Mud Sinks Hopes of Contenders in Governor's Cup Yacht Race

By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 2, 2009

The crew of the Anema & Core really wanted to win.

Heading into the final stretch, the 52-foot yacht was battling three other vessels in its division. Favorable wind conditions had allowed the winning boats to get through the 70-mile course in eight hours (it took nearly 13 for last year's winner).

At 1:45 a.m. Saturday, the finish was 1 1/2 miles away. There was still hope, crew members thought, of overtaking the Naval Academy's Zaraffa, just ahead. "You can hear the crickets, so you know we're close," said crew member Chuck O'Malley, 47, a sail loft owner from Arnold.

Less than 15 seconds later, the Anema & Core ran aground, stranding 16 people for nearly six hours.

"We were pushing it, trying to get the boat in front, and then we pushed too hard," said Rob Powell, a crew member from Concord, Mass.

The Anema & Core was among 131 boats entered in the 36th annual Governor's Cup, which draws participants from across the country. The race runs from the Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis and on to the Potomac and St. Mary's rivers, ending at St. Mary's College of Maryland. Participants take the contest seriously.

The Donnybrook, a boat trailing the Anema & Core, passed the stranded vessel 10 minutes after the grounding. "I can't tell you how many times I've been down on that pier and seen someone grounded at that point," said Jim Muldoon, Donnybrook's captain and chairman of the St. Mary's College Board of Trustees.

Sailors from at least six states guided the Anema & Core, including a sailing instructor in Alexandria and the new head coach of the sailing team at Washington College in Chestertown. Hurried attempts to free the boat in the darkness might have complicated matters. Five members of the crew climbed onto the boom holding the main sail, trying to loosen it so the pilot could drive the boat back to open water. When that failed, they threw down an anchor. Later, two crew members swam away with an anchor, thinking they could pull the boat.

To make matters worse, the once steady breeze softened.

The owner of the boat, Ennio Staffini, 54, of Annapolis, turned the steering wheel left and right. "Nothing at all," he said, frustrated.

After some discussion, they fired up the engine -- a no-no during a sailing race -- and then withdrew. "I don't think there is any other choice," Staffini told the others.

Even then, however, the ordeal was not over. They tried radioing the competition's organizers at 3:55 a.m., but no one responded. They called friends on the boats that had passed them, but no one picked up. Finally, at 5:30 a.m., a sailboat towing service responded and said a towboat would arrive within the hour.

As the clock ticked, some dozed and others made jokes.

"Which one of you guys wants to be Mary Ann?" asked Owen Miller, 39, of Cape May, N.J., comparing the journey to being stranded on Gilligan's Island.

At 7:10 a.m., the towboat arrived and freed the Anema & Core. Thirty-five minutes later, the crew docked. Staffini found solace in the apparent lack of serious damage to his boat.

"Well, at least it's mud," he said.

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