Sailors will tell you that their fate, in large part, is at the mercy of the elements.
In the Governor's Cup yacht race last week, the elements showed little mercy, at times meting out fierce winds, pounding rain and a fusillade of lightning, while at other points during the overnight voyage barely providing a breeze.
The result was one of the slowest runs in the 32-year history of the cup, an annual 70-mile regatta down the Chesapeake Bay from Annapolis and up the Potomac and St. Mary's rivers to St. Mary's City. Only 70 of the 161 registered boats finished within the 21-hour qualifying limit.
Two boats were struck by lightning Friday night. No injuries were reported, but at least 30 crews dropped out because of concerns about the weather, said Amanda McCartney, a spokeswoman with St. Mary's College of Maryland, which sponsored the event with West Marina.
Jim Muldoon, chairman of the college's board of trustees, has become something of an elder statesman of the regatta, having taken part in all but one. He knows about treacherous weather -- his 73-foot Donnybrook was struck by lightning in the 2002 race.
"It fried everything that was electrical. Luckily, a boat isn't a perfect conductor, so if you're not holding onto something metal, you're probably okay," he said.
Muldoon owns the course record -- 6 hours 9 minutes. His time last year was a shade under 7 hours.
With the unaccommodating weather and foul current this year, it took the Donnybrook about 17 hours to sail into the St. Mary's River. In the official results, the time was knocked up to about 181/2 hours with the hefty handicap his large sloop receives.
"Literally, this race last year you could have written a book about," said John Dodge, the Donnybrook's crew coordinator. "It was stars galore, huge moon, nice water and beautiful breezes. We let the spinnaker run all the way down.
"And this year, nothing."
As the race got underway from Annapolis's harbor at 6 p.m. Friday, the 11 classes of boats -- racers and cruisers alike -- were let off on a staggered start organized by class.
They made little headway in the first hour amid anemic southerly winds and a battling current.
As evening descended, a storm kicked up gusts reaching 25 knots and fired down so many bolts of lightning that Ryan Kimmel, a 21-year-old midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy who sailed on the Donnybrook, likened the effect to that of a strobe light.
"It was more lightning than I ever want to see with a large conducting rod up in the air ever again," said Ken Schmidt, referring to the ship's mast. He sailed aboard Annapolis resident Dave Askew's Flying Jenny V, which finished first in its class of 29 boats.
As the storm abated, so did the wind. This forced racers to find a positive current or continue to idle along. By sunrise Saturday, winds had shifted to the north and picked up slightly.
Timothy Layne of Glen Burnie crossed the finish line first in his catamaran, Wild Card, at 9:50 a.m.
The post-race bash, which for many is the highlight of the Governor's Cup, started later than usual because of the slow finish, but it was in full swing with music and crowds by midafternoon.
"In sailing, whenever you get out there, if you have a set plan, more than half the time it's not going to work," Layne said. "I just played things by ear. I listen to the forecast, and I try to get a feel for what's going to happen."
And, as if the boats weren't bothered enough by the weather, there were man-made impediments as well.
In the wee hours Saturday, the Donnybrook ran afoul of a freighter that sped alongside it, crossing its path and forcing Muldoon's boat into a rough patch along the western shore of the bay. Crews on several boats reported being eyed suspiciously as they passed heavily armed guards at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant.
"We even picked up a crab pot," Layne said. "We were out over towards the Eastern Shore and went over an eight-foot shoal, and we picked up a crab pot and dragged it."