Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina was a bustle of activity on Thursday morning
Competitors in Sperry Charleston Race Week 2018 were hurriedly carrying equipment, sail bags and other gear down to the docks while the various vendors were busily setting up shop.
Event director Randy Draftz and other organizers with Charleston Ocean Racing Association were huddled in a conference room going over last-minute details while volunteers were working furiously to install the infrastructure that transforms the beach area into a thriving party venue.
By mid-afternoon, a large contingent of boats was out on the water testing sails and tuning rigs. Most of the J/70 and Melges 24 fleets conducted a series of practice races mid Charleston Harbor. A significant number of VX One and Flying Tiger 7.5 entries filled the racing area in the Cooper River located closer to the Arthur Ravenel Bridge.
Thursday was all about final preparations and practice in advance of Sperry Charleston Race Week 2018. It will be go time on Friday as 246 boats in 16 classes take to the waters off this historic coastal city during the 23rd edition of this renowned regatta.
Quantum Sails professional Ed Baird conducted the first of many weather briefings in the tent area on Thursday morning and declared the forecast quite promising. Baird said competitors can expect a healthy sea breeze from the southeast on Friday and Saturday.
“Right now it looks like we’re going to have some great racing,” Baird said. “For two days at least, the sea breeze should be really solid and fairly steady.”
Baird said Sunday could be a bit dicey as current forecasts call for a front to move through Charleston. However, there is optimism the conditions will improve in time to complete the three-day regatta in the afternoon.
Overall principal race officer Hank Stuart and his highly competent team are confident they can give the sailors plenty of action by the time Sperry Charleston Race Week wraps up.
Racing will be conducted on six separate circles with 10 of the 11 one-design classes along with ORC C sailing courses inside Charleston Harbor. Meanwile, ORC A and B will be joined by the J/105 fleet on Circle 5 that is set on the Atlantic Ocean. A pair of Pursuit Race classes (Spinnaker and Non-Spinnaker) consisting of 35 boats will do one distance jaunt per day around a combination of government and drop marks.
Principal race officer Ray Redniss is adding several new course configurations to spice up the Pursuit Race classes, which have become increasingly more popular.
Taran Teague, PRO on Circle 5, issued updated Sailing Instructions for the offshore courses to accommodate racing back into Charleston Harbor to close out each day. Plans call for an ocean race with a harbor start on Sunday.
“I really like what the race committee has done to change things up. It’s a long day out there and when we have to motor in afterward we wind up being late for the party,” said Andrew Guhl, owner of the 1D35 named Fogdog. “I think it’s a really good idea that will add another changing element to the event.”
ORC B is comprised of five boats that all hail from the greater Charleston area. There is another 1D35 along with a J/35, J/120 and J/36. “This is a good group of boats that race regularly here in Charleston. We are familiar each other so it should be real competitive.”
ORC A features the fastest boat in the regatta – Spookie, a TP52 owned by Steve and Heidi Benjamin. That class also includes Teamwork, a J/122 skippered by Robin Team that has enjoyed considerable success at Charleston Race Week. Team, a resident of Lexington, N.C., is the only four-time winner of the prestigious Palmetto Trophy Palmetto that is presented to winner of the tightest class among handicap divisions.
Rattle-n-Rum, a GP26 skippered by Mike Beasley of Annapolis, Md., is the defending Palmetto Cup champion. Beasley brings back basically the same crew and will try to repeat as winner of ORC C, which has increased to 13 boats this year.
“We have a wide range of sportboats that are all a bit different in terms of performance and rating. I think it’s going to be fantastic competition,” Beasley said. “Charleston always turns on very technical conditions with the current being the most challenging factor. There isn’t a 30-minute period in that harbor that is the same and things change with each windward leg.”
J/70 is again the largest class in the regatta with a whopping 69 entries, including the past two world champions. Joel Ronning captured the 2016 world title off San Francisco while Peter Duncan is the reigning champ after winning the 2017 worlds that were in Porto Cervo, Italy.
Ronning and his Catapult crew are defending champs here at Sperry Charleston Race Week and more recently claimed the 2017 J/70 North American crown. Ronning has his regular crew of tactician John Kostecki, trimmer Patrick Wilson and bowman Chris Stocke. “First and foremost, I absolutely love this venue. It is super interesting and one of the best in the world, in my opinion,” said Ronning, who claimed the Charleston Race Week Cup for best overall performance by a one-design entry last year. “We have been doing a lot of homework on how to handle the current and tides, which are very challenging here.”
There are numerous other top contenders in J/70 class, including 2018 Midwinter Championship winner Jack Franco of Kemah, Texas. Bill Hardesty and Allan Terhune, a pair of proven pros, are crewing for Franco on 3 Ball JT.
VX One is the fastest growing class at Sperry Charleston Race Week, having almost doubled in size from 13 boats in 2017 to 25 this year. Class veteran John Potter will be seeking his third VX One victory at this regatta, having won in 2015 and 2017.
“We’ve been working on building the class for quite a while now. This is our fourth year coming to Charleston and word has spread that this is a great regatta to do,” said Potter, the 2016 VX One North American champion.
Will Van Cleef, a Charleston resident and industry professional, has been instrumental in increasing the VX One numbers at Sperry Charleston Race Week. Greg Fisher, Director of Sailing at College of Charleston, will be skippering an entry this year and figures to be among the top contenders.
Potter, one of several past North American champs competing in Sperry Charleston Race Week 2018, will be racing with co-owner David Guggenheim and his 17-year-old daughter Emily, who is a senior in high school.
“We’re going to be sailing with three so I’m hoping we get a true Charleston sea breeze for a few days,” he said. “There is a lot of talent in the fleet this year and any number of boats is capable of coming out on top.”
Melges 24 is the second-largest class in the regatta with 31 boats and it includes a who’s who of class royalty. Brian Porter, the 2013 world champion, rattled off the names of numerous skippers that should contend. Monsoon, owned by Bruce Ayres of Newport Beach, Cal., was runner-up at the 2017 Melges 24 Worlds in Helsinki, Finland and recently captured a couple major regattas off Miami.
“In my estimation, half the fleet has an ability to win a race while at least half a dozen can put together a strong enough series to win,” said Porter, the 2013 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year. “I think we’re all excited to see the class seems to be bouncing back and gaining some steam.”
Porter is looking forward to racing with his son RJ, a junior member of the College of Charleston sailing team. “We love this venue, which can be a little crazy at times. Things can go bad in a hurry with this current,” Porter said.
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