Blustery day on the Chesapeake

Allison's chances out of the window in Rolex International Women's Keelboat championship

Friday October 3rd 2003, Author: Dana Paxton, Location: United States
Today's scenes on Chesapeake Bay will not soon be forgotten by the 66 teams of nearly 300 women competing here at the 2003 Rolex International Women's Keelboat Championship (Rolex IWKC).

With 18-25 knot winds packing 30-knot punches, the four-person crews worked aggressively to keep their 22-foot boats under control, while several teams experienced their worst nightmares -- harrowing knockdowns that tossed crew members overboard while pinning masts to the water and exposing white underbellies of hulls. The race committee ran just one race, before canceling the second race and sending everyone back to the dock. Those that maintained concentration and kept control of their boats were rewarded with advances in the standings. Sally Barkow sailed confidently, faltering only once during a spinnaker set and is now the regatta's leader by a 20-point margin over Bermudan Paula Lewin.

Some competitors suffered under the black flag penalty hoisted after two general recall starts, the second adding a Z-flag (20% scoring) penalty. Perhaps the most disappointed of those was Betsy Alison who gained a second black flag for the series, dropping her to 15th overall and dashing her hopes at a sixth Rolex IWKC title.

"We knew we were in front and close to the line," said Alison, reflecting on the situation at the start. "We had a trimming problem and error in communications, and I couldn't pull the bow down."

Alison was unaware that she had been black-flagged and was informed upon finishing the race. "The unfortunate part is we were trying to get out of the situation; we weren't pulling the trigger to go."

A two-time college All-American from Old Dominion University (class of '02), Barkow has quickly become one of the bright stars of her generation. Accelerating off the start line, she kept a conservative distance on the others and went to the left side of the course.

"Our whole game plan at the start was that we didn't need to be top five off the line if it meant we'd get black flagged," said Barkow. "We just wanted to be in the top 20. If there had been a line sag I would have gone for it, but there was no reason to get aggressive."

Most of the fleet took to the favoured right side, but with the north-northwest breeze oscillating some 40 degrees, Barkow capitalised on the lift by tacking onto port and catching up with fleet leader New Zealander Karleen Dixon.

Dixon led Barkow by just 15 seconds at the first of two weather mark roundings, with Carol Cronin and South African Dominique Provoyeur close behind. On the run, Dixon gained additional distance, but was kept on her toes by the descending pack. By the second weather mark, Dixon's lead had increased slightly over Barkow, but then Barkow's team faltered in setting the chute, giving Provoyeur an opportunity to pass. "We set, slipped by inside her and then jibed," said Provoyeur.

Halfway down the leg, setting up for the finish, Dixon, Barkow and Provoyeur turned on the speed.

Cronin's Team Atkins cruised straight down the middle of the course, making up five positions on the fleet and almost catching up with the leaders. Dixon took line honours, but with her Z-flag, she scored 14 points for the race, putting her at 4th overall. Barkow came second and captured the overall regatta lead.

"The last downwind run was a 'hang on' situation," said Barkow. "We thought about taking down our chute completely and not risking jibing, but then we saw Carol coming down on us so we decided we'd better go ahead and jibe so she wouldn't catch us."

Runner-up in the 2001 event, Cronin praised many in the fleet, especially fellow US Sailing Team mate Barkow. "I knew she'd learn quick. I've been impressed with her both on and off the water. She's a very tough competitor and she has her 20-point lead because she has been avoiding the big problems everyone else has had.

"Today was a lot of fun, actually," continued Cronin. "We had really good speed. Some of it was set-up; some of it was technique, especially downwind. But today some of it was luck, too, like downwind when we were fetching the mark, sailing a higher angle and others were out of phase with the wind shifts and had to jibe to get to it."

Alison, who returned to this regatta with the hope of capturing a sixth championship, may be out of the running, but hasn't faltered from her overall goal of representing the U.S. at the 2004 Olympic Games.

"This has all been about working better as a team," said Alison. "We smoked downwind on the final run today. Obviously, we've been doing lots of things right, so we can't be disappointed."

Lee Icyda, Alison's crewmember and teammate in their Team Challenge US Yngling campaign, vented her frustration, "The only two regattas that I really want to win in my lifetime are the Olympic Trials and the Olympic Regatta. The way I look at it, this is just practice for that."

The winner of yesterday's single race - Lorie Stout - was disqualified after a protest hearing last evening for taking too long to complete her penalty turns after an incident at the mark.

Racing concludes tomorrow. Following racing, Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year Dawn Riley will emcee a gala Rolex Awards Ceremony at Annapolis Yacht Club, host to the regatta. The winning team will receive a Rolex timepiece.

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