Photo: Brian Carlin / Sperry Charleston Race Week

Tricky conditions for final day

Sperry Charleston Race Week concludes

Sunday April 19th 2015, Author: Dan Dickison, Location: United States

With an early start time, a moderate yet consistent breeze from the southeast, and a ripping tide pouring out of Charleston Harbour, the overall victories and podium finishes were up for grabs throughout most of the fleet at Sperry Charleston Race Week 2015. Unlike Saturday’s action, the early breeze meant three short, intense races in some classes and two in others, allowing a few teams to sew up runaway victories and a few more to make late runs to the top of the leaderboard in the quest for silver in the 20th anniversary of this event.

Charleston is immensely proud of its local collegiate sailing team, and the College of Charleston’s varsity Sailing Team Captain Chase Shaw showed why that is with his performance in the J/22 Class. Shaw and his CofC crew reveled in the fast outgoing tide on Sunday, grabbing two bullets and holding off a late charge from US Sailing President Tom Hubbell aboard his Air Force One.

Hubbell said he’d never had an easier time entering a regatta. “You call up the College, they charter the boat to you, you jump in a plane, show up on the dock, and go race one-design at Charleston Race Week. Could it be any easier?” said Hubbell, whose team finished just three points behind Shaw.

The J/22 Class also featured the Warrior Sailing Team, entirely crewed and helmed by wounded and disabled military veterans from around the country and managed by professional sailor Ben Poucher. “Sailing with these guys against a fully able-bodied fleet was something we’d been relishing, and watching them put everything they have into it was pretty awesome,” said Poucher. The Warriors grabbed 8th place out of 9 entries. “It was a victory in every way,” Poucher said.

Fourteen-year-old Kyle Gamble and the team on board My Sharona shocked the until-then very tight J/111 fleet with three bullets on Sunday, giving them the easy win despite a hard week. “We just sailed clean and fast and it’s great to have days like that,” said Gamble, whose father George steers their Pensacola-based boat.

The lone Mexican entry, Julian Fernandez Neckleman’s Flojito y Cooperando, earned its first Charleston Race Week win with a runaway performance in the stacked 83-boat J/70 Class. But it still wasn’t an easy day for them, despite their dominance. “With the black flag up and the current pushing us over the line, starting was nerve racking, said tactician Bill Hardesty, one of the most successful American one-design sailors of the decade. “We started in the second row a couple of times, and luckily we had the speed to work our way forward.”

Also in the J/70s, Jud and Lindsay Smith of Marblehead, Mass., sailing on Africa, stole a brilliant penultimate race win, setting up a final battle with Oslo, Norway’s Eivind Astrup and his team on Norwegian Steam. Smith found himself stuck in traffic on a crowded port-tack layline, while Astrup judged the speedy ebb current perfectly, sweeping around the final mark in first place and extending to the victory. “It all came together at the right time, and now that we know the currents, we’ll come back as locals,” joked the skipper, just before singing 'Happy Birthday' in Norwegian to celebrate Race Week’s 20th.

The final race of the Melges 24 Class was a nailbiter, but in the end, perennial top helmsman and past Melges 24 Corinthian World Champion Bruce Ayres stayed patient despite a spirited attack from College of Charleston junior Ryan Davidson steering Guy Mossman’s Battle Rhythm. Ayres and Davidson traded leads on the beat, with a luffing battle on the final run allowing Norway’s Jens Altern Wathne to slip to leeward and take the final race win of the week. Ayres finished less than 10 seconds behind Davidson, tying the two on points, with Mossman winning on the tiebreak. It was Ayres’ second-straight win in the Melges 24 Class at Sperry Charleston Race Week.

Wathne’s win vaulted him into first place in the Corinthian (amateur) division, with Australian entry ACCRU losing the top spot after having just gained it. It may be decades since ACCRU skipper Kevin Nixon won his 18-foot skiff world title on Sydney Harbour, and his crew consists of his wife and three children rather than two huge watermen, but the intense Aussie says he and his family know they need to come back in 2016 to prove the Aussies can beat not only the Americans, but the Scandinavians as well. “It’s a point of pride,” he said. Both Wathne and Nixon agree that next year’s event should be a big one for the Melges 24 Class. “Charleston and the Melges 24 have a long history together, and with the 2016 Melges 24 Worlds coming back to the states for the November Miami Worlds, Charleston marks the real beginning of the workup to what should be a very big worlds,” said Wathne.

