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Charleston Race Week at Charleston Yacht Club - Overall

by Bill Wagner 12 Apr 2021 16:50 BST 8-11 April 2020
The Melges 24 fleet beats upwind with the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge in the background on Sunday - 2021 Charleston Race Week © Willy Keyworth

It turns out you can safely and successfully conduct a grand prix sailboat racing regatta amidst a pandemic.

While major regattas around the world are still getting cancelled because of coronavirus, Charleston Race Week elected to press forward with its 25th anniversary celebration. It came one year late since the 2020 edition was cancelled due to the developing pandemic last April.

Mass vaccinations combined with a decrease in positive cases throughout most of the United States prompted longtime event director Randy Draftz to forge forward with a Charleston Race Week 2021.

Regatta management did so with an abundance of caution and numerous precautions were put into place to ensure the event was held in a safe and responsible manner. All participating sailors were encouraged to get tested before attending the regatta and that provision did lead to some positive tests that caused a few boats to pull out.

Even though Charleston Race Week has a well-earned reputation as a party regatta, organizers made the tough but wise decision to cancel all social activities. For this year, the focus was fully on producing top-notch racing, and on that front the regatta was a tremendous success.

Race committees on all four inside circles banged off two races in breezy conditions on Sunday to complete a busy series for all one-design fleets. Classes on Circle 1 (VX One), Circle 3 (J/88, J/105, ORC D) all reached 10 races, while those on Circle 2 (J/70, Melges 24) and Circle 4 (J/22, J/24, PHRF Inshore) finished with nine.

Offshore racing for the ORC A and B classes that sailed distance courses along with the PHRF (Spinnaker A and B, Non-Spinnaker) classes that did pursuit starts was also action-packed with all three days delivering solid conditions.

"We appreciate all the hospitality down here. The race committee did a fantastic job and the regatta seemed to work even with Covid. It was refreshing to be able to get out and compete," said John Leahy, skipper of the J/88 class winner Dutch.

Mount Pleasant resident Andy Guhl proved a popular winner of the Palmetto Cup, presented annually to winner of the closest class among handicap divisions. Guhl skippered Fogdog, a 1D35, to victory in ORC D by winning five races and placing second in three others.

Fogdog finished with 14 points, four fewer than runner-up Fearless - a Melges 32 co-owned by John Lucas and Marc Durlach. Interestingly, Guhl bought the 1D35 from Dr. Lucas, a Charleston resident, and they have become rivals on the local circuit.

"We had a great boat-to-boat battle with Fearless all three days and it was a lot of fun," Guhl said. "We sailed aggressively on Friday and Saturday but were a bit more conservative today. I give a lot of credit to my crew, which really worked hard and sailed well."

Guhl is a transplant from Baltimore who has immersed himself in the Charleston sailboat racing scene. He served as commodore of the Charleston Ocean Racing Association last year after four years as rear commodore.

Of course, Guhl understands the significance of the Palmetto Cup and was stunned to have won it. "I certainly didn't expect this, but I sure am honored. We're still digesting what just went down here," Guhl said. "We're very proud to represent Charleston area sailing and it's just awesome for a local boat to win this prestigious trophy."

Doug Clark pulled a sneak attack in coming from behind on the final day of racing to capture the VX One Class, which attracted 25 boats. The Mystic, Connecticut resident entered Sunday in fourth place, seven points behind leader Chris Alexander.

Clark steered Angry Baboon to second place in Race 9 then got the gun in Race 10 to vault over three boats and win the regatta. Clark and Alexander both finished with 35 points with the former winning the tiebreaker based off more first-place results.

"We knew it would be tough to move up with only two races today, plus the top teams have not been making many mistakes," Clark said. "I knew the points going into the last race, which was really important. I knew we needed to win in order to get the tiebreaker. We sailed well today, but I'd be lying if I said a little bit of luck didn't come into play."

This was the first Charleston Race Week for Clark, a longtime intercollegiate sailing coach who is normally in-season during the month of April. Now in his 16th season as head coach at Coast Guard Academy, Clark is a relative newcomer to the VX One class but served notice he was a top contender by winning the Sarasota Winter Series.

