Charleston Harbor was pretty much becalmed as sailors made their way to the docks on Saturday morning. Some of the professional tacticians encouraged event director Randy Draftz to post an onshore postponement in order to give the sea breeze time to fill in.
Draftz has been running Sperry Charleston Race Week for a long time and knows the conditions here better than anyone. He decided to send the 257-boat fleet out on time, but instructed principal race officers on all seven circles to error on the side of caution. “We’d rather have one good race than three bad ones,” Draftz said.
It turns out concerns about the wind velocity were unfounded. In typical Charleston fashion, the breeze built throughout the day and organizers got in four races again on Saturday - two light air starts in the morning followed by two medium breeze starts in the afternoon. Most importantly, all the racing was fair and fell into the category of quality.
“It was a very challenging day on the water,” said Pamela Rose, skipper of the J/70 Rosebud. “I give my crew a lot of credit for having the ability to tune the boat accurately for the changing conditions.”
Joel Ronning and his Catapult crew had a dominant day within the J/70 fleet, largest of the regatta with 56 boats. Ronning steered Catapult to victory in all four races, an extremely difficult accomplishment considering the caliber of competition.
“It was a really fun day to say the least,” said Ronning, who went right back on the water for an evening sail with his daughter and girlfriend.
Class veteran Victor Diaz De Leon is calling tactics on Catapult with Charleston local Patrick Wilson trimming the headsails and Christopher Stocke working the bow. Factor in a win to close out Friday’s action and Catapult has posted five straight bullets en route to a low score of 14 points.
“One thing about this team is that we have a tremendous amount of fun together. It’s a very harmonious group,” said Ronning, who captured J/70 class and earned the Charleston Race Week Cup in 2017. “Victor Diaz is a brilliant tactician and the communication on the boat is tremendous. Patrick and Christopher are fantastic about feeding information to Victor.”
Rosebud holds second place in J/70 class, 19 points behind Catapult and six ahead of Victory (Buddy Cribb). This is Rose’s third time at Sperry Charleston Race Week and this is the highest she has been in J/70 class.
“I love coming to Charleston because it’s such a dynamite venue. This is by far the best results I’ve had in this regatta and it’s because I have such a great crew,” Rose said.
Lucas Calabrese, part of the 2018 world championship crew, is calling tactics for the Florida owner. “It’s really tough out there so you have to keep your head out of the boat and work hard to stay in phase,” Calabrese said.
Saturday marked the debut of the spectacular M32 catamarans at Sperry Charleston Race Week. These high-performance machines were quite a sight zipping in a racing area just off the Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina as the M32 class completed a whopping eight races.
Skipper Don Wilson and his Convexity crew were on fire, winning four races while placing second or third in the others. That strong outing gave the Chicago entry a formidable 19-point lead over Team Vikings, skippered by Hakan Svensson of Sweden. “We had typical Charleston conditions,” said Wilson, who previously competed in this regatta in the Melges 24 and J/105 classes. “It was a little up and down throughout the day. It was soft at first then built as the day went along. I’d say the low end was even knots and the high was about 12 knots.”
Taylor Canfield is calling tactics on Convexity, which reached 18 knots of speed downwind on Saturday afternoon. These speedy catamarans cover a lot of ground in a hurry and there was some concern about the amount of runway available in the new racing area. “This race course was plenty big enough, and it actually worked out well with that wind direction,” said Wilson, referring to the south-southeasterly breeze. “The starts were a bit tricky and we did so-so in that department. Taylor did a great job of picking sides of the course and we were just super-consistent with our maneuvers.”
There was a shakeup in the standings in VX One class, which has attracted 30 entries. Reigning North American champion Chris Alexander had been dominating the fleet, but a disqualification in the opening race on Saturday along with a sixth in Race 8 dropped Counterproductive to second behind Tudo Bem.
Michelle Warner, out of Dillon Yacht Club in Boulder, Colorado, closed out Saturday’s racing with a 2-5-1 score line to take over the top spot. Former College of Charleston All-American Reed Baldridge is driving Tudo Bem, which has finished fifth or better in seven of eight races so far and leads Counterproductive by one point.
