The heavy weather forecast for Charleston failed to materialise on Sunday, and unsettled conditions meant different challenges throughout the three race areas of Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week 2012. Within a 10-mile radius, both the offshore and inshore racing classes sailed between 0 and 3 races for the final, deciding day of the country’s largest keelboat regatta.
“These were some of the most challenging conditions we’ve seen ever at Race Week in Charleston, and it’s a credit to these race committee workers, the vast majority of them volunteers, that we got so many races in this week,” said Event Director Randy Draftz. “This event couldn’t be run without the nearly 300 volunteers that so generously donate their time, their energies, and their boats to this event, and we want to give all of them a special thanks for making Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week one of the best regattas anywhere.
One of the most competitive fleets in town, with America’s Cup sailors and World Champions on numerous of the boats was the Melges 20 fleet, and that competitiveness was certainly on display this morning for Race 9 of the series. Detroit racer Marc Hollerback scored the victory, while overnight leader Russ Lucas and his crew of Harry and Hans Melges on board Shimmer had one of their worst results of the event, an eighth place. Second place Layline Race Team finished just ahead of Lucas, while 2011 Charleston winner Michael Kiss got a second place in the race.
With the top four spots separated by just three points, the stage was set for an epic battle. Principal Race Officer Hank Stuart started the fleet, only to call them back for a general recall. Another start resulted in a recall, and as a line of rain clouds moved over the harbour, the breeze disappeared completely, leaving Shimmer with the class victory.
Layline skipper Travis Weisleder said the final race was a blast. “All of the leading boats were neck-and-neck the entire way around the track,” he said. This was Weisleder’s 10th Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week in 12 years, and he’s never enjoyed a second place so much. “If we had to lose, I’m sure glad we lost to a long-time friend and rival like Russ.” For his part, Weisleder guarantees he’ll be back in 2013, and will never miss another Charleston regatta again. “I’m convinced that this is, quite possibly, the best event in sailing.”
Another huge rivalry came down to the wire on Sunday in the J/24 class, where Travis Odenback led Mike Ingham until the final race of the week. Both teams are from Rochester, NY, and both skippers are preparing for the huge J/24 World Championship in Rochester later this summer. “We’ve been racing against each other for a decade, and we’ll probably be racing against each other for a decade more,” said Odenback, whose Honey Badger took second place by a 2-point deficit. “Going into the last race today we were down by a few points, and we got the start we needed,” explained Ingham. Odenback didn’t stand a chance. “Mike got ahead, and every tack, he slammed us back, just as he needed to,” he said. This is Ingham’s second consecutive victory at Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week, and he says he’ll be back to go for the hat trick. “Where else would I want to be in April?” he exclaimed.
Keith Ziegler brought his Ultimate 20 Dream Killer all the way from Michigan to compete here in Charleston. Ziegler was disappointed to see just five Ultimates on the starting line, though he said it was a tight battle for first, which he won by just one point over North Carolina’s BJ Jones. “Next year we don’t have a huge National Championship just a couple of weeks later in Pensacola, and I expect we’ll see a great fleet here in Charleston Harbor.”
Greg Fisher took the 15-boat J/22 class by nine points, earning the College of Charleston’s Sailing Director the Charleston Race Week Perpetual Trophy for top one-design performance. A huge cheer went out from the crowd for the adopted Charlestonian, who sailed with wife Jo-Ann, College of Charleston freshman and varsity sailor Allie Blumenthal and longtime crew Jeff Eiber. The regatta's other perpetual award, The Palmetto Cup, which is given to the top performing boat in the PHRF classes, was awarded to Bob Moran and his crew on board the J/111 Ragin' out of Herndon, Va. Moran and his talented crew competed in PHRF Class B, in which they also won class honors.
The J/80 class rounded out the J/Boat one designs, and Bill Rose on Kicks continued his dominant performance, clinching the victory with a race to spare. Brian Keane’s Massachusetts-based Savansana took second place.
In the 41-boat Viper 640 Class, Jason Carroll, John Baxter, and Chad Corning won overall honors aboard Argo, beating Ontario-based Brad Boston, Eric Vigrass, and Katie Abbot on Jackpot. Carroll and company also won the Atlantic Coast Championship with their victory. Boston had won every Charleston Viper event until this one, and he was visibly disappointed. “We didn’t start well, we didn’t sail the beats well, and the competition level in the Vipers has grown to the point where you just can’t do that and still win,” he said. “Argo sailed a great regatta and we didn’t, and that’s about the size of it.” For Argo tactician John Baxter, this was the first visit to Charleston since his college sailing days. “This town has really grown up, and I’ve been seriously impressed with the great destination it’s become,” said Baxter. Two boats tied for third place, with John Girling winning on a tiebreak over 24-year-old Sara Fox. More amazing than the tie was the fact that both Girling and Fox are newcomers to the fleet.
The Melges 24 fleet saw the conclusion to an epic battle between 2011 Charleston winner Kristen Lane on Brick House and 2010 winner Bora Gulari on New England Ropes/West Marine Rigging. These two boats are crewed by some of the world’s top professional racers, and Gulari said the pre-start in the finale was a fight to the death. “None of us are afraid to engage, and we both were buried deep at the start after some exciting maneuvering,” he said. Gulari credits his crew with the final-race performance that earned him a second place for the race and the overall victory. “With Brad Funk finding the pressure, Troll [Jeremy Wilmot] finding the lanes and shifts, and John [Casey] and Meredith [Nordhem] always getting the boathandling spot on, I honestly felt like we couldn’t lose.” Brick House tactician Charlie McKee was philosophical about his loss. “We gave it our all and we came up short,” he said.
Detroit sailor Paul Hulsey on Hoodlum Racing won the Corinthian trophy for the top non-professional Melges 24 team, finishing 9th overall in the class. Tactician Geoff Kimmel was satisfied with their result despite what he called "an intensely frustrating week". “The wind was very different from what we’re used to sailing when we race in Charleston, which is a tough enough race course even when everything is typical,” he said.
The local favorites aboard the J/120 Emocean were overjoyed at their victory in PHRF C. “We put the band back together and everything just fell into place,” said helmsman Will Hanckel. “Eight of the original 11 Emocean crew were with us this week, and their skill and our communication level aboard made things almost easy."
Mt. Pleasant sailor Joseph Hanna took the overall award for the Cruising Division, which raced a single, 26-mile course each day rather than the short courses raced by the rest of the fleets. “We loved the challenge and the pursuit starts, and I am convinced that there are dozens and dozens of cruising skippers that would love to sail next year’s event on this course,” said Hanna. “In fact, I just told Randy [Draftz, Event Chairman] a few minutes ago that when word gets out, this will become the fastest-growing fleet at the event. Bring ‘em on!”
As the men and women who set the courses for the fleets, the Principal Race Officers have possibly the toughest jobs of anyone at Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week, and this year saw a new PRO join the veteran race officers who have been running the regatta for years. It was Rochester-based International Race Officer Hank Stuart’s first visit to the Sailing Capital of the South. “It’s definitely not the easiest place to set a course, but I am absolutely blown away by this venue,”
Stuart said. “It has to be one of the world’s best racing locations.”