"We're on a little bit of a roll, which is cool," Clark said. "I had a great team for this regatta and they deserve all the credit."

Rod Favela, who has been racing the VX One since inception of the class, worked the middle. Emmi Triplett, a member of the College of Charleston intercollegiate sailing team, handled the bow.

Clark was already driving north when he heard from Triplett that Angry Baboon had earned the Charleston Race Week Cup as one-design Boat of the Week.

It was a heartbreaking turn of events for Alexander and crew on Counterproductive, runner-up in VX One for the third straight edition of Charleston Race week.

"We rounded the last windward mark in second behind Doug and went out to the right, which was really the only option. We got passed by two boats and it cost us the regatta," Alexander said. "It was a very skewed course, and at one point we had spinnakers being hoisted on an upwind leg. There were not a lot of passing lanes."

Travis Weisleder is a 1997 graduate of College of Charleston and a member of the intercollegiate dinghy team while there. He considers Charleston his home racing area and has only missed this regatta five times in the past 25 years.

Weisleder and his talented team on Lucky Dog led wire-to-wire in winning Melges 24 class, largest of the regatta with 33 boats. Veteran professional Mark Mendelblatt was aboard as tactician, while John Bowden trimmed the headsails and Collin Leon handled the bow.

Charleston Race Week is always one of the biggest events of the year for the class, and all the best U.S. boats were here this week. It was definitely a stacked fleet," Weisleder said. "I've had the same core group together for the last five years and we've spent a lot of time over the last few years getting our boat speed dialed in."

This was the fourth time Weisleder has topped Melges 24 class at Charleston Race Week. He praised the strategical work of Mendelblatt, who was conservative with his calls and made sure Lucky Dog reached the first windward mark in the top five.

"We were really fast upwind. That enables you to get out of bad spots pretty quickly," said Weisleder, a Richmond, Virginia resident who does marketing for car dealerships. "It all came together this week."

Bruno Pasquinelli vacationed in Charleston annually as a kid and has come to love sailing here as well. The Chicago native and now Dallas resident first came to Charleston Race Week in 2009 while racing a J/80. He's had many podium placements without a win at this regatta.

That drought is over after Pasquinelli skippered Stampede to an impressive victory in J/70 class, which drew 29 entries. Brothers Charlie and Jonathan McKee played a big part in lifting Pasquinelli over the top as Stampede finished third or better in seven of nine races.

Stampede posted 24 point, a whopping 16 better than Joel Ronning and the Catapult crew.

"It feels good to finally win in Charleston. I'm really happy to check that box," Pasquinelli said. "The crew work was absolutely tremendous. As an owner, it was amazing to see how it all came together."

The McKee brothers are multi-time Olympians and teamed to capture bronze medals at the 1988 (470 class) and 2000 Olympics (49er class) games. Joe Morris, who represented the U.S. in 49er class at the 2016 Olympics, worked the bow.

"It was fantastic to get the McKee brothers, who are sailing legends," Pasquinelli said. "We really have three tacticians aboard. It's interesting to listen to them help each other out. The flow of information among them was really impressive."

Leahey took the lead in J/88 with a strong Saturday on the water then held off Andy Graff and Exile to earn easily his most notable victory since joining the class three years ago. He credited the coaching of Quantum pro Chris Werner and weather support from Matt Gallagher along with near-flawless crew work.

"Today was tough. Exile was super-fast and made up some points. We had to get a bullet in the last race, and we got it done," said Leahey, who finished ninth in Race 9.

Leahey placed fifth in J/88 at Charleston Race Week 2019 and called the jump to first "a huge move." He felt Dutch had outstanding upwind speed and cited excellent communication among the crew as a key factor.

"Once we started figuring out the currents better, I felt like we just had another gear upwind," he said. "This fleet was so darn competitive with tight clusters at all the mark roundings. Almost all the boats were finishing at the same time."

