Saturday, April 12, 2014

Charleston Race Week Preview

J/70s sailing off starting line(Charleston, SC)- From April 10 to 13, the Charleston Harbor Marina & Resort again plays host to one of the best one-design and handicap race weeks in America.  Taking place over a four day weekend, an enormous navy of J’s are participating ranging from the sporty J/22s up to the majestic J/122s. Fully 51% of the fleet are J/Teams (147 J’s in a field of 287 boats). Racing takes place on three one-design circles inshore and one PHRF handicap circle offshore.

The weather forecast looks promising, nearly postcard-perfect weather, with winds out of the south from 8-15 kts each day, sunny skies and minimal (for Charleston) currents. It’s no wonder Charleston attracts so many fun-loving teams in late spring, with magnificent beach parties each night, “JumboTron” video highlights of the day’s racing on a massive 20 ft wide by 10 ft high screen, and daily awards with world-class commentary from famous J/24 sailors like Ed Baird (an America’s Cup winner on ALINGHI), it’s a hard program to beat.  Plus, rumor has it that a massive “drone strike” on the fleet may be happening each day, with FPV video of teams “up close & personal” as they fly around the race track.

Taking up the challenge on Inshore Circle One just off the picturesque Charleston waterfront are fleets of J/22s, J/24s and J/80s.  In the nine boat J/22 fleet, an international cast of characters are participating.  From Nassau, Bahamas we find Chris Sands and the QUICK BEAT team sailing against Darcy Fuller’s Canadian team from Tecumseh, Ontario on board PROST.  Arrayed against them are a combo of Annapolis, Maryland boats and local Charleston, South Carolina teams, like Reggie Fairchild on FLASHPOINT CHARLESTON, Jay Greenfield on TBD and Arthur Libby on TORQEEDO.

By far the classic one-design in the regatta is the venerable J/24, with twenty-one teams arriving from every point of the compass, the competition will be as “keen” as ever.  Perhaps the headliner team may be Mike Ingham (recent J/24 North American Champion) on USA 5443 from Rochester, New York.  While Ingham may have an edge on the others, there are plenty of “spoilers” in the crowd that can provide them a challenge, including local hotshots like Jay Adams on BLIND DATE, Alex Bolan on CORE BUMP, David Moffly on DIRTY WHITE BOY and Mike Palazzo on JO MAMMA.  Others sure to throw in top scores are Tim Rathbun on MOBILE HOME from Chicago, Illinois and Skip Dieball on RUDIE/ GILL RACE TEAM from The Florida YC in Toledo, Ohio.

In the world of J/80s, thirteen teams are sailing with a number of world-class competitors.  In fact, Charleston followed by the Annapolis NOOD are two key events for the teams in their preparations for the J/80 Worlds in Annapolis, MD later this year.  Amongst the leaders you’re sure to find the trio of Will & Marie Crump/ Tom Klok sailing R80, John Storck on RUMOR, Bert Carp on ELEVEN, Chris Johnson on DRAGONFLY and Chris & Liz Chadwick on CHURCH KEY.

Over on Inshore Course Two just off James Island YC is the massive fleet of J/70s.  At eighty-one total boats, it is by far the largest fleet that has ever sailed in Charleston Race Week.  Due to the size of the fleet, Regatta Chairman Randy Draftz felt it would be not only more competitive but more fun and easier for the RC PRO to have 40+ boat starts instead of one gigantic starting line.  As a result, the entire fleet of 70s will be “seeded” into four “flights” and with two starts per “set”, each flight will get a chance to race each other every day all weekend.

