Driving for the Silver at Hospice Cup 2009

By Vern Penner


There isn’t a sailor alive, young or old, who doesn’t revel in maximizing a boat’s performance.  The yardstick is usually SOG (speed over ground) and the pleasure from optimal performance is greatly magnified when passing a slower boat.  These things can get deadly serious as anyone knows who has ever witnessed the Annapolis Wednesday Night Racing Series or participated in one of the annual racing events like the Solomon’s Island Screw-pile Regatta or Annapolis Labor Day Race Week.

We’re not talking cruising here, we’re talking hard-core competition.  Amateurs participate at their peril and casual observers are awed by displays of prowess and professionalism coupled with costly state-of-the-art boats, sails and accessories.

However, some sailboat races are designed to level the playing field a bit and deliberately encourage less experienced sailors using family sailboats that are neither kept on lifts above the water nor waxed before each race.  Not surprisingly, several such races combine charity fundraising with the competition.  So what if you fall behind and don’t get the silver tray? At least you’ve done something philanthropic.

That’s my motivation to participate this year in Hospice Cup XXVIII on Sept. 26, with my sailboat Graciella.  The Hospice Cup is one of America’s oldest charity races having originated in Annapolis in the early 1980s. Since then it has evolved into the largest annual charity regatta in the US with races taking place nation-wide which have raised more than $7 million all to benefit hospice care.  Annapolis alone raised $350,000 in Hospice 2008, according to the August SpinSheet.

I also feel motivated because of the two yacht clubs to which I belong, the Chesapeake Bay Sabre Association and the Back Creek Yacht Club.  Both are virtual organizations and have no permanent club house.  They charge minimal membership fees, organize frequent events and are composed of great folks who have fun and love the water.  CBSA will put a half dozen Sabres in the race all of which are newer and bigger than Graciella.  BCYC has already at least one Hospice Cup entry with an all-woman crew.  What better scenario for Graciella to strut her stuff!

Graciella is one of the oldest of its type on the Chesapeake Bay.  The 28’ boat design went into production in 1972 and was immediately labeled “the sailboat to fall in love with sailing on.” The Sabre 28 and its designer Roger Hewson are in the US Sailing Hall of Fame.  Almost 600 were produced over a 20-year period and my hull number 30 dates from 1973. That’s almost as old as dirt in boat terms.

I like to consider Graciella a spritely performer whether driving for the silver on a few occasions or doing its normal thing by cruising on the Bay.  Registration for the Hospice Cup is easy thanks to the cooperation between Hospice Cup, Inc., and the Shearwater Sailing Club/Storm Trysail Club.  Everything you need to know is on the Web at [email protected] or www.shearwatersc.net/races   Moreover, for the hard-core racing in separate categories, the Hospice Cup is sanctioned by the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association (CBYRA), which counts the results in its season-long High Point competition.

I’m not in the High Point league, but to ensure that Graciella is up to speed in the Hospice Cup, I look to the second most important ingredient in sailboat racing: a good crew to provide the right tactical advice, winch handling and railmeat. Hank is a retired senior executive service Department of Agriculture employee, born and raised on a yacht yard in Maine, with an adventurous outdoor life style.  He took to sailboat racing early and I love him to use Graciella because he always leaves the lines so neatly flaked. Tom is a retired DC fireman with numerous boat deliveries on his resume, an oft-raced catamaran at his pier on the South River and an upbeat attitude helpful in any tight situation.

But no sailing crew is complete without a woman at the helm to add looks, charm  and civility, especially in a race.  Previously we have benefitted from the presence of an Italian coffee maker sales manager, a German exchange student and a Marine Corps marathoner.  In Hospice Cup 2009, we will have the good veteran services of Hank’s wife who will add style and unfailing good humor to the day’s competition. 

A final word about this year’s honorary chairman of the Hospice Cup, Erwin Abrams.  He joins a long list of super luminaries such as former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, William F. Buckley, Jr., Walter Cronkite and Gary Jobson.  Erwin is a fellow member of the Parole Rotary Club of Annapolis and long-time president of Hospice of the Chesapeake.  He epitomizes what the Hospice Cup is all about and in his honor, the Rotary Club burgee will be flying from Graciella’s spreader.  That will be easy for everyone to notice at the finish line when you come see the fun on Sept. 26.

Vern Penner is a retired US ambassador and career Foreign Service officer, who after seven tours in Europe, two in Asia and one in Africa, settled in Annapolis.  He and his tennis-playing, nonsailing wife, couldn’t be happier with the choice.  He can be reached at  [email protected]





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