Merron Merron: Charleston Race Week
Merron Merron: Charleston Race Week
We have been in Charleston for nearly three weeks, and the time has been flying. Apart from the on-going maintenance programme on Campagne de France, we also raced the three days that are Charleston Race Week as a training exercise for the up-coming Atlantic Cup.
This well-organised major annual event attracts a fleet of about 250 boats from all over North America. There are several hotly contested one-design, PHRF and IRC classes. This year, the organisers decided to put in pursuit racing for the first time for the cruising class, and this is the class that best suited Campagne de France too, since the racing format was a 25 mile course with a start inside the harbour, out through the narrow channel between the jetties and round a couple of marks further out – similar to the course we will sail at the start of the Atlantic Cup. Being a pursuit race also meant avoiding crowded start lines and therefore staying out of trouble, and we were allowed to race double-handed.
In pursuit racing, boats start according to their handicap, which in theory means that everyone should cross the finish line at the same time. Being a beamy, deep draft, ballasted boat with a roached mainsail, our rating had a minus sign in front of it. Our start was 1 hour, 35 minutes and 50 seconds after the first boat in our class, and over 40 minutes after a 50 foot boat. So we would have to sail nearly twice as fast as the rest of the fleet to catch them before the finish line… but since the aim was primarily to train, it didn’t matter.
So by the time we crossed the start line, the first challenge was to see whether any of the rest of our fleet could still be seen on the far horizon! On the first day of racing, we were still in the channel on our way out when the frontrunners in our fleet started to appear on their way back under spinnaker towards the finish line. But with the help of a few wind shifts and our maxi All Purpose spinnaker, we caught up with a few boats, and eventually managed to finish in 6th place.
On day 2, we put in 17 tacks just to get up the channel. Luckily the current was with us. There was, however, an advantage to the upwind conditions – it made the course a lot longer, meaning that we had a better chance of catching our prey. A helpful wind shift out at sea enabled us to catch the first few boats, and then we picked off the remainder one by one on the way to the finish line. A race win for Campagne de France (which we weren’t entirely sure of until we saw the results sheet, having been so busy with manœuvres and avoiding sandbanks!). After two races, we were 3rd overall.
The last day of racing was held in unsettled conditions and a lot of heavy rain, with variable wind to no wind. Trying to get back up the channel against the current and in almost no wind was hard going. We even went backwards at times, being overtaken by red and green channel markers. There was a small group of us left still fighting it out, all within sight of each other and determined to keep going. Unfortunately the time limit was running out and the race committee abandoned the race, much to the disappointment of all concerned.
And so we finished 3rd in class with a nice trophy too. During these three days, Campagne de France attracted a fair amount of attention and admiration, and her livery was the subject of many compliments. The people of Charleston are incredibly welcoming, and Charleston Race Week is well worth it. The following text is lifted from the race website : “Nearly 260 boats on the water, roughly 2,000 competitors, 300 volunteers and the most Goslings Rum consumed at any regatta in the U.S. – those metrics mean that Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week definitely attained critical mass this year. Of course, having the America’s Cup on site was huge, too.” (Yes, they really did have the America’s Cup trophy there!)
We are now preparing Campagne de France for haul out next week prior to the Atlantic Cup. After some 18,000 miles, the keel and rudders need some TLC. However, the International Paint antifouling on the hull is still doing a remarkably good job, even though you can almost sea the seaweed etc growing in the river here, so we clean the underneath twice a week to avoid our hull turning into a tropical garden. The water is extremely murky, therefore it’s not much fun, but it has to be done.