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19 September 2005, 09:35 am
A Mix Of Experience, Age and Expectations
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Rolex International Women's Keelboat Championship 2005
Annapolis, USA

At US SAILING's Rolex International Women's Keelboat Championship, which starts tomorrow for its 11th biennial running and five days of world-class competition on Chesapeake Bay, the landscape of athletes is varied and colourful.
One competitor, defending Champion Sally BARKOW (Nashotah, Wis.), has won world championships, while another, Anne BEADLING (Rochester, N.Y.) from Team Runs With Scissors, just started sailing a month or so ago. The youngest skipper, Sara MORGAN WATTERS (Oxford, Maryland) on Team Marker 88 is 17 years old, while Hot Flash, skippered by Carol PINE (St. Paul, Minn.), boasts a crew of middle-aged women. For two days, 42 teams from the Cayman Islands, New Zealand, South Africa and 16 U.S. states have converged on Annapolis Yacht Club and its perfectly suited 'Annex' boatyard and haul-out facility, preparing their J/22 sailboats for the test ahead. Most thought the practice race would give them a chance to pace against each other, but the wind didn't hold, and 40 minutes after the start, the first boat had not reached the first windward mark. The race committee subsequently abandoned.

The leader to that first mark was Julie SITZMANN (Orr's Island, Maine) aboard Dog's Playing Pool, but an even more impressive performance had been turned in at the start by another skipper Elizabeth BARKER (Lakewood, Ohio). Port tacking the fleet, she owned the pin end when others thought the committee boat was the place to be. To enter the regatta, her team had been forced to pare down from four to three members in order to make the 600-pound crew weight limit. Each of the three is pregnant, and in celebration their boat bears the tongue-in-cheek name of Who's Your Daddy?

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Yesterday's light winds, with half a knot of current running against it, may be a trend for the next few days. Despite the area's close call with Ophelia, this looks like a quiet week weather-wise for the Chesapeake. The action that counts starts tomorrow, when around-the-buoys racing begins at 1100.

According to skipper Donna WOMBLE (Carmel Valley, Calif.) there are five teams she expects will stand out early. Those are led by the aforementioned skipper Sally BARKOW, Rolex Yachtswomen of the Year Cory SERTL (Rochester, N.Y.) and Jody SWANSON (Buffalo, N.Y.), Olympian Carol CRONIN (Jamestown, R.I.) and local favorite Jo Ann FISHER (Arnold, Md.). 'Our goal,' says WOMBLE, who has competed in the event the three times it has been held in Annapolis, 'is to finish better than our bow number: 13.'

SWANSON is humble about her prospects. 'We haven't spent as much time preparing as some of the other teams, so we've had to adjust our expectations accordingly,' she said. 'The main goal is to have fun.' SWANSON was one of several participants who took time out from preparations to help with the Rolex Next Step mentoring program for juniors, which took place at the Robert Crown Sailing Center at the U.S. Naval Academy on Saturday and today.

'When I heard Jody SWANSON would be coming, I thought, 'Oh my gosh, that's just really amazing,'' said Daphne ARENA, one of the 27 Rolex Next Step participants that hailed from around the country, Canada and the U.K. 'To watch how those women handle the boat, it's so subtle. They are really top notch and carry themselves a different way.'

The regatta's collectively youngest teamthe one skippered by the aforementioned Sara MORGAN WATERSshared the same sentiments. 'It hasn't sunk in yet,' said Annapolis crew Missy HUDSPETH. 'Some of the people herethe Olympic and professional sailorswe've only looked up to in our careers or we've read about them in Sailing World magazine.' The high school senior, who normally sails Club 420s out of Severn Sailing Association, said she'd be turning in homework during the event.

Marlieke Eaton (As Amended by ISAF)
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