Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Fabulous, Epic Charleston Race Week

J/88s sailing Charleston Race Week (Charleston, SC)- Event Chairman Randy Draftz said that nature smiled on the fleet for Charleston Race Week’s 21st birthday.  “This is a dream forecast with our strongest group of sponsors, supporters, and competitors ever, and it’s fitting that our birthday present is the same thing that made Charleston such a world famous sailing destination: Great wind.”

With three courses in Charleston Harbor and one outside the jetties, Sperry Charleston Race Week welcomed competitive sailors of all skill levels, from the highest ranks of Olympic and America’s Cup crews to the newest jib-and-main racer looking to get their toes in the water.  Skippers and crews hailed from some 27 nations, while boats ranging from 19 feet to 84 feet raced in seven mixed/handicap fleets and 11 one-design racing classes.

J/70 sailor Terry HutchinsonTerry Hutchinson was one of those America’s Cup stars, and he said there are few things better than April on the water in Charleston. “I don’t get to come to Charleston every year, but when I do, it starts the whole season off perfectly,” said Hutchinson, who raced aboard Joel Ronning’s CATAPULT in the 72-boat J/70 fleet. The former ARTEMIS Racing skipper and his team arrived early enough to put in two extra days of practice, which Hutchinson said would be essential for his team to do well in Charleston. “The competition level in the J/70 class is no joke, and this will probably be the biggest J/70 regatta all the way until Worlds in 2016. We could use even more practice, but we’re ready to get out there tomorrow and make good things happen.”  Those were prophetic words coming from a J/24 World Champion and two-time College Sailor of the Year.

With high-levels of competition in both the offshore handicap and one-design world, it is notable that the top two most prestigious trophies in the regatta went to J/crews.  Winning their fourth Palmetto Cup, the perennial trophy for best overall handicap racing performance, was Robin Team and the family-filled J/122 TEAMWORK program. As a result, they became the winningest boat in Sperry Charleston Race Week’s 21-year history. Then, on the one-design front, Julian Fernandez’s J/70 FLOJITO Y COOPERANDO, producing a “two-peat” performance, took home the Charleston Race Week Trophy for the best overall performance in a one-design class.  Here is what happened over the weekend.

J/80s sailing Charleston Race WeekFriday
The first morning came on like a winter blast, with cold, driving rain and a brisk northeasterly breeze greeting the more than 2,000 sailors ready to do battle for the day. With dangerous surf at the harbor’s edge and a building wind forecast, all offshore racing was canceled before 8:00am.  Event Director Randy Draftz said that while he hated to see the big boats lose a day, it wasn’t a difficult call.

“After looking at wind readings and wave reports from private boats and the US Coast Guard, and consulting with our Race Officers, we decided safety was far more important than racing, especially in potentially boat-breaking waves,” Draftz said. “There was definitely relief on most of the skipper’s faces after we called the offshore racing off.”

Meanwhile, the shelter of Charleston Harbor meant the inshore fleets – eight of them on three separate courses – had powerful but very manageable conditions, with all classes finishing three or four races in winds under 18 knots.

J/70 sailor Gannon Troutman on Pied PiperJust under 70 teams were racing in the J/70 class, with more America’s Cup, Olympic, and Championship racers than one can easily count. After three races, no professionally driven and crewed boat was beating 13-year old Gannon Troutman on PIED PIPER, whose crew includes his Dad- Dan. “We put a lot of time into getting faster and progressing over the winter, and it’s definitely showing this week,” said Troutman, who said his biggest focus when he’s out on the race course is— - - focus!

“I work on keeping distractions to a minimum and doing my job– driving– the very best I can, all the time,” said the teen, who added that he’s rarely intimidated even when being shouted at by sailing superstars. “They’re just trying to mess you up, so it’s best to ignore them and just sail fast,” he said, with wisdom far beyond his age.

Molly and John Baxter sailing Vineyard VinesTroutman’s youthful confidence may be brimming, but there’s another, far younger J/70 sailor looking to put a dent in the 13 year-old’s game plan; Connecticut couple Molly and John Baxter were racing their J/70 VINEYARD VINES at the regatta, despite expecting their new baby in just four months. “It’s early in the regatta, but we hope to have the first prenatal Charleston Race Week Champion crowned on Sunday,” Molly said!

