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Multiple defending champions highlight 2022 Charleston Race Week

by Bill Wagner 29 Apr 2022 04:59 BST April 28 - May 1, 2022
2022 Charleston Race Week © Priscilla Parker

There was a whirlwind of activity on the docks of Charleston Harbor Marina and Resort on Thursday morning. Some crew members were hauling sail bags while others were busily rigging sailboats. Race committee members were carrying flags and pulling dock carts filled with buoys. Across the Cooper River, smaller boats such as the Melges 24 and VX One were being launched in assembly line fashion.

The 2022 Charleston Race Week (CRW) got under way Thursday with most competitors getting out on the water for tune-up and testing. Organizers conducted an abbreviated practice session that featured multiple starts to give teams an opportunity to shake off the rust.

A typically large fleet of boats in 13 classes is all set for racing, being held Friday through Sunday on six different racing circles. Click here for entry list.

J/70 Class - Some of the world's finest professionals are participating in the highly competitive J/70 class, largest of the regatta. Texas skipper Bruno Pasquinelli will attempt to defend his title here in Charleston, having topped a loaded 29-boat fleet in 2021. The Forh Worth resident has Morgan Reeser aboard as tactician and Max Skelley as lead trimmer aboard Stampede.

Brian Keane and his team aboard Savasana recently captured the J/70 Winter Series title held out of Davis Island Yacht Club in Florida. Bill Hardesty will be calling tactics for Keane, who resides in Weston, Massachusetts.

"Charleston is one of the most unique venues we sail in all season. Charleston Harbor's combination of shifty winds and tricky current make it very challenging," Keane said. "We have a lot of boats racing in a relatively confined space, so course management is always crucial."

Keane was pleased with the speed Savasana showed during the Winter Series, but knows things change quickly in this talent-laden class with veteran teams such as Catapult (Joel Ronning), Dark Energy (Laura Grondin), Very Odd (David Jannetti) and Surge (Ryan McKillen) to name a few.

America's Cup veteran Terry Hutchinson has even entered the fray, skippering his own team in the J/70 class. The American Magic Skipper/President of Sailing Operations and two-time Rolex Yachtsman of the Year has been sailing in the one-design class off and on for a few years now.

Melges 24 and VX One Classes - There are returning champions for two other high-profile classes - Travis Weisleder in Melges 24 and Doug Clark in VX One.

Weisleder won three races and finished second or third in most and fourth others posting an impressive victory in a 33-boat fleet at the 2021 Charleston Race Week. The Richmond, Virginia resident will once again have Mark Mendelblatt and John Bowden aboard Lucky Dog as tactician and trimmer.

Harry Melges, the 2021 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year, figures to provide stiff competition as the Melges 24 class prepares for its 2022 World Championship next month in Fort Lauderdale, F.L.

Clark nipped rival Christopher Alexander by tiebreaker last year in Charleston, winning the 10th and final race to determine the outcome. Both are back to do battle again this spring in VX One class, which is the second largest of the regatta.

Michelle Warner and her Tudo Bem team took third last year after winning VX One class at Charleston Race Week in 2019. Other top contenders figure to be SDR (Jack Jorgenson), Magic Bus (Jerry Callahan), Another Bad Idea (Mark Liebel) and Blue Lobster (Iam Maccini), among others.

"I think the fleet is going to be even more competitive this year. This class just continues to get deeper and tougher with all sorts of talented sailors coming in, which is exciting," said Clark, who has been Director of Sailing at the Coast Guard Academy for 17 years.

Clark bought a new boat over the winter and said he still hasn't figured it out. He will also be without a key crew member from last year as Rod Favela is skippering his own entry (Angry Baboon).

J/88 Class - The J/88 has attracted a strong fleet of 13 boats, an increase from a year ago. John and Jordan Leahey, Denver, C.O. residents and Chicago Yacht Club members, will try to repeat as class champs. They will have to fend off 2021 runner-up Exile (Andy Graff) and third place finisher Albondigas (Justin Scagnelli and Tim Price). Of course, class veterans such as Iris Vogel (Deviation) and Spaceman Spiff (Rob Ruhlman) can never be counted out.

"This class is great because it's as informal as it is formal," said Scagnelli, who crewed for Vogel on Deviation before buying his own J/88. "There are a lot of competitive boats, and every regatta is anyone's to win. It comes down to the boat that makes the least mistakes. Racing is so close that if you mess up a sail change at a mark rounding three boats go by you."

Mike Beasley is a four-time class winner at Charleston Race Week and two-time recipient of the prestigious Palmetto Trophy. However, the Annapolis professional does not consider his GP 26 Rattle n Rum the boat to beat in ORC D, which also consists of seven sport boats.

Kevin McNeil, who has enjoyed tremendous success at grand prix regattas aboard his Farr 30 Seabiscuit, is a top contender. The former Annapolis Yacht Club commodore has North Sails professional Jonathan Bartlett calling tactics.

"Kevin is a seasoned skipper with a very strong team, so I would install him as the favorite," said Beasley, who is not resting on his past laurels. "You come into each regatta with a clean slate, and we know there's a lot of work to be done to achieve our goals. We're excited to take on the challenge of a very competitive ORC class," he said. "We're confident, but certainly not cocky."

RS21 Class - RS21 racing returns to Charleston after taking last year off and there is a solid 10-boat fleet featuring former Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year Cory Sertl as skipper of an entry.

69F Class - New to Charleston Race Week is the exciting 69F foiling monohull that is capable of reaching speeds of 35 knots. Alex Sastre, CEO of 69F American, said a fleet of four identical boats plans to complete six races each afternoon utilizing Circle 5 on Charleston Harbor. Each race lasts 10 to 15 minutes reaching starts and single laps around a square course and should provide thrilling viewing for spectators.

As always, the College of Charleston intercollegiate and offshore sailing teams will be well represented. Two entries are crewed entirely by Cougars with senior Emily Potter skippering the J/36 Soul in Pursuit Spinnaker A class and classmate Cade Morris skippering the Melges 30 Cougar in ORC D.

College of Charleston Sailing Team Assistant Coach, and Rolex Yachtsman of the Year nominee Connor Blouin, is among his many team members sprinkled around the regatta as crew. Director of Sailing Kevin Jewett noted that numerous alumni have also come back to compete in the iconic regatta.

Dr. Willy Schwenzfeier continues his streak as the only sailor to compete in all 26 editions of Charleston Race Week. The 76-year-old Charleston resident will once again skipper Arrow, a J/35 entered in Pursuit Spinnaker A.

"We've had the same crew forever and it's like a family affair whenever we do this regatta," said Schwenzfeier, who has captured class honors numerous times and finished on the podium more times than he can count.

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