Some of the boats competing in Sperry Charleston Race Week 2018 were getting ready to go racing with sailors pulling on foul weather gear in anticipation of heavy air and rough seas. Meanwhile, a bunch of other boats were in breakdown mode with sailors packing up gear and carrying sails down the dock.
That unique dichotomy was the result of a split decision by event organizers in response to a severe storm that was due to hit Charleston on Sunday afternoon. After carefully reviewing weather reports and consulting with overall principal race officer Hank Stuart, event director Randy Draftz decided to conduct racing for certain classes while cancelling the final day of action for others.
Sperry Charleston Race Week organizers announced in the morning that competition in nine of the 10 one-design classes along with ORC C, which is comprised of smaller sportboats. Meanwhile, Stuart and his team elected to allow the two Pursuit Race classes to complete a condensed course out into the Atlantic Ocean and back. Meanwhile, the three classes on Circle 5 (J/105, ORC A, ORC B) came into Charleston Harbor for a windward-leeward course of approximately nautical miles.
Draftz said the main reason for cancelling competition for the smaller boats was concern about the haul out process. Draftz had to consider the possibility of a severe thunderstorm hitting Charleston just as boats were beginning to be lifted out of the water and put onto trailers.
“I’ve been watching the forecast all morning and the breeze is just going to escalate. We could get one race in, but afterward we would have to pull all the boats out of the water,” Draftz said. “It was just not a prudent thing to do. We have 200 boats that have to get hauled out. You have to error on the side of caution. We know it’s coming, we just don’t know exactly when. Better to have cranes pulling boats out now as opposed to 2 or 3 in the afternoon.”
“I haven’t heard any complaints. No one seems too disappointed,” Draftz commented.
With the entire fleet safely out of the water by early afternoon, the final awards party on the beach at Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina was moved up to 3 p.m. Overall winners of Sperry Charleston Race Week 2018 were the J/70 Relative Obscurity and the GP 26 Rattle-n-Rum.
Skipper Peter Duncan and his crew on Relative Obscurity won three races and finished fourth or better in three others to capture the J/70 class, largest of the regatta with 68 boats. Duncan received the Charleston Race Week Cup for best overall performance by a one-design.
“Oh my God, it’s kind of off-the-charts. You read about people winning trophies like this and you never think it could happen to you. It’s a very, very cool honor,” Duncan said of capturing the Charleston Race Week Cup.
This marked the first Sperry Charleston Race Week for Duncan, the reigning J/70 world champion. He came away completely sold on the regatta and cannot wait to come back.
“It’s just a wonderful event with really great competition. It was terrific to sail in this venue for the first time. Charleston is very tricky with lots of shifts, lots of current. I just think it’s a really well-run event and it was a pleasure to participate.”
Victor Diaz de Leon served as tactician and trimmed the main for Duncan, who took the lead on Day 1 and never looked back. Willem Van Waay trimmed the headsails aboard Relative Obscurity, which finished seven points clear of runner-up Rimette (John Brim, Palm Beach, FL).
“I think the best thing we did was we went after the first day really hard. We had a really good first day and that gave us a little latitude on the second day,” said Duncan, a resident of Rye, N.Y. “Actually, perhaps the most important thing was that we were really deep in two races on the second day and came back. We fought really hard and battled back to get a 10th and a third. To me, that was the key to winning the regatta.”
Skipper Mike Beasley and his team on Rattle-n-Rum were darn near flawless in capturing the ORC C class, reeling off five straight victories to start the regatta. The Annapolis skipper also posted a second with the lowest result being a fourth in the highly-competitive class of speedy sportboats.
It was yet another strong performance at Sperry Charleston Race Week for Beasley, who was presented with the prestigious Palmetto Trophy for the second straight year for best performance among handicap entries.
“I’m at a loss for words. To win this trophy back-to-back is obviously sensational. It’s a highlight of my sailing career,” said Beasley, who owns and operates a marine services business in Annapolis.
Joe Gibson called tactics and trimmed the spinnaker while Teddy Haaland worked the bow and served as strategist aboard Rattle-n-Rum, which has now captured class honors at Sperry Charleston Race Week three years in a row. Brady Stagg trimmed the main and handled strategy downwind, Joanna Haaland handled the runners while Ryan Rutkowski was the floater.
“This is a team sport and these guys and girls are the key to the boat’s success. I’m so lucky to have each and every one of these sailors on my crew,” Beasley said. “I’m so grateful that they’re committed to the same goals as I am. I can’t thank all of them enough for all the hard work they do to get this boat ready to perform on the race course.”
Veteran skipper Brian Porter and the Full Throttle team excelled in the heavy air conditions on Thursday and Friday en route to victory in the Melges 24 class, second-largest of the regatta with 31 entries. Andy Burdick served as tactician for Porter, who won four of eight races and placed second or third in three others in totaling 11 points – 13 better than Monsoon (Bruce Ayres, Newport Beach, CA).
“Whenever I come to these regattas my primary goal is to just sail well. I’m real happy with how we performed,” said Porter, who hails from Fontana, WI. “My crew was just flawless and I can’t compliment them strongly enough. My job is really easy when everything goes so smoothly with the boat.”
Porter was particularly happy to have his son as part of the team. RJ Porter, a junior member of the College of Charleston sailing team, helped his father capture Sperry Charleston Race Week for the first time in over a decade.
John Potter and David Guggenheim put forth an impressive performance in VX One class, repeating as champs in convincing fashion. Potter steered and Guggenheim handled the middle of the boat as the co-owners won five straight races at one point and finished with 10 points – five better than Christopher Alexander and his crew on Isabelita Con Queso.