Youthful exuberance abounds in the J/70 fleet, while experience and tradition filled the J/24 fleet– a Charleston staple. Local racer Mike Palazzo and his team on JO’MAMA sat in 10th place after three races, and he was all smiles in the afternoon, even before his first Gosling’s Rum Dark-n-Stormy. “We had a middle-of-the-pack day, but it was still a ton of fun out there racing in the best place there is. Everyone started the day with blade jibs, and the smart guys transitioned to bigger headsails for the second and third race when the wind dropped. Unfortunately, we didn’t make that move, and paid for it,” said Palazzo.

J/80s sailing Charleston HarborSaturday
Friday’s wintery conditions were barely a memory after Saturday’s picture-perfect Day 2, with 15-20 knots of wind inshore and over 20 kts outside the jetties. The conditions allowed for racing across all the courses despite seas that ranged from ‘bumpy’ to ‘scary’ according to crews returning from the offshore race course.

Sailing in handicap racing Class B, Frickie Martschink and Bill MacKenzie’s crew on board their J/105 RUM FRONT out of Charleston said the racing was great. “The ride out was pretty rough, but once on the course, conditions were not easy, but good for racing,” said Martschink, who said the highlight of his day was rounding the top mark and setting the asymmetrical spinnaker. “Once we got that set, we were smoking, and what a blast- - - well, until we had a little issue getting the kite down.”

Among Martschink’s competition in the 10-boat class was his brother Miles, who helms an identical J/105 named SKIMMER.  “We’re going to make sure our crew work is clean and quick tomorrow so we can be sure to beat my brother,” said Martschink.

Overhead waves against the tide caused problems for even the most seasoned sailors, but it was the crew of the Circle 5 Race Committee boat that faced the biggest challenge on Saturday.  After the first race of the day, a huge wave launched the 36-foot offshore fishing boat into the air, seriously injuring two crew. With transfer to a safety boat impossible in the rough water, the race officials were forced to return to shore, ending the day for Circle 5 after one race.

Meanwhile, on the inshore course in the biggest class ever assembled at CRW, 13 year-old Gannon Troutman continued to lead the huge J/70 fleet despite blowing up a spinnaker.  “A little hole at the top mark held until the very end of the last race, and it tore to pieces in seconds,” said Troutman. “We still got first place, though,” he said.

J/70 winners- Flojito y Cooperando at CharlestonSunday
Certain boats seem to thrive in Charleston’s breezy, tide-wrought conditions, and this year provided the perfect weather for them. Perennial favorites and past champions battled adversity to rise to the top once again, while new faces joined the podium in several classes.

For the third straight day, the wind provided plenty of power for the nearly 250 boats racing out of Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina, and in the biggest and most competitive class– the 67-boat J/70 fleet – 13-year-old Gannon Troutman was poised to wrap up an amazing victory after leading this tough fleet all week. From Mexico City, helmsman Julian Fernandez Neckelmann – the reigning J/70 World Champion – had other ideas for his crew on FLOJITO Y COOPERANDO. In what turned out to be the final race of the series for their flight, it was a battle for the top five all race.  After rounding the weather mark first, Brian Keane’s SAVASANA rounded the leeward gate even with FLOJITO.  On the next weather leg, it was nip and tuck with FLOJITO leading and Troutman’s PIED PIPER passing boats to move into third position.  At the windward mark, FLOJITO rounded first and took off on starboard gybe, J/70s sailing Charleston Harboronly to get into a relative hole of wind of less than 12 kts (displacement mode) in the middle of the course.  Rounding in second was Keane’s SAVASANA, who immediately gybed onto port into a massive string of 18+ kt puffs to ultimately plane around FLOJITO to win the race at the downwind finish.  Meanwhile, FLOJITO’s crew nervously gybed back to the left hand side of the course to protect their lead over PIED PIPER.  In the end, FLOJITO took second in the race and edged out Troutman that took third in the race.  As a result, the duo tied at 21 points after nine races. By virtue of Fernandez’s number of first-place finishes, the youngster from Fishing Bay Yacht Club lost the tiebreaker, but neither Troutman nor his parents seemed disappointed at all.

“We just tied for first in big breeze against the guy who won this regatta last year, and he’s also the World Champion, with his full World Championship crew. We’re feeling pretty good about that,” said Gannon’s proud Mom. FLOJITO’s team not only won their class, but also took home the Charleston Race Week Trophy for the best overall performance in a one-design class.

