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Charleston is Sailing Capital of the South with Charleston Race Week

J 111s Velocity and Ragin’  battle side by side. Photo by Suzi DuRant
J 111s Velocity and Ragin’ battle side by side. Photo by Suzi DuRant

Charleston has earned itself a new moniker as the Sailing Capital of the South following the finale of the 2012 Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week. The most frequently heard accolades from the racers included “I was blown away by the town…the hospitality…the race course…the race challenges.”

The regatta, organized by the Charleston Ocean Racing Association (CORA), hosted 260 boats from 10 countries and 29 states over three days of racing on six different courses. As well as racing in the regatta, the Tartan 10 and Viper 640 fleets vied for class championships while the Melges 24 fleet chose the venue for their Gold Cup Regatta.

It is a year of firsts from the largest to the smallest boats. The first IRC class brought the biggest boats to date to compete here, including the 72-foot Reichel/Pugh Mini Maxi Shockwave, owned by George Sakellaris from Framingham, Massachusetts, two Transpac 52s – Flying Jenny 7 out of Annapolis, and Interlodge from Newport – Privateer, a 50-foot Cookson and Denali, a Ker 55. Four brand new J111s dueled in PHRF B while three identical Farr 400s battled with a new McConaghy 38 in PHRF A. The largest class was the Viper 640s with 41 entries. Only a few years ago, the class made its debut in Charleston with six entries.

Another first was the arrival of the America’s Cup trophy from the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) in San Francisco, California. Who knew that the trophy gets to fly in its own first class seat? GGYC Commodore Norbert Bajurin and Vice Commodore Tom Ehman, a veteran America’s Cup sailor, presented a multi-media production about the Cup races. Ehman commented that it was appropriate to have the prestigious trophy on display “at the largest regatta in the country.” Both he and Bajurin were “bowled over by the welcome [they] received here and the level of interest in the next Cup series.” Former America’s Cup skipper Peter Holmberg from the U.S. Virgin Islands competed in the regatta on Mark Plaxton’s Melges 20, INTAC, from the British Virgin Islands.

Typical Charleston racing weather can be tricky with strong tidal currents and lighter winds in the morning, filling in during the afternoon. No one quite knew what to expect this year with cold fronts and low-pressure systems approaching. The first morning was overcast with light winds predicted. The two offshore courses, however, experienced 12 to 16 knots with choppy seas that made the downwind legs hard work.

The three inshore courses started with light winds building to 16 knots by early afternoon but the sailors found the key to success was to be in the right spot with the currents. Several competitors noted, “You think you have the course figured out then the tide changes and the currents are completely different.”

Racers were caught off guard the second day with light, shifting winds that forced the tacticians to pay close attention, especially for race starts. Inshore had better wind but it still vacillated in strength. A cold front predicted to go through over night and bring northerly winds for the third morning stalled. Conditions for the final day were unstable with rain showers.

The cruising class, also a first this year, met with enthusiastic approval. Called a pursuit race, the 13-boat fleet did staggered starts from the harbor, tacking down the main channel then out through the jetties to sail a 26-mile course returning to the harbor. Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina sailor Joseph Hanna took first place honors aboard Alexandria, his Jeanneau 45.2. He fully expects “this will become the fastest growing fleet at the event.” Also in the fleet was the Campagne de France, Halvard Mabire’s Class 40 from Berneville, France, which won third place.

The Beneround, a new Bénéteau Oceanis 37 was a unique entry. Its crew won a spot in the regatta and the use of the boat by winning SAIL Magazine’s “Best Around the Buoys” contest. Skipper Grant Dumas and his crew showed why they won by continuing to win four first place finishes and the first place trophy in PHRF G.

Canadians Rob and Sandy Butler’s Carbonado, the new McConaghy 38, managed to hold off the Farr 400s with a strong 6-point lead to win PHRF A. PHRF B and C classes had fiercely contested matches with the lead bouncing around. Bob Moran’s J111 Ragin’, from Annapolis, took the honors in PHRF B while local sailor Bill Hanckel with son Will on the helm took Emocean, their J120 to the line in PHRF C. L’Outrage, a Bénéteau 10-meter from Annapolis, owned by Bruce Gardner won PHRF D.

The Melges 20 fleet winner was up in the air until the final race. After two restarts, the rain started and the wind disappeared, leaving Russ Lucas from Little Silver, NJ, the overnight leader aboard Shimmer, in first place. The first four boats had been separated by only three points.

While all the fleets’ competitions were exciting, there just isn’t room to single out all the winners here. For more complete results of the Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week, visit  charlestonraceweek.com/news-results.

“These were some of the most challenging conditions we’ve seen ever at Race Week in Charleston, “ Randy Draftz, the Event Chairman, told a packed audience at the final beach party and awards ceremony. “But it was another record year.” He thanked the 300 volunteers who make the event possible and complimented “the top race management team.” There were 167 race officials on the water in 37 boats. The actual number of boats racing turned out to be 257.

He also thanked the host marina, Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina, saying “They rolled out the red carpet for us and made this event really hopping!” Of course, the Goslings Rum may have helped fuel that. Draftz wouldn’t say how much of the Bermudian rum or Dark & Stormies were consumed but mentioned that the “bars ran out of glasses Friday night and we had 8,000…then we went through another 3,000 glasses Saturday night!”

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