“This is my first time doing Charleston Race Week and I have been very impressed. Charleston has put on a beautiful show and today was absolutely gorgeous,” Warner said. “We had variable pressure today so understanding where the wind was filling from was important. Recognizing what was happening with the current was also crucial. The starts in this class are full-on so you must keep cool in some pressure situations. Reed is doing an awesome job of driving.”
There is an equally good battle going on in the Viper 640 class with Chance V and NESS tied atop the standings with 15 points apiece.
Both boats have been remarkably consistent with Kevin McCarthy skippering Chance V to victory in four races and posting no result worse than fifth. Meanwhile, Mark Zagol has led NESS to second in four races and third in two others in addition to winning Race 6 on Saturday.
“There are some pretty significant oscillations on the course, which is making racing very close, very tight,” said Zagol, a Pawcatuck, Connecticut resident. “These types of conditions can leave you vulnerable at times and put you in a powerful position at others. This is a very tough fleet and there are a lot of boats capable of winning races. Every single point has been hard-fought.”
Entourage, skippered by Nick Amendola is hot on the heels of Chance V and NESS with 17 points. “There are three of us in the thick of things so tomorrow is going to be intense. We’re going to stick with the same approach and just sail our own race.”
Shenanigans, sailed by the husband and wife tandem of Bill and Shannon Lockwood, has set a strong pace in J/80 class - getting the gun in five of eight starts. The Annapolis boat has a couple seconds and a third for a low score of nine points, but is still just three clear of the second place boat. Eleven, another Annapolis entry skippered by Bert Carp, has also posted a steady string of top three finishes highlighted by three bullets.
Monsoon maintained the lead in Melges 24 for the second straight day, but it didn’t come easy. Skipper Bruce Ayres and company absorbed a 27th in Race 5, but rebounded to win Race 6 then took third in Race 8 and has 23 points.
MiKEY, skippered by Kevin Welch of Anacortes, Washington, is three points behind in second. Defending Sperry Charleston Race Week champion Brian Porter and his Full Throttle team are lurking in third - just six points astern of the leader.
Skipper John Brown steered Blind Squirrel to a solid score line of 9-2-7-2 on Saturday and made a major move in the Melges 24 standings.
“We worked extremely hard and every member of the team did their job perfectly,” said Brown, a Philadelphia resident. “It was a highly stressful, but very rewarding day.”
There might be a major upset brewing in ORC C class where two-time defending champion Rattle-N-Rum is getting a stiff challenge from HeadFirst3. Skipper Mike Beasley has captured the prestigious Palmetto Trophy the past two years, but his GP 26 currently trails the Farr 30 by three points.
HeadFirst3, owned by Peter Toomb of Charlottetown, Canada, won the initial race on Saturday while Rattle-N-Rum suffered a seventh. The Prince Edward Island entry finished second in Race 6 then notched another victory in Race 7 to extend its lead before Rattle-N-Rum closed the gap a bit by winning Race 8.
“This is the first time we’ve come here to Charleston and it’s been an interesting challenge. There is a lot of tide and a lot of shifts so we’ve had to keep our heads out of the boat,” Toomb said. “We know the GP team is very good so we’ve been watching them closely. It’s been a heck of a battle with those guys and we have one more day to go.”
Darren Jones is serving as tactician on HeadFirst3, a nearly 30-year-old design that is racing for the first time in six months. “We are being conservative in our decision-making and being careful to never take ourselves out of it,” Toomb said. “Racing has been very close and we’ve had to work hard for every result we’ve gotten.”
Carter White and his crew on YouRegatta have put forth a masterful performance in J/24 class, winning six straight races after beginning the regatta with a second. White, who hails from Portland, Maine, has built an eight-point lead on Level Pelican (Crisp McDonald).
Racing for the two PHRF Pursuit Course classes and the three Hybrid Pursuit classes was cancelled due to light winds offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.
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