Defending champion Sally Barkow seems on the verge of running away with the Rolex International Women's Keelboat Championships, but says it's harder than it looks.

The youthful Barkow, an all-American at Old Dominion University in 2002, won two of three races yesterday, giving her a commanding lead after two days in the five-day series in Annapolis. Monday she had a first and a third against many of the top women skippers in the world, making her cumulative score 3-1-1-2-1. Her nearest rival, 1989 champion Jody Swanson, is eight points back.

Hard work? "It is," said Barkow. "We might be making it look easy but it's not."

In steady, moderate southerly winds and through one hard rain squall yesterday, Barkow and three teammates never strayed far from the front of the 42-boat fleet. She said she's more relaxed this time in the prestigious, biennial event.

"Last time here [2003, when she won], we were all getting into a J-22 for the second or third time in our lives. We've been sailing a lot since," she said. "We love the J-22. It's easy to jump in and do well."

Cory Sertl, the 2001 Rolex champion, stood third, 10 points back. Racing continues through Friday in the Chesapeake at the mouth of the Severn River.

-- Angus Phillips