New Yorker Kirk Reynolds led the 18-boat J/24 class after all three days of racing despite stiff competition from Aidan Glackin and the Mental Floss team. Reynolds started the regatta with eight consecutive results of third or better (posting three straight bullets at one point) to total 17 points. Mental Floss finished first or second in six of nine races and wound up just two points behind.

"Kirk did a fantastic job and did not need to use drop until second race today, which is pretty impressive," Glackin said. "Every time we thought we could pick up some points on Mental Floss, Kirk and his team kept coming back and passing boats. It was a really good battle, but they were just a bit more consistent."

Ken Horne pulled off a rarity in J/105 class, counting all first place finishes in winning going away. The League City, Texas resident did not need to sail Final Final in Race 10, using that DNS as a discard in netting nine points - 16 less than the runner-up boat.

"It's great to be back on the water racing in a major event. I think this regatta is going to be one of the biggest of 2021 and we were thrilled to be here to experience it," Horne said. "We couldn't have asked for better weather conditions, although the current was very challenging."

Horne became a Charleston Race Week winner for the first time in three attempts in the J/105. After struggling at the class Midwinter Championship, he made some rig and tuning changes that improved Final Final's boat speed.

Justin Damore was equally dominant in J/22 class, posting seven straight bullets between a fourth in the opening race and a second in the last. Four of the J/22 sloops were crewed by junior teams and the Mount Pleasant resident was pleased to assist with their development.

This marked the competitive sailing debut for Damore's partner Oanh Dang, who was floater aboard Yem. Bryan Jerman trimmed the headsails while his daughter Ashley did the bow. Damore received a complimentary entry into Charleston Race Week as a thank you for making a significant donation to Charleston Community Sailing. The former North Sails pro was doing this regatta for the first time since 2016.

Teamwork, the J/122 campaigned by Robin Team, was among many programs that did not compete at all in 2020. Fortunately, Team is blessed with a veteran crew that was sharp despite the long layoff and performed impressively as Teamwork took top honors in ORC B.

Bruce Bingman, principal race officer for Course 5, was creative in using a scoring gate to produce two results for each race for the Pursuit Division. Teamwork wound up winning five of the six scoring points to finish with a low score of six points - three ahead of the J/121 Loki (Robert Christoph).

"It was a really, really competitive fleet with a tight rating band and we thoroughly enjoyed battling it out with all the other boats," Team said. "We loved the format, and the fact Bruce Bingman gave us upwind, downwind and reaching legs. Some boats do better than others on certain points of sail, but with every race having a little bit of everything there was no advantage for anyone."

Racing for the Pursuit Division was outstanding on Sunday with south-southeasterly winds averaging around 15 knots and topping out at 20. It was a reach out to Marker 16, which the fleet rounded to port, a downwind run followed by a gybe and a 3 half-mile upwind beat to Marker 14. After completing the dogleg that featured two downwind jaunts, the fleet sailed back through the channel into the harbor for the finish.

"We got tremendous crew work, which is a credit to how long these guys have been together. We had not sailed for 20 months and picked up right where we left off," Team said. "It was great to be back on the boat and great to be back in Charleston."

Over on the Pursuit Division, Jon Desmond skippered Next to victory in Spinnaker A class with a score line of 2-1-1 in the lengthy distance races out into the Atlantic Ocean. Next has been sitting in the Caribbean ever since Desmond competed in the 2019 Heineken Regatta. It was shipped to Florida a month ago and the Massachusetts owner decided to enter Charleston Race Week after seeing the boat was in decent shape.

This was Desmond's third time at Charleston Race Week after winning the Sportboat class four years ago with the Roger Martin 36.

"Saturday was relatively light, and the boat is pretty fast in those conditions," he said. "I was real happy we did well today with the heavy air and waves. We were able to do a good job of shifting gears the whole regatta."

Most of Desmond's crew hails from the greater Boston area and they were excited to enjoy the warmth and sunshine of Charleston. "We had an absolute blast. It's an unbelievable venue and we love the city," he said. "It's always a treat coming to Charleston."

Complete results can be viewed here

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