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An interview with Brian Gleason on the 2022 Charlotte Harbor Regatta

by David Schmidt 1 Feb 08:00 PST February 4-6, 2022
Racecourse action at the Charlotte Harbor Regatta in the Hobie 16 class © Brian Gleason/Charlotte Harbor Regatta

Florida is home to many great winter regattas, but if you're a One Design sailor, odds are good that you've caught wind of the Charlotte Harbor Regatta, which will take place from February 4-6, 2022, on the waters off of Port Charlotte, on Florida's southwest coast. The event is being organized by Charlotte Harbor Regatta, Inc., with different events and activities taking place at the Port Charlotte Beach Park, the Charlotte Harbor Yacht Club, the Isles Yacht Club, and the Charlotte Harbor Community Sailing Center.

The event, which held its inaugural running in 2009, is currently open to Weta trimarans, F18s, F16s, Hobie 16s, A-Class Cats, 2.4mRs, and Harbor 20s.

I checked in with Brian Gleason, regatta director of the 2022 Charlotte Harbor Regatta, via email, to learn more about this exciting (and gloriously warm-water) One Design regatta.

Can you please tell us a bit about the Charlotte Harbor Regatta, its history and culture, and the kinds of teams and sailors that one can expect to find here?

The Charlotte Harbor Regatta began in 2009 as a cooperative effort between area sailing and boating clubs to promote sailboat racing on Charlotte Harbor.

In 2011, the organizing committee was asked to run the 2012 International Association for Disabled Sailing (IFDS) Worlds. We raised more than $75,000 in corporate, individual and government funding to build more than 300 feet of floating, low-freeboard docks with hand-crank lifts to accommodate disabled sailors.

The docks subsequently have been donated to the City of Punta Gorda, Charlotte County and the Charlotte Harbor Yacht Club, which operate and maintain five floating docks systems around the Peace River and Charlotte Harbor for boaters of all abilities.

Subsequently, we hosted the 2013 Laser Midwinters and the 2015 F18 America's Regatta.

2020 marked the tenth anniversary of the Charlotte Harbor Regatta.

The regatta [now] serves as a fund-raiser for local youth sailing clubs, raising more than $100,000 to fund grants for boats, equipment, scholarships, and more.

Over the years, the regatta has included 13 classes, including S2 7.9s, Sunfish, Lasers, Melges 24s, 2.4mRs, Flying Scots, Hobie 16s, Hobie Waves, F16s, F18s, N15s, Weta trimarans, [and] Harbor 20s.

The sailing level ranges from Olympic-level to local club-level sailors. As a result of the IFDS Worlds, CHYC [Charlotte Harbor Yacht Club] has hosted more than a dozen 2.4mR-class regattas featuring international Paralympic-level sailors. Many of those sailors also race in the Charlotte Harbor Regatta, held during the same time period.

We've had national champions compete in several classes and the F16/N15 class has been a training ground for young, future Olympians and Olympic hopefuls.

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter off of Port Charlotte in early February? What are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

Depending on cold fronts, the weather can range from mild, low-80s with 4-15-knot winds to mid-40s with 30+-knot winds.

Like all sailing venues, we also get occasional windless days, but fairly few over the years.

We've had both. The first regatta, we had 35-knot gusts that broke carbon-fiber masts on two Melges 24s. In the mid-2010s, we had a front come through that knocked a half-dozen F18s out of the regatta and caused a suspension of racing for three classes on another circle.

What's the reason that the regatta is only open to one- and two-person monohulls and multihulls and not to bigger One Design classes like Melges 20s, J/70s, Melges 24s, etc.?

The regatta is open to any One Design class by request, with the minimum of five boats. We tend to attract classes that travel conveniently or have local boat numbers to support a start. We've run as many as three circles with nine classes over three days.

Do you see local knowledge playing a big or small role in the regatta's outcome? Can you please explain?

Despite its name, the Charlotte Harbor Regatta is technically raced on a broad, tidal portion of the Peace River, just before it flows into Charlotte Harbor a mile or so to the west. Because of the tides, upwind and downwind legs can see dramatic changes in currents even during a race.

A deep channel runs through the courses, but the water level drops to a five or six feet in places closer to shore, where the tree-line can create dead spots at times depending on wind direction and the sea breeze fills in at different times of day and at variable strengths.

Knowing these local characteristics can mean all the difference, especially on light-wind days.

If you could offer one piece of advice to visiting (and local) sailors/teams, what would it be?

Come early, learn the idiosyncrasies of the harbor/river, and enjoy the laid-back lifestyle on the Southwest Florida coast.

Charlotte County is a small community with national hotel chains and wonderful AirBNB and VRBO hosts. Charlotte County has Gulf of Mexico beaches, miles of blueways trails and watersports rentals available for kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, and personal watercraft.

How many sailors/teams are you expecting this year? Do you have any sailors or teams that you are eyeing for podium finishes? What about any dark horses who you think could prove to be fast, once the starting guns begin sounding?

We expect 40-plus sailors in seven classes on two circles, but it could grow.

We get many returning sailors each year, so there are familiar faces in the winner's circle, including skippers Jeffrey Scholz and Christi van Heek in the Harbor 20 class, U.S. Paralympian Dee Smith in the 2.4mR class and Kenneth Hilk and Greg Thomas in the Hobie 16 class.

John O'Donnell, who owns W.D. Schock, manufacturer of the Harbor 20, finished fourth in 2020. He recently purchased a home in Charlotte County, joined the CHR board and is working to bring a Harbor 20 Nationals to Charlotte Harbor as soon as 2023.

Obviously organizing and running a big regatta amidst a still-churning pandemic isn't easy. Can you tell us about the biggest logistical and organizational hurdles that you've had to clear to make this happen?

The major challenges we've encountered during the pandemic have been low registration numbers and dwindling race committee volunteers. We canceled the 2021 regatta due to these factors and they remain challenges as we gear up for the 2022 Charlotte Harbor Regatta.

We're taking all necessary precautions, including reducing the number of social events to a Saturday dinner and Sunday outdoor barbecue awards luncheon.

Is there anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

Charlotte Harbor Regatta would like to thank Charlotte County, which is a co-sponsor of the regatta, for its support of sailboat racing on Charlotte Harbor. The county recently built a $750,000 sailing center at Port Charlotte Beach Park, the site of the regatta desk, multihull launch site and social events. The center is leased to the Charlotte Harbor Community Sailing Center, whose president, [a] former Sunfish national champion and winner of the U.S. Sailing 2018 Community Sailing Award, is a founding director of CHR and a competitive racer in the 2.4mR class, of which he is past-president.

I'd like to thank additional sponsors including W.D. Schock, manufacturer of the Harbor 20, and the Punta Gorda/Englewood Visitor and Convention Bureau and the dozens of volunteers who form the backbone of the race committee and spend much of the rest of the year sailing in local club races to keep sailboat racing alive year-round on Charlotte Harbor.

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