J/24 skipper Tony Parker called it “champagne conditions” and it would be hard to argue with that assessment.
Mother Nature delivered in a big way on the first day of Sperry Charleston Race Week with action getting underway in strong winds, sunny skies and warm temperatures.
Ten of the 11 classes competing on the four inshore circles were able to complete four races in winds that ranged from 12 to 16 knots and swung from south to slightly southwest. The lone exception was the highly competitive J/70 class, which did three races at the request of the sailors.
Because there are 66 boats in J/70, the class is so large that it is split for reseeding after each day of racing. Class organizers felt three races would make for better round-robin competition.
Winds were lighter for the five classes racing on Circle 5 and Course 6 outside the jetties on the Atlantic. ORC A and B along with the J/105 one-design fleet all finished two races.
“What a wonderful day for sailing. You really could not ask for better conditions,” proclaimed Parker, who has taken the early lead in J/24 class. “It was challenging enough to make things really interesting. I think the combination of changing current and shifting winds made for really tight racing.”
Parker and his crew aboard Bangor Packet sandwiched a couple bullets inside a pair of seconds to close the day with a low score of six points - two better than runner-up Angel of Harlem (Robby Brown, St. Petersburg, FL).
“We had good starts and solid upwind speed so we were basically able to dictate where we wanted to go,” said Parker, a seasoned J/24 sailor who resides in Washington, D.C. “We were first at every weather mark in three straight races to start the day, which was nice.”
North Sails pro Will Bomar is calling tactics for Parker, who is coming off a tough season in which he was runner-up at the J/24 Worlds, East Coasts and Midwinters. James Niblock is trimming the headsails and Martha Parker (no relation) is working the bow on Bangor Packet.
John Potter got off to a great start in his bid to repeat as VX One champion for Sperry Charleston Race Week, winning three of four races on the day. Co-owner David Guggenheim trimmed and handled tactics for Potter, who is thrilled to also have his 17-year-old daughter Emily aboard.
“We’re sending Emily to the party to collect all the trophies because we couldn’t have done it without her,” Potter said. “It was really awesome to have her out there.”
Potter, a Savannah resident and Beaufort Yacht Club member, holds a three-point lead over Christopher Alexander and his team on Isabelita Con Queso. Alexander, who lives in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, won Race 2 and closed with consecutive seconds.
“Chris did real well in heavy air considering his crew weight. I think he’s sailing about 80 pounds lighter than we are,” Potter said. Potter and Guggenheim, who are 61 and 60 years old, respectively, have been racing the VX One together for eight years and boast tremendous chemistry. They had no problem planing in winds that started around nine knots and gusted to 18 knots at times on Circle 1, which is set on the Cooper River in front of Carolina Yacht Club.
“We didn’t start very well, but we had incredible boat speed going to weather,” Potter said. “We were first around every mark except Race 1 when things got squirrely near James Island. Life is much easier when you get out front and we had some real good rides.”
Peter Duncan, arms full of Heinekens was all smiles as he walked along A Dock back to his boat, and rightfully so. Duncan and the Relative Obscurity team had a great day on the water with 2-1-1 score line to set the early pace in J/70 class.
Tactician Victor Diaz de Leon made some great calls while Willem Van Waay was solid trimming the headsails as Relative Obscurity showed the form that produced a world championship last year off Porto Cervo, Italy.
“We are very, very pleased with this start,” Duncan said. “We had to work really hard in all three races and it’s hard to beat the results we wound up with. Race 1 might have been our best because we really had to claw our way back through the fleet.”
Duncan, a resident of Rye, N.Y., is making his debut at Sperry Charleston Race Week. It only took one day to sell him on the venue.
“Absolutely beautiful! What a great place to go sailboat racing. Today was a real treat,” said Duncan, who holds a six-point lead on Bruce Golison (Long Beach, CA) and his crew on Midlife Crisis.