“With the breeze the way it was, we had really good boat speed. We had some bad starts that we dug out of really quick,” said Potter, a Beaufort, Georgia resident who has now won VX One at Sperry Charleston Race Week with three different crews. “We tend to be pretty good at connecting the dots downwind. It almost doesn’t matter which way you’re going as long as you stay in pressure. I think that is the trick – making sure you don’t drive out of pressure.”
Potter and Guggenheim normally sail as a pair, but added a third member to the team in Emily Potter, who is a senior in high school. “My daughter loves sailing with us and it turns out to be a good thing that we had three on the boat this week,” said Potter, who was pleased with the turnout of 25 boats.
“We finally got the 20-plus boats we’ve been working on getting for the last three years.
Will Van Cleef was the sparklplug here in Charleston. He loves the boat and wants to convince people to start sailing it,” he said. Skipper Chris Stone steered Velocidad to victory in J/24 class, winning three races and taking third in three others. Velocidad finished equal on points with Robby Brown (St. Petersburg, FL), but won the tiebreaker based on posting one more bullet and Stone earned his first class championship at Sperry Charleston Race Week.
“Well the starts, particularly with the current running out fast, were very challenging. I’ve never been so far from a starting line with one minute to go in my life. So timing was critical,” said Stone, from Middletown, N.J. “We were very fortunate to come out on top in a very tough fleet.”
Viper 640 class was taken by Terminally Pretty, which is sailed by the husband-wife duo of Geoff and Mary Ewenson. Eric Oetgen, Geoff’s former partner in a Finn class Olympic campaign, called tactics while College of Charleston sailor Marian Williams was a late addition to the team.
“My crew was pretty spot-on. It was a real nice team that worked very well together,” Geoff Ewenson said. “Mary and I are getting more time in the boat and figuring out how to make it go. Eric does a lot of racing in Charleston so was a real asset on tactics. Marian was super energetic and helped out a lot.”
Skipper Tim Finkle led Seaweed to the win in J/88 class, getting the gun in four of eight races in posting a low score of 16 points. It was tightly bunched behind Seaweed with four boats finishing with either 24 or 25 points.
“We had a really good team that put a lot of effort into preparation and that paid off,” said Finkle, a J/Boat dealer in Buffalo who credited tactician Kris Werner for repeatedly putting the boat in good spots. “We got a bunch of good starts, which was huge because you had to get to one side of the course quickly because the current was such a huge factor.”
Sperry Charleston Race Week 2108 closed on Sunday with a distance race for the Spinnaker and Non-Spinnaker classes on the Pursuit Race course along with a windward-leeward course in Charleston Harbor for the ORC A, ORC B and J/105 classses.
That last race proved decisive in the Spinnaker Pursuit class as skipper Rick Moore steered the J/120 Moose Down to line honors. Chessie Racing, the Tripp 62 owned by George Collins, finished fifth and that four-point swing enabled Moose Down to secure the overall victory.
“Actually, the key to the whole thing was our crew just keeping the boat moving forward at all times, particularly on Friday when it was very light and sloppy,” said Moore, a Charleston local. “Today we were fully-loaded and totally dialed in. We stayed on target, watched where we were going and used the currents. We’re extremely thankful for the outcome. It was a great day of racing and we had a blast in the Pursuit fleet. It’s a challenge when you see the boats coming up behind you and you have to work to stay in front of them.”
Chessie Racing got the gun on Friday and Saturday, but the shorter 14-nautical mile course set on Sunday was too short for the largest, fastest boat in the fleet to claw its way to the front. Collins, a renowned Chesapeake Bay racer who now lives in Miami, said Chessie Racing hit 18.2 knots of speed in 22 knots of wind.
Easterly, an e-33 co-owned by Charleston residents Will Cramer and John Barnes, was winner of the Non-Spinnaker division. This is their first year sailing this unique design, which sailmaker Robby Doyle and Naval architect Jeremy Wurmfeld created.
“For a tiny boat to beat a bunch of bigger boats in a 17-boat class is just fantastic. We are very, very happy,” Barnes said. “We were very consistent and that was the key.”
Cramer steered while Barnes trimmed the main on Easterly, which wound up having to hold off the massive Frers Royal Huisman 84-footer at the end of Sunday’s race.
“All credit to the race committee for getting off a race in a safe way. That is what we all expect from a world-class regatta,” Cramer said. “We love Charleston, we love the regatta and we love the competition.”
Principal Race Officer Taran Teague sent the three classes on Circle 5 on a two-lap tour of Charleston Harbor and Spookie skipper Steve Benjamin acknowledged it was a bit nerve-wracking for a TP52 that draws 13 feet.
“It was a little claustrophobic inside. We were carefully watching the laylines and the depth because there were only certain areas we could go,” he said. “It was a terrific race and real fun. It was a great day of sailing and illuminated several areas of improvement.”
Spookie picked up its fourth win of the series on Sunday and captured ORC A by four points over the XP44 Sitella, owned by Ian Hill of Chesapeake, VA.
Photon finished off a wire-to-wire win in ORC B despite placing fourth in the final race. There was a reason for that as skipper David O’Reilly stopped the boat during an upwind leg after a sailor fell off one of the J/105 entries.
“We bore off, dropped the jib and went to render aid. Just as we were reaching the sailor he got scooped up by a support RIB,” O’Reilly said.
O’Reilly did not bother to request redress since Photon had already clinched victory after winning three straight races to start the regatta. Most of the team members raced on an SR33 that captured Sperry Charleston Race Week in 2005, but had not won their hometown regatta since.
“This regatta has eluded us for a while now. Being a local boat, this means a lot to finally win in Charleston again,” O’Reilly said.