Rounding out the top five for the J/70’s were an amazing performance by the Baxter family- John + Molly + new kid almost on the block!  As winners of the Quantum J/70 Winter Series in Tampa Bay, Team VINEYARD VINES were one of the few crews that had yet to sail against a comprehensive set of the top competitors in the class.  They proved to be up to the task, at one point winning two races in a row and finishing only 3 pts out of first!  Fourth was the formidably-talented team on Joel Ronning’s CATAPULT with multiple World Champion and Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Terry Hutchinson on board.  Fifth was Bruno Pasquinelli’s STAMPEDE team with yet another College Sailor of the Year aboard- Morgan Reeser.

Stephanie Roble sailing J/70 Rimette with John BrimIn the “Master’s Division” of skippers over 60 yrs old, it was Joel Ronning winning, with John Brim’s RIMETTE in 2nd place with Steph Roble on board as tactician (a Rolex Yachtswomen of the Year winner).  Third in Master’s was Peter Cunningham’s POWERPLAY Racing from the Cayman Islands with yet another multiple Collegiate All-American onboard- Tony Rey from Newport, RI.  As Tony remarked after racing on Saturday, “I’ve never sailed in a regatta that had as many College Sailors of the Year in one event- Terry Hutchinson- 2x, Bill Hardesty- 1x, Morgan Reeser- 2x, Stu Johnstone- 1x. Peter was more than pleased to feel competitive in such company to take an 11th in his first regatta, particularly after having raced his J/29 POWERPLAY for years and more recently his TP52 POWERPLAY! By the way, he loves sailing his J/22 at Cayman Islands Sailing Club!”

In the “Corinthians Division”, it was Rob Britts crew on HOT MESS that sailed a solid series to win by a significant margin, proving that practice makes perfect after having sailed the entire Quantum J/70 Winter Series in Tampa.  Second was Jack Jorgensen’s LAYLA. Third was Andrew Fisher’s team on BUTTON FLY with the B-SQUARED gang of Bryan Cameron & Bryan Elliot in fourth, followed by Alex Meleny’s TRUCKIN’ in fifth place.

J/24s sailing at Charleston Race WeekIt’s a testament to the level of competition in the fleets that tiebreakers would decide other titles as well.   The J/24 fleet was just as close as local Charleston skipper Scott McCormick’s GIGGTY held off a late charge for the second straight year from Aidan Glacken’s NY-based MENTAL FLOSS to take the back-to-back class win on equal scores.  Third was Carter White’s SEABAGS SAILING TEAM from Portland, ME.  Chris Stone’s VELOCIDAD was fourth and Ron Medlin’s BASH fifth.

On the same race course were the J/22s and J/80s.  In J/80s, Gary Panariello’s crew on COURAGEOUS proved their ORC Handicap win in Quantum Key West Race Week over Farr 280s was no fluke.  Posting virtually straight bullets, they won class quite handily.  Perhaps the heartwarming story of the week on the family front (other than the Gannon’s in the J/70s) was the successful performance of father Bill Lockwood crewing for his skipper daughter- Shannon.  That combo proved quite formidable, taking second overall in J/80s. Third was Vince Kalish’s WHITE LIGHTNIN’, with Alex Kraus’ COOL J in 4th and Senor MANGO in 5th- Ken Mangano and crew.

J/22 Warrior Sailing Team at Charleston Race WeekThe J/22s saw John Mossman’s CYC crew win with Dan Lawless’s SLIPPERY WHEN WET take second for the series.  However, the “winners” for all J/22 crews concerned was the nice performance by the WARRIOR SAILING TEAM’s first major regatta of the year.

Skippered by Sammy Lugo, a handicapped American war veteran, they managed to prove those with disabilities can be competitive.  Coached by Ben Poucher, the team members arrived a little late to the awards party and Poucher was immediately waylaid by a reporter from Charleston’s Post & Courier. The team had been attracting local media attention all weekend, but he didn’t mind it at all, because they were on hand to collect their third-place trophy in the J/22 Class. “We’re all going up on stage,” said Poucher, referring to skipper Sammy Lugo, and crew members Scott Ford and David Carras.

“Today turned out to be our best day at the event for both of our crews,” said Poucher. “The guys really jelled and had the boat going well. It’s gratifying to see them do so well.” And gratification is what local sailing organizer Guy Mossman offered when he took the stage at the awards presentation to acknowledge the third place finish by the Warrior crew. “The Warrior Sailing Program is such an admirable initiative,” said Mossman to the crowd. “It introduces injured and ill veterans and active service personnel to the sport of sailing. These are people we should all be grateful to. They make up less than one percent of our population, but they defend this nation all over the world, and allow us all to live free.”

