Blessed by favorable breezes, three Chesapeake-based sailboats smashed the record for fastest passage in the 52-year-old Annapolis-Newport race, but overall honors went to a slower vessel that finished a day later, still dramatically ahead of its handicap allowance.

Dear Friend, a 50-foot, center-cockpit, cruising-style sloop owned by Annapolis direct marketing executive Bill Kardash, finished the 473-mile race at 4:47 this morning to take the top spot in the overall standings. He arrived more than 16 hours after fellow Annapolitan George Collins's 70-footer, Chessie Racing, schussed across the finish at Castle Hill under full spinnaker at 12:24 p.m. Monday.

Chessie's elapsed time of 47 hours 44 minutes knocked almost six hours off the elapsed time record set by Bruce Eisner's Starlight Express in 1987. Right behind, also in record time, came Washington businessman Jim Muldoon's 72-foot, jet-black Donnybrook in 48:21 and Northern Virginia developer Al Van Metre's chartered 60-footer, Rima, in 48:52.

The record-setters were far ahead of the rest of the fleet, but under the vagaries of sailing's handicap system, Chessie wound up fifth in class on corrected time; Donnybrook was fourth and Rima fifth in class. There was little complaining because all 57 entries enjoyed nearly ideal conditions down the Chesapeake to the Bay Bridge-Tunnel, then north up the coast past Montauk Point and across Rhode Island Sound to Newport.

"If sailing were always like this," said Mike Brennan, skipper of 48-foot Celestris, which was third in class, "there'd never be a reason to come ashore. It was a phenomenally pleasant race, end to end."

Kardash and his crew of seven amateurs were similarly pleased. One of the crew, veteran offshore hand Ross Glover, predicted the glorious run but never expected his prediction to hold up.

"I told the guys when I came down the dock on Saturday we'd have a spinnaker reach down the [Chesapeake] Bay, a fetch out to the Chesapeake light, then the wind would shift 180 degrees and we'd fly the spinnaker all the way up the ocean," Glover said. "It amazed us, but that's almost exactly how it worked out."

The breeze was out of the northeast at 10 to 15 knots when the fleet assembled Saturday morning off Annapolis and it held up all day and evening, sending the 57 entries scudding down the bay under ballooning spinnakers. Chessie was first out of the bay, passing the Norfolk Bridge-Tunnel before midnight to complete a run that often takes the quickest boats 24 hours or more. Collins and his largely professional crew, led by TV sailing commentator Gary Jobson, turned north an hour and a half later at Chesapeake Lighthouse, 17 miles offshore; within hours the breeze had shifted east, then southeast and spinnakers were up and drawing again.

On Rima, an hour or so behind Chessie, a largely professional crew led by America's Cup veteran John Marshall battled several hours of strong northeast head winds up to 28 knots before the breeze veered southeast. By morning the chartered speedster was crashing through confused, leftover seas at 12 to 13 knots, gobbling miles while the crew began calculating the likelihood of bettering the 12-year-old elapsed time record.

Van Metre, 73, who won numerous offshore races in the 1970s as owner-skipper of Running Tide, enjoyed a return to the sport after a 15-year layoff. His son, Beau, steered much of the way, revisiting a job he had often held during his father's heyday on Running Tide.

But as favorable as breezes were for the front-runners, they were even better for smaller boats behind. Kardash said Dear Friend flew spinnakers for all but an hour or two, and with following breezes most of the way navigator Tom Schubert was able to plot a course directly to the finish with little zig-zagging. Overall distance in the race is 473 miles; the electronic log on Dear Friend showed only 492 miles traveled when it crossed the line.

Dear Friend, second overall in the Annapolis-Newport Race in 1997, performs best in medium to heavy winds from favorable directions, said Kardash, which is exactly what he got.

In addition to good sailing, he enjoyed living conditions. "Last night we ate marinated flank steak, baked potatoes and salad, washed down by a nice merlot wine," Kardash said. "It was perfect."

Standings

IMS Class 1: 1, Veritas, Phil Hutchinson; 2, Dawn Treader, Lawrence Cohren; 3, Bingo, Charles Lea.

PHRF Class 4: 1, Dear Friend, Bill Kardash; 2, Restless, Eric Crawford; 3, Sinn Fein, Peter Rebovich.

PHRF Class 3: 1, Io, David Mooberry; 2, Dolphin, Henry Morgan; 3, Incessant, Paul Kaplan.

PHRF Class 2: 1, Panther, Jim Rogers; 2, Harm's Way, Guy Irving; 3, Celestris, Mike Brennan.

PHRF Class 1: 1, American Promise, Ensign Daniel Tarman; 2, Now, Allen Davies; 3, Reindeer, Newbold Smith.