The J/70 class has not only gotten significantly bigger for this event, it has also become a much more “deeply” talented fleet.  Beginning with notable class veterans, you find most of the top five teams at Key West sailing, including winner Tim Healy on HELLY HANSEN, Brian Keane on SAVASANA, Ian Atkins on BOATS.COM and Joel Ronning on CATAPULT.  Joining them are current J/70 North American Champion Heather Gregg-Earl & Joe Bardenheier on MUSE; past Etchells 22 World Champion Jud Smith skippering AFRICA from Eastern YC; past J/24 World Champion (4x) Mauricio Santa Cruz from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on BRUSCHETTA; past Newport J/24 Champion Vinnie Pattavina on CARLOS; past J/105 and Farr 40 North American Champion Don Wilson from Chicago, IL sailing CONVEXITY (founder of the Chicago Match Race Center); past Sunfish North American Champion Chuck Millican from Bermuda sailing ELUSIVE; Key West Corinthians winner Rob Britts on HOT MESS from Tampa, FL; current Etchells 22 USA National Champion Jim Cunningham sailing LIFTED; past J/80 World Champion Kerry Klingler skippering MENACE from Cedar Point YC in CT; past College Champion at College of Charleston (e.g. a “local”) Cole Allsopp sailing MOXIE from Annapolis YC; Pacific Coast winner Bennet Greenwald on PERSEVERANCE from San Diego YC; John Brim of offshore Farr 60 RIMA fame sailing RIMETTE from Fishers Island YC; Peter Vessella of Star Championship fame skippering RUNNING WILD from St Francis YC; past J/105 North American Champion Henry Brauer and Will Welles sailing SCAMP from New York YC; past Lightning and Chesapeake Bay Champion John Aras from Annapolis YC sailing SCHOOL’S OUT; past Key West Corinthians winner Dave Franzel sailing SPRING from Boston Sailing Center; and Henry Filter (sailing with “the Moose is Loose” McClintock- champion of everything) on WILD CHILD from Annapolis, MD.

While the action may be pretty hot inshore, it may be even hotter offshore.  Heading out the shipping channel past the famous Fort Sumter (sight of the first shot that started the Civil War in America- ordered by a Johnstone relative, no less), we find three PHRF classes loaded with top J teams.

In PHRF A division there are four J/111s and two J/122s that will be fighting “hammer & tong” to claim bragging rights atop the podium.  Many familiar faces from Key West will be there, including some class newcomers.  Key West Class winner, Rob & Ryan Ruhlman’s J/111 SPACEMAN SPIFF may be leading the charge for the 111s.  They’re joined by classmates KINETIC (Rob Stein), John Yonover’s EVONNE.COM/3 from Lake Geneva YC, WI, and Doug Curtiss’s WICKED 2.0 from Buzzards Bay, MA.  Leading the J/122 charge for the top will be Robin Team’s J/122 TEAMWORK from Lexington, NC, winner of just about everything offshore south of the Mason-Dixon Line.  Their classmate is Jack Gregg’s J/122 TAHAMURA from Corinthian YC of Philadelphia, PA.

If PHRF A division is going to be a battle, PHRF B class won’t be a “picnic” for anyone.  Most of the tops teams in the class are all J’s.  The “grand-daddies” are the two J/120s, past Charleston winners like John Keenan’s ILLYRIA from Mt Pleasant, SC (e.g. a real, real local) and Rick Moore’s MOOSE DOWN from Carolina YC.  Two other local 35 ft J’s are racing, including Willy Schwenzfeier’s J/35 ARROW and Joe Highsmith’s J/105 DEAD ON ARRIVAL.  The “newbies on the block” are the two J/88s debuting in their first ever CRW; Terry McKenna’s DOG PARTY from Prince Edward Island, Canada and Richie Stearn’s HOKEY SMOKE from Chicago YC.

PHRF C division is by no means a “walk in the park” for any J team.  While they will predominate, this class has proven to be one of the hardest handicap classes to win due to the “even-ness” of the boats.  Past class winner David Pritchard (Mr GILL North America) will be sailing his J/92 AMIGOS from Lake Lanier Sailing Club, a lovely lake north of Atlanta, GA.  Giving them a serious run-for-the-money are two classic masthead J/29s, Steve Thurston’s MIGHTY PUFFIN from Bristol, RI and Miles Martschink’s MONGO from Carolina YC.  Chasing their tail-feathers around the track will be Robert Key’s J/27 AUDACIOUS from Columbia, SC.

A new feature of the event has been the rapidly growing PHRF Pursuit-style race.  Like its renowned brethren in San Francisco (The Three Bridge Fiasco) or Nantucket’s famous FIGAWI Race, the CRW version has been gaining passionate followers quickly- since last years this division alone has grown something like 500%!  In Pursuit Spinnaker class, the J/120 EMOCEAN from Charleston YC will be skippered by Bill Hanckel and joining them is the J/40 RAGTIME sailed by Jim Little from Watauga Sailing Club in Kingsport, TN.  Pursuit Non-Spin division sees yet another classic J participating, the local J/30 BREAKAWAY sailed by Mark Swata from Mt Pleasant, SC.   For more Charleston Race Week sailing information