Cuker and crew aboard Callinectes capture Virginia Cruising Cup

Published on May 27th, 2014

Ben Cuker is well-versed with regard to the history and tradition of the 120nm Down the Bay Race for the Virginia Cruising Cup. As a long-time member of the Hampton Yacht Club, Cuker has heard many stories from old-timers about the classic event.

So Cuker immediately understood the magnitude of the accomplishment when he was announced as recipient of the Virginia Cruising Cup as overall winner of the 65th Down the Bay Race, which started Friday (May 23) morning off Annapolis and finished a day later on Saturday off Hampton.

“I am absolutely ecstatic about this. I feel a great sense of history because I know about some of the great boats and skippers who have previously won that coveted trophy,” Cuker said of the three-handled sterling silver cup that has been awarded since 1934. “I think this is the definitive race on the Chesapeake Bay so to be the overall winner is without question one of the highlights of my sailboat racing career.”

Cuker and his crew aboard Callinectes completed the race in 21 hours, 50 minutes and 50 seconds. The Cal 3-30, an IOR-influenced design launched in 1976, posted a corrected time of 16 hours, 26 minutes and 50 seconds that was best in the entire 28-boat fleet.

Patrick O’Brien, co-captain aboard Callinectes and a former Old Dominion University sailor (Class of 2010), grew up hearing tales (some true, some tall) from his father – a regular participant. “Patrick called his father at 11 o’clock on Saturday night to tell him that we had won the Virginia Cruising Cup. It meant that much to Patrick and he knew how proud his father would be,” Cuker said.

Ron Phelps, an old salt at age 83 and powerful trimmer despite weighing just 140 pounds, was an important part of the crew. John Flowe and his son Austin, who have lived in both Annapolis and Norfolk, were also aboard. Cuker praised the performance of Ronnie Triplett, who worked the foredeck. Krista Kraskura, a Latvian native who is captain of the volleyball team and sailing team member at Hampton University, excelled while doing her first overnight race.

“I take great pride in the fact we won with such a diverse crew,” said Cuker, who has been a professor of Marine and Environmental Science at Hampton University since 1988 and also serves as faculty advisor for the school’s intercollegiate sailing team.

Cuker has owned his Cal 3-30 for 19 years and has enjoyed tremendous success in distance events, earning overall victory in the Plantation Light Race and Cape Henry Cup among others. The 60-year-old skipper jumped at the chance to compete in the Down the Bay Race after it was revived in 2009 following a 10-year hiatus. Callinectes has entered Down the Bay five of the six years since then and captured class honors in 2010.

This year’s overall victory did not come easy as multiple changes in wind direction and velocity kept the Callinectes crew on its toes. Following an exhilarating spinnaker run to Solomon’s, the wind clocked to the south and the Cal 3-30 made good time on its PHRF B competition while pounding upwind for several hours. “This boat really loves a beat so that period probably benefitted us,” Cuker said.

Callinectes became becalmed near Point No Point when the wind died completely. After two hours of floating and doing everything possible to make forward progress, the crew was prepared when the wind filled in strong from astern upon approach to Point Lookout.

“It went from nothing to 25 knots with gusts up to 38 in the blink of an eye. Fortunately, we had been monitoring the forecasts and were ready,” Cuker said.

Callinectes actually sailed with just a mainsail for three hours while the wind was at its strongest and carried two jibs for a stretch after passing Smith Point. There was also plenty of power reaching under spinnaker as the final stretch to the finish line off Fort Monroe was completed at top speed.

“Going in, we had no thought that we would be in contention for the Cup. We were simply focused on winning our division,” said Cuker, who did take first place in PHRF C by almost an hour over runner-up Indigo (C&C 35, Douglas Wasama, Bayonne, NJ). “Again, we are just so proud and honored to finish first in a very tough fleet and a very challenging race.”

In an interesting twist, the Omega 36 Incommunicado actually crossed the finish line about an hour and a half ahead of Callinectes. However, skipper Ed Tracey of Severna Park (MD) discovered afterward that he missed the mark at the mouth of the York River and voluntarily withdrew.

Dick Neville of the Storm Trysail Club-Chesapeake Station oversaw the start off Annapolis with the fleet being greeted by 20 knot breeze from the northwest. It was a beautiful downwind blast for a while until the wind went light, clocked around to the south then fell out completely. However, the passage ended the way it started with the racers ripping toward the finish line, manned by Bob Thomas of the Hampton Yacht Club, under spinnaker in strong northwesterly winds.

This marked the first time multihull boats did the Down the Bay Race and Sundog, a SeaCart 30, made an impressive debut by capturing line honors. Skipper Paul Parks and his crew aboard the speedy, start-of-the-art trimaran completed the 120-nautical mile course with an elapsed time of 16 hours, 6 minutes and 45 seconds to earn the Hampton Yacht Club Special Award.

“It was a very interesting race – started fast, finished fast and was slow in the middle,” said Parks, a resident of Shady Side (MD). “We hit a top speed of 21.4 knots shortly after the start and had a wild run to the finish. We were beating for about five hours and obviously that is not something my boat does well. That and the windless stretch prevented us from putting up a good time.”

Crocodile, a Beneteau 40.7 skippered by Scott Ward (Dowell, MD) was the first monohull to finish with an elapsed time of 19 hours, 1 minute and 1 second. Crocodile captured PHRF A on corrected time as well by 34 minutes over Reindeer (Morris 47, Tony Parker, Annapolis).

Anjalei was a repeat winner of PHRF Non-Spinnaker class and Norfolk skipper Jim Forrester received the Robert M. Ravin Memorial Trophy. Other class winners were NANUQ (Sabre 426, Glenn Doncaster, Raleigh, NC) in PHRF B and Osprey (Corsair F27, Doug Palmer, Brookeville, MD) in Multihull.

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