Hugo Batters Phila. Cup Regatta

Posted: October 01, 1989

The Philadelphia Cup on Sept. 23 was a once-in-a-lifetime regatta - at least the participants all hope that what happened will not occur again in their lifetimes.

Weather that began as sunny skies and ideal winds suddenly turned ugly. Hurricane Hugo's long reach was a brief but terrifying tempest for the sailors trying to stay afloat - and alive - on the Delaware River off Penn's Landing. When the squall, with 65-m.p.h. gusts and steady blows of 45 m.p.h., had passed, the river was littered. Boats were capsized, a mast was splintered, spreaders were broken, sails were blown out, boats were far off course, and crews were vowing never to get in a boat again.

Only three of the 17 non-spinnaker-class boats were able to finish the race. At the skippers' meeting the night before, 25 of the 35 registered for the Philadelphia Cup and the Gazela Cup, on Sunday, elected to go ahead with the racing in the face of dire weather projections.

When the race started shortly after 1 p.m., all looked clear. Before the boats had completed the first leg - Penn's Landing to the Walt Whitman Bridge and return - the Coast Guard had notified the race committee that a severe

squall was coming. Some of the crews headed into safety within the Penn's Landing basin, but others were determined to finish.

"All of a sudden, cold air hit, and I knew it was here. Then the wind was suddenly about 50 to 60 m.p.h. We were right at the bridge then, and the next thing we knew we were going downriver at incredible speed," said Judy Dewey, who was skippering her Columbia with an all-woman crew.

Just about then, a J-27 on a frozen reach came screaming up, with spinnaker crazily sweeping the water. The next thing Dewey and her crew saw was the underside of the J-27's spinnaker - it had swept over their boat and blanketed it.

Like most of the never-say-die sailors participating in this first Philadelphia Sail Week showcase dual regatta, Dewey and her crew decided that they just had to go out again the next day. "I knew if I didn't get my feet wet right away, I might never have the nerve to do it again," she said.

In the Philadelphia Cup spinnaker class, Fred Campbell skippered Pennsylvania, a Liberty Yacht Club-owned J-27, to a first-place finish. Second were Ron and Elaine Bower, co-skippers of their J-30, Easy Virtue. Third was another Liberty Yacht Club J-27, New Jersey, skippered by Alexander Van Gordon.

In the non-spinnaker class, the results were: first, Roy Vollmer on Holiday, a Hunter-27; second, Kay Smith on It'll Do, a Lippincott-30, and third, Steve Ridenour on Boilermaker, a San Juan-24.

For the Gazela Cup, the overall winner and winner of Class B (boats 19 to 28 feet in length) was Connecticut, a Liberty Yacht Club-owned J-27 co- skippered by Mark Wagner and Jeff Dunn. Class A (14 to 18 feet) winner was Dan Mendini, GP-14. Class C (29 to 40 feet) was won by Ron and Elaine Bower on Easy Virtue, J-30. Class D (over 40 feet) winners were Gene and Chris LeBoy on Baryon, Island Trader-46. The multihull-class winner was Alan Epstein on Stray Cat, a catamaran.

The Philadelphia Sail Week activities raised $7,500 to help Philadelphia's tall ship, Gazela, get ready for participation in the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage to the Americas. Gazela is slated to sail to Spain in 1992 for the world's largest gathering of tall ships. The planners hope to have a tall-ship race from Cadiz to San Salvador in the Bahamas.

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