Charlestonian Jeff Irvine, headsail trimmer on Brent McKenzie's Melges 24 Ex-Kahn, soothed his disappointment at the awards party on Sunday. McKenzie’s crew was winning the 21-boat class going into today’s action, and took a 3,2 in the first two races of the day. But then the 16-knot breeze began to falter and they watched their competition sail right around them in great pressure on the other side of a shift, landing the team in 14th for the final race. “We still wound up in third place overall, which is fine,” said Irvine. “But what was great about this regatta is that it had all the possibility of being a downer because of weather. I woke up this morning and the forecast called for 100% rain and possible thunderstorms, and we didn’t see any of that. In fact we had really great racing today.”

Only one point separated the top two teams at the start of the final race in the Melges 20 National Championship fleet. Jason Michas’ team aboard Midnight Blue performed under pressure, winning the final race with blinding downwind speed. Richard Davies’ Section 16 took second spot for the second time in Charleston, with third place Tom Kassberg on Flygfisk edging out the Brazilian team aboard Portobello. That team spent much of the week in first place – until it really mattered. Both Portobello and Flygfisk found themselves in a dying breeze on the final leg, and deep in the fleet, the throwouts came into play. According to Kassberg: “We were consistent throughout the week, so it felt good to have a cushion if we needed to throw out the last race.”

In the Viper 640 fleet, Jason Carroll’s ARGO didn’t need the final race for a win, but second and third were still undecided. Former College of Charlestron sailor Zeke Horowitz on board Jenny won his second race in a row to edge out Tumbling Dice by five points for second.

The 21-boat J/24 class also had a tight podium with local racer Scott McCormack and his Giggity playing the ebb perfectly today to jump ahead of favorite Tony Parker aboard Bangor Packet. Pipe Dream was only four points out of second place with a very steady score line.

Local racer Jay Cook, sailing in the Pursuit Class won in two big ways this week with his crew on board the Beneteau 423 Tohidu. This lifelong sailor and longtime supporter of Sperry Charleston Race Week, sailed with his sons Adam and Travis for the first time in more than five years, something Cook said "was one of the best surprises I’ve ever had". The Cooks and the longtime friends crewing with them weren’t able to repeat their 2006 class victory, finishing in tenth place, and Jay didn’t expect to spend any time on the trophy stage, making the crowd’s long and strong cheers all the more powerful when he was called up to receive the elegant wood-and-glass trophy for the Jubilee Award for Sportsmanship. Cook’s tireless volunteerism and never-ending generosity in support of the Charleston sailing community are legendary in the community; an award well deserved.

After top-secret calculations to determine the winners in the most competitive classes in the regatta, Randy Draftz announced that Robin Team and his family-crewed J/122Teamwork had won the historic and beautiful Palmetto Cup for the top PHRF performance of the regatta. It marks an incredible third overall win in Charleston, and the Teams say they would like to try to add their name to the perpetual trophy again next year.

To no one’s surprise, the Melges 20 National Championship fleet claims the trophy for the winner in the most competitive one-design fleet, with Long Island’s Jason Michas and Midnight Blue etching their names on the Charleston Race Week Cup. Michas adds it to his new title of US National Champion.

In the Pursuit Class, Charleston-based Jamie Walker and his crew on board Walker’s Swan 56 Azura were celebrating with smiles at the awards party. They didn’t see the kind of breeze this heavier boat really requires, but nonetheless finished well enough to secure third overall. “Despite the lighter winds, this event is always fun and it’s really spectacular. Fun is one of our principal goals. For us, it’s safety No. 1, fun No. 2, and then results No. 3. But I’m really fortunate to have a crew that comes from Charleston, England, Germany and Boston. We’re pretty multicultural actually.” Walker said he loves and hates the Pursuit Class. “It’s so frustrating to sit there and watch all those other boats start ahead of us, but once you’re racing, it’s an absolute blast.”

Hank Stewart, the PRO on the most populous racing circle – the 83-boat J/70 course – was relieved and pleased at the end of the day. “I’ve never worked with the fleet split system that we used here (to orchestrate the large number of boats in this class), but it worked really well. I think the tight competition proves it works,” he said. Stuart says his volunteers and fellow race officers provided terrific support, but emphasized that he gives a lot of credit to the competitors. “I think across all the classes at the event, the sailors were very gracious, particularly in showing such patience on Saturday when we had that lengthy postponement. And, at least on our course, it was worth the wait because we had two of the best contests of the event that day.”

Photos by Sander van der Borch and Brian Carlin


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