2014 Charleston Race Week - As promised, the conditions were very challenging and downright random at times on day one of Sperry Top-sider Charleston Race Week. With a developing southeast seabreeze fighting a soft southwest gradient wind, the edges of the course paid off handsomely as large left and right lines of pressure descended on the course. Posting his most consistent day in quite some time, veteran Audi Melges 20 owner Daniel Theilman on Kuai summed up the racing, 'Today was the best racing conditions we have had in a while. We had our rig really well tuned, vang sheeted harder than we ever have and kept making changes for the conditions. We tried our best to win our side, and always be positioned well for the next line of pressure.'
The first race saw a six - eight knot southwest breeze with a strong ebb tide, making it seem the fleet was sailing on a treadmill going upwind. Conversations on boats centered around trying to find current relief on the right side under Castle Pickney, a narrow sand-spit island, or ignore the current and play the left side in anticipation of a forecasted seabreeze from the southeast. Up the first beat, the left shift beat out the current relief, and it was Grace Lucas on Bombardo and her team that started at the pin, extended left and took advantage of nice shift along with Jason Michas' Midnight Blue and Theilman who led around the mark. Lucas managed to snipe the race win, putting her local knowledge from the College of Charleston to good use.
As the southeast seabreeze built, the course was shifted left to 190 for Race Two with a slack current. Despite the starting line being moved it had a strong boat-end bias, resulting in several general recalls, while Z Flag penalties were handed out to a few disappointed teams. Big shifts on the left and right sides continued to rumble down the course, and what would turn out to be a theme of the day, Michas and his team of Mark Mendelblatt and Trevor Moore found their groove on the right side, grabbed the lead and never looked back. John Brown on Blind Squirrel and Declan Whitmyer on Slingshot followed closely in suit.
As many teams found out, once you thought you had a handle on what the breeze was doing, it was time for another assessment. Race Three saw the current now flooding back into the harbor moving left to right across the course, and again it was a battle of which side would be the last shift into the mark with huge angle changes on both sides. Russ Lucas on Shimmer found his form, and with calling Hans Melges off the bench to come sail this event, the Shimmer beef was hauling the mail as the breeze increased with gusts up to 15 knots. Brown and Whitmeyer again posted nice keeper results finishing again in second and third.
By the time the fourth and final race of the day got underway, most teams had experienced some sort of pain and confusion with what the wind was doing, with the exception Michas who continued his steady streak of top five finishes. With a nicely settled seabreeze, the left was more favored, and Travis Weisleder on Lucky Dog/Gill Race Team had a solid leeward end start, was patient on the left side and stepped into a leftie to get him in first around the top mark. Richard Davies and his Section 16 team got left the hardest on the second upwind beat and were able to steal the race win, followed by Weisleder and Michas.
After four exciting, streetball type races, Michas never finished out of the top four, and has a commanding lead over the fleet heading into day two. With a similar direction but lighter breeze forecasted tomorrow, it will be interesting to see if the teams who found their way on day one, can have a repeat performance on day two.