On the offshore side of things, it was getting a bit fraught. Fortunately, there was a very, very cool solution to the issue.  With no end to the brutal wave conditions offshore, Event Director Randy Draftz and his principal race officers decided early in the day to bring the Circle 5 fleet inside the harbor, but where would they go? “It’s tough to find space with 200 boats already racing in the harbor, but with the help of the Harbor Pilots Association and the US Coast Guard, we came up with a solution that seemed to work,” said Draftz.

That solution was something never before tried at Sperry Charleston Race Week – a fourth inshore course inside the Wando River. “We weren’t sure it would work, but thanks to great communication between all the local agencies, every offshore boat got in three good races in perfect conditions in the river,” Draftz added. One offshore racer, Phil Garland who crewed aboard Steve Thurston's second place J/29 MIGHTY PUFFIN, said that sailing north of the Cooper River Bridge was "just like frostbiting in Barrington. River sailing with current and tide just like back home– we all thought it was pretty cool.”

As a result, after counting only one race offshore on Saturday, the offshore divisions may have, ultimately, decided en’masse to only sail Charleston in the Wando River from now on end after sailing three quick, tight, extremely competitive races.  After all, the thermals are strongest in the river and when it’s from the north, it’s also fun and much shiftier.  Plus, many crews were heard to say, it was so much more fun to think of the possibility of having breakfast with their friends before sailing at a Caribbean-like 11am start!  Hmmm.  Interesting possibilities for the future.

J/111s sailing Charleston Race WeekTaking advantage of that inshore situation were crews accustomed to short, tight, tactical scenarios with strong current.

Scenario #1- J/111s.  Peter Wagner’s supremely talented crew on SKELETON KEY from San Francisco, CA that won Quantum Key West Race Week simply ran the table with straight bullets.  In a battle for second was Bill Smith’s WOOTON from Chicago, IL and Rob Ruhlman’s SPACEMAN SPIFF from Cleveland, OH.  That duel was settled by tactical, closed-course strategies- advantage WOOTON.  Fourth in the fleet was Bennet Greenwalds’ PERSEVERANCE and fifth was Marty Roesch’s VELOCITY.

Scenario #2- J/88s.  After posting an offshore 1st, Rob Butler’s crew were going to have to deal with a talented short-course crew on Iris Vogel’s DEVIATION.  After a 1-1-2 on Sunday, it was clear Iris’s crew were loving her ability to get off the starting line, steer fast, and hit the shifts.  Hanging tight despite a few miscues was Butler’s TOUCH2PLAY RACING with a 5-2-3 on the last day.  The “big mover” happened to be the DNF on Saturday’s racing- Doug McKeige’s JAZZ.  Their final day posting of 3-4-1, with an emphatic final race win, was good enough for the bronze.  Mike Bruno’s WINGS Key West Race Week winning team took 4th place in the challenging conditions and Brian O’Malley’s crew on BLUE were fifth position.

Robin Team's J/122 Teamwork wins CharlestonWinning PHRF A and the Overall Offshore Palmetto Trophy was Robin Team’s extraordinary crew on his J/122 TEAMWORK. Taking 4th in class and struggling a bit on the inshore course was Paul Milo’s J/122 ORION.

In PHRF B, it was an extraordinary performance for J crews, ultimately taking five of the top six! Tops was Rick Moore’s J/120 MOOSE DOWN in 2nd, followed by Fred Martschink’s J/105 RUM FRONT in third, Willy Schwenzfeier’s J/35 ARROW in fourth, John Keenan’s J/120 ILLYRIA in fifth and Miles Martschink’s J/105 SKIMMER in sixth.

Ultimately, in PHRF D it was a matter of attrition by several top boats.  However, in the end it is pretty damn hard to beat a well-sailed J/29 masthead boat.  Steve Thurston’s MIGHTY PUFFIN pulled off their class win with a 1-2-1-2 tally.

The Pursuit Racing Division had two races around the inside of Charleston Harbor while the “offshore boats” had to deal with contentious conditions.  In Pursuit Race Spin 1, Bill Hanckel’s J/120 EMOCEAN took third overall and Bob Musor’s J/130 SCEPTRE was fifth place. In Pursuit Race Spin 2, Bob Key’s J/27 AUDACIOUS was 4th.  In the Pursuit Race Non-Spin division, Mark Swatta’s J/30 LAS BRISAS was 6th.  Sailing photo credits- Tim Wilkes- TimWilkes.com
J/70 weather mark video   More CRW sailing video here   For more Charleston Race Week sailing information