Charleston is known for its reliable spring seabreeze, but the Holy City’s coast outdid itself this year during the 22nd edition of Sperry Charleston Race Week. It wasn’t just the three race days either; from the first team’s arrival for practice more than a week earlier until the lengthy awards ceremony on Sunday night, reliable southerly winds buffeted the region, ensuring maximum racing, maximum action, and maximum enjoyment for the nearly 2,000 sailors, shore crew, staff, and volunteers that comprise this largest event of its kind in the Americas.
With a number of teams holding dominant leads going into the final day of competition, there may have been fewer last-ditch battles than in previous years. In fact, overall winners in a number of classes were more or less a fait accompli by Sunday morning. Teams that clinched their wins before the end of the regatta included Frickie Martschink and Bill McKenzie’s Rum Front in the J/105 Class, Mike Ingham’s USA 553 in the J/24 Class, Tony Langley’s TP52 Gladiator in ORC Class A, Jerry Taylor’s Tangent in ORC Class B, Steve Vincent’s B-25 Fully Involved in ORC Class D, John Storck Jr.’s Rumor in the J/80 Class, Laura Weyler’s Hijinks in the J/88 Class, Thomas Loutrel’s Choppy Seas in the Viper 640 Class, Mike Beasley’s GP 26 Rattle ‘n’ Rum in ORC Class C, Steve Lesniak’s Beneteau 510 Celadon in the Pursuit Spinnaker Class, and Wayne Burdick’s Marion Maid in the Pursuit Non-Spinnaker Class.
The other classes saw drama right until the final gun of the week, with no team closer to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory than the Joel Ronnin’s J/70Catapult.Holding a small lead all week over the uber-competitive 73-boat fleet, Ronning’s team saw it nearly all fall apart just 10 minutes before the final race.
Lifelong Charlestonian and Catapult trimmer Patrick Wilson explains the scenario. “We were sailing around killing time just after the first race today, and we hit something in the water, maybe the bottom, and at the same time we noticed something wrong with the mast,” said Wilson. “We noticed our forestay had sheared away from the bow and things were looking bad – with no races to discard, anything out of the top places would lose the regatta for us.”
Wilson’s team somehow got the forestay reattached before the start of the final race. “Somehow we got to the line with seconds to spare, said John Kostecki (the tactician on board, “that put us in the right place, and we saved the situation.”
Catapult’s performance landed the reigning J/70 World Champs not just the Class championship here in Charleston, but also the Charleston Race Week Cup, the perpetual trophy for the best overall performance by a one-design entry. “It’s great to win in Charleston in front of my family and friends,” said Wilson. “I’ve been trying over and over since this regatta started and this is my first victory here.”
Sunday’s lighter air and stronger currents made racing more challenging than during the more consistent winds earlier in the week, and it was a great test for race committee officials running the picturesque Course 4 – just south of the Ravenel Bridge in the shadow of the aircraft carrier Yorktown – for the first time.
On board Mike Marshall’s J/24 USA 5208, tactician Will Harris said it was fantastic to get back in a J/24 after a ten-year hiatus from the Class. “This was a totally fun fleet this week, and the conditions were just crazy at times,” he said “The tide was so strong, you needed to get nearly on the shore to escape it – a true challenge.” Harris said he told the crew during one beat ‘We’re going to need wheels if we want to hit the layline!’
Also enjoying their time on the new Course 4 was Warrior Sailing, the J/22 crewed by members of the Warrior Sailing Program, a nationwide initiative committed to providing maritime education and outreach for wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans. The warriors first joined Sperry Charleston Race Week three years ago, and despite the fact that they all began racing so recently, they took their fleet win by four points.
Bowman and main trimmer Scott Ford said he loved the new course, even if he couldn’t see the sights; Ford is completely blind. “It was breezy, it was lumpy, and there was always a lot of hard work to keep the boat moving well,” he said, clearly pleased at his best regatta so far. “Passing a boat loaded with fully sighted teams definitely feels pretty good,” he said happily.
Another innovation for the 2017 edition of Sperry Charleston Race Week was the implementation of the ORC rule as the principal rule for handicap racing at a North American regatta for the first time. Thirty boats raced in four separate ORC Classes at this event.
At the awards ceremony on the beach late Sunday afternoon, the overall award for the best performance in an ORC Class went to Mike Beasley and his Annapolis-based crew of Joe Gibson, Ted and Joanna Harland, Scott Gibbs and Ty Van Dalen on Beasley’s GP 26 Rattle n Rum. Beasley and his crew were awarded the prestigious and historic Palmetto Cup for winning the tightest class in the handicap divisions.
“We have always loved racing here in Charleston,” said Beasley, “and this year was especially fun with more boats, great breeze, and tough competition. We sailed well, but we were pushed all the time, and with ratings giving everyone a fair shot, we could not relax in any race. Starts were important, and finding the right opportunities to dig back if you got behind. We are looking forward to more ORC Sportboat racing in the future.”
Race Week’s Event Director Randy Draftz was optimistic about the new rating rule after speaking to the competitors. “I feel the system performed well, giving us fair racing, good results and a level of transparency we could not get from other systems. This was a valuable addition to our event,” he said.
Further enforcing Charleston’s reputation for setting the trends in US racing, the 2017 edition saw a big influx in the number of all-female teams and all-junior teams, with three crews made up entirely of College of Charleston sailors and three more made up of under-21 teams.
Longtime Race Week competitor and Annapolis racer Kristin Robinson took a break from the course this year, riding a power boat to watch the crew of 17 and 18-year olds to whom she loaned her J/70 Skyline Racing for the week. “It was the best thing I’ve ever done with my boat,” said Robinson. “We talk all the time about these young sailors leaving the sport after school, and this could be one solution to keeping them engaged and involved and growing the sport again.”
Speaking of engaged, the event provided a perfect backdrop for Charleston Race Week volunteer Knight Galloway, as he took the microphone during the awards ceremony, got down on one knee, and proposed to his girlfriend Ashley in front of an audience of nearly a thousand spectators. “It’s such a great event and we have so much fun here every year that it was a natural choice,”said Knight. The answer, of course, was yes! For complete scores in every class,visit the Yacht Scoring page.