Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week 2014 - Perfection for Day 1
by Charleston Race Week on 12 Apr 2014
2014 Charleston Race Week - South Carolina’s shining sun and crystal clear skies welcomed nearly 300 teams to Charleston Harbor for the 19th edition of Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week today. With a moderate southerly wind allowing for three to four ideal races, Steve and Heidi Benjamin (Norwalk, CT) and their crew aboard the ultra-high-performance Carkeek 40 'Spookie,' used their light-air prowess to take three first-place finishes in the High Performance Rule Class. The competition in this group, which includes some of the fastest monohulls for their size ever built is fierce. But that appears to be a constant theme across the 16 classes that make up the regatta’s fleet.
Three of the top five skippers in the Melges 20 Class are in their early 20s the light quick sportboat seems to like a youthful touch. © Meredith Block http://www.blocksail.com/
On board 'Spookie,' navigator Bora Gulari of Detroit, Mich., gave credit to the braintrust in the back of the boat. 'We’ve got a great afterguard on the boat, and Heidi put the boat in good spots.' 'There’s never a minute to relax though – one bad maneuver and the rest of the fleet will pass you before you know what happened.'
The HPR Class tried something new for this year. The group’s final race of the day sent the boats around the conventional windward-leeward course, and then back ashore through the Charleston Harbor jetties, past Fort Sumter, and all the way to the finish line at Patriot’s Point. Gulari said this middle-distance addition was a welcome change. 'These boats sail so much faster than they can go under engine power, and it’s ten times more fun to race back to the harbor than it is to drive a motorboat back.'
Another grand prix raceboat – the brand new Farr 280 'Chessie Racing,' leads her PHRF B class by three points over perennial Charleston stalwart Gerry Taylor on the Cape Fear 38 'Tangent' – this despite the fact that the sparkling new 'Chessie' had never even touched the water before Wednesday. 'We’re working through a few teething issues, but we had an absolute blast on the water today,' said skipper Ian Gordon. 'This class had plenty of tight racing with similarly sized boats all finishing within a short space, and we definitely feel like we earned our results.'
The Pursuit Class, particularly those boats sailing in the non-spinnaker divisions may lack carbon fiber and other high-tech accoutrement, but the racers certainly don’t lack spirit. Sailing with a mostly family crew on board his Soverel 36 yawl 'Houzee,' Francisco Davilas looked like a sure thing for the wire-to-wire victory in today’s single race until fellow Charlestonian Scott Strother aboard Destiny chased him down just before the finish. Davilas, whose boat is likely the oldest one in the regatta (circa 1964), settled for second place, but you wouldn’t have known it from his smile at the finish line.
A highlight this year is the regatta’s first-ever Multihull Class, whose entrants provided a spectacle for the entire harbor, with the fastest of them – the Marine City, Mich.-based F-31R trimaran 'Cheekee,' scorching down the harbor to the finish at around 23 knots. Chicago-Mackinac Race Safety Director Ron White said it was a little dicey at that angle, but nothing his old boat couldn’t handle. 'This is the kind of flat-water, reaching stuff that these boats just eat up, and there’s only one problem I have with the racing today: There should be 50 more multihulls out here doing the same thing,' said White. 'This is about as good as it gets, from the downtown to the amazing welcome you get to the shoreside organization; if you have a multihull, you should be here.'
Charleston is a growing and vibrant city, and it’s fitting that Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week attracts dozens of young sailors to the race course; current and past College of Charleston sailors fill the fleet while teens and twenty-somethings from around the country crew and helm their way through the Race Week courses. Charleston is pleased to welcome the young adults of the US Coast Guard Academy’s sailing team to the Race Week starting line to the first time. The New London based school sent seven cadets to race two of the Academy’s new J/70s in Charleston’s big fleets, along with the sailing team’s offshore racing coach, Jack Neades. 'We’re currently transitioning to a fleet of J/70s for our students, and we thought Charleston would be the perfect event to test the waters and see how we’d go at this level of one-design racing.' Neades says sailing is great for his cadets’ training. 'They’re on the water, navigating boats, driving boats, paying attention to the wind, the currents, and the competition, and that’s going to make them better mariners,' he said.
No fleet has more young standouts than the Audi Melges 20 fleet, with three twenty-somethings in the top five skippers after four races. 24-year old Jason Michas from New York, NY leads the fleet by a 16 point gap, while 23-year-old College of Charleston racer Grace Lucas (Little Silver, NJl) sits in third place, just one point out of second. Rounding out the top five is another College of Charleston student, 20-year old Declan Whitmyer Jr, just a point behind Lucas. Lucas said she felt incredibly lucky to be competing in this event, and attributes her success to her crew. 'We’ve got a couple of great college sailors and ‘big daddy’ Sam Rogers on tactics, and they’re making it fun and fast out there,' said Lucas. 'It’s definitely going to be hard to go back to FJs and 420s after this week!'
Representatives from the regatta’s official weather source, Weatherflow, say that tomorrow, racers can expect more of the same; an expanding Atlantic high pressure system means more light to moderate southerlies, with the chance for another good sea breeze tomorrow afternoon. Monitor local conditions live and check out forecast tables here.
2014 Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week Preliminary Cumulative Results: