Photo: Brian Carlin / Sperry Charleston Race Week

300 boats set sail

Sperry Charleston Race Week under way

Friday April 17th 2015, Author: Dan Dickison, Location: United States

The scene on the waters off Charleston today couldn’t have been more different from that day in April 1996 when it all began. Only 29 competitors – all of them local – graced the scratch sheet 20 years ago. Friday morning, on the first day of racing for Sperry Charleston Race Week 2015, nearly 300 boats from 11 nations and 20 states set off from Patriot’s Point to claim their place in the event’s history.

While the action and competition was indeed hot, the weather wasn’t – it unseasonably light and chilly conditions with occasional drizzle evened the playing field between the newbies and the old Charleston salts, helping some of the event’s international competitors score big.

Foreign skippers have the top two spots in by far the largest class in the regatta, the 83-boat J/70 Class. Despite never having even seen Charleston Harbour, Oslo, Norway’s Norwegian Steam sailed a strong 1,6,5 day to own second place in the ultra-competitive class racing on Charleston Harbour. Despite the swift, complex currents flowing through that course, crew Thomas Nilsson said the wind strength was far more important: “We spent a bit of time in the morning figuring out the current, but for us, it was far more important to end up on the side with more wind pressure and try to get off the line well. It’s definitely a unique place to sail, and a very fun place to be!”

Ahead of Norwegian Steam lies Mexico City’s Flojito Y Cooperando, with Charleston newcomer Julian Fernandes Neckelmann at the helm. Don’t let Neckelmann’s boat name (loosely translated as ‘laid back’) fool you - this Mexican racer has serious driving skills, and his crew includes Bill Hardesty and Willem 'Creature' Van Waay – who collectively own about 10 world championship titles. Interestingly, the Norwegians picked up the Mexican's first-place flag at the awards ceremony on Friday evening and then presented it to them in the hotel lobby the following morning. Now that's international sportsmanship.

Other international entrants shone equally brightly on Friday’s inshore courses as well. Brazilian native and Miami resident Cesar Neto Gomez’s Portobello showed major speed in the tough Audi Melges 20 Class, which is contesting its national championship here. Neto Gomez leads by three points over longtime Etchells stand-out Bruce Golison, while Canada’s Paul Currie leads the non-professional subclass. In the Melges 24 Corinthian class, Norway’s Jens Wathne on Party Girl sits just behind amateur leader Dan McGraw sailing Blue Steel.

Offshore the story is similar, with international competitors showing plenty of prowess. Torquay, England’s Joe Woods took two bullets to lead Charleston’s first-ever Farr 280 one-design class with his crew aboard Red, while Canada’s Rob Butler and his electric pink Touch2Play team lead the J/88 Class on a tiebreak. And Bermuda’s John Streicker and his crew aboard his NY40 Defiant have the final podium spot for the moment in Pursuit-Spinnaker class.

But an American is providing the best story of the regatta so far. Twelve-year-old Gannon Troutman helmed Pied Piper on Friday to an astonishing 4th place in a J/70 fleet, which is loaded with some of America’s best sailors. It was no fluke, either – despite sailing for just four years, the pint-sized phenom scored a top-ten finish at Key West Race Week back in January. Calm, cool, and collected, Gannon seems to take the pressure in stride despite the tough conditions. “The current is ripping, the harbour is tricky, but I go out there, try to stay focused, and just do my thing,” he said. “I think more kids my age should be driving boats like this. It’s the best experience anyone can have.”

Racing will continue this morning after a two-hour postponement as a stalled frontal system lingering over the southeast region has meant uncharacteristic weather conditions.

Photos by Sander van der Borch and Brian Carlin


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