No boat did better on Day 1 than Terminally Pretty, the Viper 640 sailed by the husband-wife team of Geoff and Mary Ewenson. Geoff Ewenson steered as the Annapolis team posted four bullets. Mary Ewenson, who is publisher of the Chesapeake Bay sailing magazine SpinSheet, is the jib trimmer.
“This is a really complex place to sail because there are so many variables,” said Geoff Ewenson, a professional whose previous trips to Charleston Race Week were aboard boats sailing offshore. “You’re never out of any race. There is always a passing lane somewhere. Today, we had to use some of those passing lanes.”
Ewenson noted how the tide changed from ebb to flood just prior to the final race.
“Just when you think you’ve learned something, suddenly that variable changes and you have to adjust,” he said. “It seemed the high percentage move was to play the left side of the race track for most of the day. That changed in the last race and the right became a better option.”
Brian Porter steered Full Throttle to a superb score line of 1-1-1-2 on Friday to build a solid lead in Melges 24 class, second-largest of the regatta with 31 entries. Andy Burdick handled tactics for Porter, a Wisconsin native who regularly races on Lake Geneva. “It was classic Charleston as far as the current and the tide change,” said George Peet, tactician for Bruce Ayres on Monsoon. “It was gusty, shifty and very challenging. Those conditions lend themselves to Brian’s style of sailing.”
Monsoon has been on a roll of late, winning the St. Petersburg NOOD in February and Bacardi Cup in March. The Newport Beach, California boat finished ninth in Race 1, but rebounded to go 2-4-1 in the last three starts.
“We should have won two races today, but we had some miscues at the leeward mark with a bit of a messy drop,” said Peet, explaining that Monsoon has two substitutes for regular crew members this week. “We know we can win races. We have confidence in our boat speed; we just need to clean up our communication.”
George Collins hasn’t raced his Tripp 62 named Chessie Racing in five months because it has been undergoing repairs at Thunderbolt Marine in Savannah. Regular crew member Jeff Gentzen lives in Charleston and suggested Collins bring the boat here from Georgia to participate in the Pursuit Racing portion of the regatta.
Former America’s Cup sailor Mike Toppa provided tactical advice as Collins steered Chessie Racing to victory in Friday’s race. As largest and fastest entry among 19 boats in the Spinnaker division, the Tripp 62 started last.
“I didn’t get a very good start. We were worried about the current and I was late by about 35 seconds,” said Collins, a renowned Chesapeake Bay sailor who now lives in Miami Beach. “It got really light as we sailed out the channel, but there was a slight shift about halfway out and we got lifted and were able to sail one long starboard tack toward the turning mark.”
Collins was happy to have a Charleston Harbor pilot aboard as Crayton Walters knows the passage into the Atlantic Ocean intimately and could tell Toppa where the boat could and couldn’t go.
Winds on the ocean picked up to about 10 knots as the day wore on and Chessie Racing made good speed on the way back toward Charleston Harbor, overtaking the 1D35 Warhorse (Ed Norton, Charleston) just prior to reaching the channel marker.
“Some of my greatest victories came here in Charleston,” joked Collins, who was a standout swimmer at Virginia Military Institute. “Back in 1962 I took first place in three races and we beat The Citadel by three points.”
Collins calls all his boats Chessie Racing in honor of the Annapolis-based syndicate he funded to compete in the 1997-98 Whitbread Round the World Race.
Racing on Circle 5 was postponed for 2 ½ hours to allow the sea breeze to build. Race 1 got underway around 1 p.m. with 2016 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Steve Benjamin leading the TP52 Spookie to victory in both races for ORC A.
“We are using this regatta for crew training and testing so the ocean course is ideal,” said Benjamin, who is prepping Spookie for the Newport-to-Bermuda Race. “We’re real happy about how we started today. We had two nice starts and found more pressure on the left side of the track for some reaosn.”
Benjamin, who is a finalist for the Seahorse Magazine Sailor of the Month honor, has Michael Menninger aboard as tactician and Artie Means as navigator.