Top female sailors ready to race in Annapolis

Can't go to the Olympics? Go to Annapolis this week.

From Sunday through June 12, 16 of the world's top 25 female sailors, including four heading to Athens, Greece, will be competing in the Women's Match Racing World Championship, a regatta formerly known as the Santa Maria Cup.

An opening ceremony led by Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer and Olympic sailing commentator Gary Jobson is scheduled for 5 p.m. tomorrow at the Eastport Yacht Club.

As part of their two-continent tune-up before the Summer Games, the U.S. Yngling-class team of skipper Carol Cronin and Marylanders Nancy Haberland and Liz Filter will test their skills in a series of races at the mouth of the Severn River.

Seven countries are represented on the crews of four, which will race in nearly identical J/22 keelboats.

In what they jokingly refer to as their "cross training," Cronin and Filter will team with Linda Epstein and JoAnn Fisher while Haberland will serve as tactician on the boat skippered by Elizabeth Kratzig of Miami Beach, Fla.

It is a nice break for the Olympic teammates, who have been competing in Europe since winning the lone U.S. Yngling berth in February at the Olympic trials in St. Petersburg, Fla.

"We qualified for [Annapolis] in November. Liz and I decided it was very important to have goals beyond the trials," Cronin said.

The heavy racing schedule is paying off. On Thursday, Cronin's boat, racing under the "Team Atkins" sail, was ranked fourth in the world in Yngling competition by the International Sailing Federation.

This will be the first Olympics to include Ynglings, which are nimble, 21-foot keelboats that carry a maximum weight of 450 pounds.

Filter lives in Stevensville with her husband, Henry, also an accomplished sailor who competed last month in the Annapolis National Offshore One Design regatta and the J/22 World Championships.

Haberland is an Annapolis resident and a Naval Academy sailing coach.

Cronin lives in Rhode Island, but spends so much time in Annapolis that many people think of her as a native.

The women will get to size up one of their Athens competitors. Paula Lewin of Bermuda, the eighth-ranked keelboat sailor in the world, will be sailing with her sister and trying to improve upon her second-place finish in last year's Annapolis race.

While the world's top two ranked women - Swedes Marie Bjorling and Malin Millbourn - decided not to compete, Nos. 3 to 10 are in town, including Liz Baylis - the 2002 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year and winner of last year's Santa Maria Cup - and Betsy Alison - a five-time Rolex winner.

A full list of events can be found at www.santamariacup. org.