By DAVE ELLIS
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 4, 2002
Betsy Alison of Newport, R.I., won the Rolex Osprey Cup on Tampa Bay on Sunday, beating eight top women match racers and a local crew.
Match racing pits two identical boats in each race, with the winner earning a point. Weather permitting, a crew races against every other crew, taking two turns around course. The rules are the same as for the America's Cup, but they apply to smaller boats. The 23-foot Sonar sloops can hold a crew of up to four.
Winds were light, forcing some races to be called off. Each competitor raced every other at least once, but the second round-robin was cut short when the wind died down.
Alison, ranked 18th in the world and a five-time Rolex yachtswoman of the year, was the 1998 International Sailing Federation women's world match racing champion.
She beat Giulia Conti of Italy, the world's fifth-ranked match racer, 2-0 in Sunday's semifinals. Klaartje Zuiderbaan of the Netherlands, ranked 20th, beat sixth-ranked Marie Faure of France in the other semifinal.
Alison and Zuiderbaan split the first two races in the final. In the tiebreaker, the Dutch sailor had the American women pinned at the start, but the wind shifted to help Alison and her crew win the match and the title.
The regatta is a Grade I event, so the ISAF world rankings will be affected. Many competitors have competed in only a few Grade I events because this type of racing is not included in the Olympics. Alison and her crew are training for a chance to earn an Olympic berth.
"Match racing is a good way to practice boat handling in close quarters," Alison said. "The competitive level has improved over the years."
Zuiderbaan has taken the past year off from match racing to compete on AmerSports Too in the Volvo Ocean Race around the world, serving as trimmer/driver.
Race umpire Kirk Brown said Sunday's racing was competitive and aggressive, "but with a camaraderie not found among the men's Grade I events."
Local teenagers Evan Brown, Alyson Dagly, Kristin Britt and Kira Devers raced against the international competition and finished eighth, beating crews from Ireland and France.