapped up third overall by the finish.
She commented later: "I haven't done too much fleet racing over the past few years, and we came here with hopes of a top-ten finish. After the first couple of days we thought maybe a top five was possible, but to get third here is incredible. The caliber of racing here in Annapolis has been fantastic, we have had a great time." Lewin certainly has the taste for this Rolex regatta now and intends to return for the next one in two years' time. "We know there are lots of areas where we can improve, as we've really had little preparation for this event."
Courtenay Dey of Westerly, R.I., is another sailor who has a reputation for being able to step into a new class and pick it up very quickly. She looked set to do that with her performances early in the week, and a top-three position looked very much in the cards. Then she began to trail off toward the end of the week and was lying seventh overall going into today.
The 1996 Olympic bronze medallist and her team shocked the fleet by starting the race wearing the most outrageous wigs. "It's important to remember that you're meant to have fun at these events," she said afterwards, although the platinum-wigged skipper admitted her new color had done nothing for her performance. "I had a very blonde moment on the start line today, and it wasn't too long before I'd flung the platinum wig in the bottom of the cockpit. Once I'd returned to my natural brunette color, we seemed to get back in the swing of the race." Becker Dey climbed up from a position in the teens to cross in sixth place by the finish.
This was not enough to catch up to her closest rivals, however. Becker Dey remained in seventh place overall, behind a group of three boats who finished on exactly 56 points for the series. Using the tie-break system, Nancy Haberland was awarded fourth place ahead of Margaret Podlich in fifth and a disappointed Jody Swanson in sixth overall. However downbeat about her own performance, Swanson was one of a number of sailors who had enjoyed a great week, believing the shift from J/24s to J/22s and from Newport to Annapolis were both healthy moves for the event.
It had been a week of relentlessly tough racing, with the shifty and patchy north-westerlies testing the mental stamina of the 61 J/22 crews to the limit. The only one who made it look easy was Cory Sertl. But the 1995 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year certainly wasn't taking her success for granted. She won the inaugural event in 1985 crewing for Betsy Alison and has competed in all but one of the biennial regattas ever since, finishing runner-up as a helmsperson twice before.
"It's great for someone of my age with two children to be able to compete at this level. Age is no barrier to sailing, provided your circumstances allow you to continue on. Fortunately, I've got a husband who thinks I'm good at sailing and encourages me to carry. It's been wonderful to sail with three great friends [Dina Kowalyshyn, Susan Taylor and Olympic silver medallist Pease Glaser] this week, and I have to say winning the Rolex regatta is one of the high points of my sailing career."
As the winning skipper, Sertl will receive a Rolex timepiece at the awards gala set for this evening at the Annapolis Yacht Club, the official host of the regatta.
Rolex International Women's Keelboat Championship
Final, provisional results after 10 races.
Top 10 of 61 Boats:
Position, Skipper, Hometown, Finishes (brackets denotes throwout), Points
1, Sertl, Cory, Rochester, N.Y., 2-6-2-4-1-4-1-7-3-[62/DNC], 30.0
2, Cronin, Carol, Jamestown, R.I., 5-1-5-3-7-3--9-1-1, 35.0
3, Lewin, Paula, Bermuda, 4-2-9--2-2-8-6-9-7, 49.0
4, Haberland, Nancy, Annapolis, Md., 1-4-4-9-4-9-12-[17/ZFP]-2-11, 56.0
5, Podlich, Margaret, Annapolis, Md., 6-8-17-2-6--4-2-6-5, 56.0
6, Swanson, Jody, Buffalo, N.Y., 3-7-7-5-5--2-15-4-8, 56.0
7, Dey, Courtenay, Westerly, R.I., 7-5-3-6-3-7-13--13-6, 63.0
8, Snow, Mary Brigden, San Diego, Calif., 14-23-15-11-[39/ZFP]-5-6-4-16-3,97.0
9, Demourkas, Deneen, Santa Barbara, Calif., 15-13-18-1-14-15-22-1-7-,106.0
10, Connerney, Patricia, Middletown, R.I., 10-3-1-12-17-16-16/RD-[22/ZFP]-12-19, 106.0