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Sperry Charleston Race Week - Day 1

by Dan Dickison 22 Apr 2017 08:06 BST 20-23 April 2017
More than 70 boats comprise the J/70 fleet on day 1 at Charleston Race Week © Charleston Race Week / Meredith Block

It was a tale of two mornings for the more than 200 boats taking to the water today for the opening day of 2017 Sperry Charleston Race Week. Over 150 inshore boats on four circles inside Charleston's world-famous harbour faced hot temperatures, flat water, and sedate wind of 4-6 knots on their first race.

In the meantime, the 46 offshore and Pursuit class boats were battling steep, short seas of 3-5 feet offshore in a solid 12-16 knots of Southerly wind – perfect sailing conditions for the larger boats sailing outside the shelter of Charleston's breakwater.

Charlestonian Eddie Evans, who has been a competitor at Race Week since its inception more than 20 years ago, was pleased with his team's third-place finish in today's breeze and lump, explaining that his Beneteau 381 Naut-on-Call "doesn't have the waterline to stay with those bigger boats in these conditions."

Evans explained that his team needed to stay in the hunt until conditions suited them better if the are to have a shot to win. "I always tell my crew, you can't win a regatta in one day, but you can definitely lose one that way." Evans described the Pursuit course today as a fetch, a run, a beat and then a long fetch in to the finish. "We knew the wind was going to turn, but it happened so suddenly, it swung from 240 to 210 in less than an hour, building so quickly we actually finished our race by 1:00 p.m.!" Evans thinks his team is one of the most competitive he's been part of at Race Week. "I've never won my class at this event, so maybe this might be the year," he said.

While the breeze stayed strong offshore, inshore's light morning gave way to a far more typical afternoon southeasterly, providing a great challenge to the one-design fleets and handicap racers. Continuing its reputation as one of America's most innovative regattas, Sperry Charleston Race Week is the first regatta in the USA to adopt widespread use of the international ORC rating system. Four classes of 27 teams are competing in three course areas, divided by size, speed and boat type, and results have been close from the go.

Proof of this may be found in ORC Class A, where the fastest and slowest-rated boats are tied on overall points after three races, proving the rule's versatility. Tony Langley's TP52 Gladiator made its debut at Race Week loaded with talent, strength, and experience with his pro-and-family program, yet its Robin Team's family-and-friends team on his J/122 Teamwork whose consistent runner-up scores keeps them tied on 6 points each.

"Our crew has been sailing together for a long time, and we always enjoy racing real Charleston days like today," said Team, a perennial champion at Race Week and the only four-time holder of the Palmetto Cup Trophy for the best overall performance at the event among boats racing under handicap rules. "ORC seems to be working well, but beating Gladiator will be tough, and the other guys are getting better every race too."

Chuck O'Malley, tactician on multiple Race Week winner Gerry Taylor's Cape Fear 38 Tangent, said despite his team's optimization for PHRF, they too felt the ratings were fair, and they lead ORC Class B by three points. "The time allowances seem about right. I think our advantage today was because we're able to go through the chop a little better relative to our competitors – we're just a little heavier and longer to get through the waves."

And inshore on Circle 3, Eagles Wings bowman Tim Fitzgerald says racing in the ORC C Class is spectacular. "These boats are all fast and all powerful, and the courses are so short that you really need to be on your 'A' game all the time," said Fitzgerald, a local kiteboarder. "The ratings don't even really matter, which is a good sign that it's working – if you sail well, you do well."

You don't have to plan years in advance to sail Charleston's premier sailing event, either, as University of South Carolina student Ryan Smoker found out after hooking up a ride via the online Race Week crew bulletin board. He found himself racing with Dan Berezin's Ontario-based team on board the appropriately-named Melges 24 Surprise. "The first race was a little rough with light air and tough shifts, but we were just getting used to each other and our positions. The boat and guys I'm racing with are from Canada so they haven't sailed this year, but as the races progressed and the breeze picked up, we got better pretty quickly."

Smoker says he's enjoying sailing here. "It's a lot different than sailing where I'm used to on Lake Murray. There, we are constantly chasing the wind, but here it appears to be a lot more consistent and steady. And fortunately, today we weren't overly influenced by the current."

Hank Stuart, Race Week's overall Principal Race Officer, seemed pleased after today's racing. "I think we're making a fairly seamless transition to the use of ORC at the event this year," he said. "The only tricky part is that we have ORC boats on three different race courses. Usually you just need one ORC scorer, but that dynamic made it somewhat more challenging. Fortunately, we had Dobbs Davis here on site, the ORC rep for the U.S., and he successfully steered us through some challenges today. He also provided a very helpful training earlier this week."

Stuart was also bullish on the addition of a fourth inshore racecourse. "It's turned out to be a really good addition to the event. It will enable us to accommodate additional classes in the future and it's allowing us to spread out the current classes so that everyone gets in more races."

Stories abound throughout the fleets during Sperry Charleston Race Week, which runs through Sunday, April 23. Nearly 220 boats have registered to compete. Follow the event on its website and on its social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube).

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