Dan Dickison, Media Manager

Five of Six Race Courses Abandoned due to Gale Force Conditions at 2013 Sperry Top-Sider® Charleston Race Week

Principal Race Officer Hank Stuart was optimistic about sneaking in one final race on Circle 3 this morning, especially with Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week serving as the Melges 24 US National Championship. “We got the anchor down in 15 knots of breeze, and it looked like a great day for some sailboat racing,” said Stuart. It didn’t take long for things to change, and by 10:30, gusts were in the low 30s. “You never want to cancel racing unless it’s dangerous out there, but when a big puff knocked me literally off my feet and onto my backside, it was time to make the call.” The rest of the inshore classes followed shortly thereafter.

Driven by sustained winds in the high 20s, steep waves – some over 10 feet – battered the outer jetties of Charleston Harbor as the offshore classes headed out for their final races. By 10:00 a.m., both Principal Race Officers offshore sent the fleets home; a decision unanimously lauded by the racers.

“I’ve got just one word to describe the conditions out there,” said local racer Jeff Irvine. “Insane.” Irvine and the crew of John Lucas and Marcus Durlach’s Charleston-based 1D35 Fearless said they came in to watch the small boats practicing after hearing of their cancellation. “We saw some seriously crazy action; Vipers flipping over, Melges and J/boats going every which way,” said Irvine. “I don’t think you’ll find one racer who thinks cancelling was the wrong move.”

Melges 32 US National Champion Hedgehog owned by Alec Cutler
Alec Cutler's team on Hedgehog took home top honors in the Melges 24 National Championship, besting Bora Gulari's 2012 winning New England Ropes/West Marine Rigging team by just three points. Hedgehog bowman Curtis Florence said it was really a terrific battle on the water against the much younger crew from Detroit. "We may be a bit longer in the tooth, but it was experience and a cohesive crew that helped us win the championship," the Canada-based Florence said. "Youth and bravery have their benefits, but we came out on top this time."

Despite the intensifying winds, it was just another day on the water for the competitors in the Pursuit Class, which sailed a fetch out the jetties and a big-air run back to Patriot’s Point for the finish. Roughly half the Pursuit competitors were able to hold it together in the gale-force winds outside the jetties, but even the ocean-crossing Class 40s faced real problems.

“It was almost really ugly for us out there,” said Dragon trimmer Rob Windsor. “We found ourselves being driven onto the South jetty when we had a sailhandling issue, and we had to engage the engine at the last minute, meaning we had to retire, but at least it was a safe end to the day.” Class 40 Icarus tore an important block out of the deck before even leaving the harbor, ending their day as well, while Joe Harris’s Gryphon Solo 2 reveled in the conditions, storming back into the harbor in a cloud of spray after rounding the sea buoy.

“Today was seriously challenging for everyone, but a great opportunity for those of us racing Class 40s to New York in the Atlantic Cup next month,” said Gryphon Solo 2 trimmer Hugh Piggin. “It was a shame to see Dragon and Icarus with some issues, but we all had a chance to test our heavy weather settings, and now, we’ll all be ready for whatever the Atlantic throws at us on May 11. Piggin says that Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week serves as a perfect lead-in event for that high-profile Class 40 race up the East Coast. “We expect to see quite a few more boats at this event next year – especially when they hear about the 20-plus-knot run we had down the harbor entrance today.”

Francisco Davila’s Soverel 36 Houzee won the non-spinnaker class, while Elliott Dodds Pearson Vanguard Indigo took the trophy for Pursuit Spinnaker class. As the day wore on, winds continued to build out of the East, the harbor’s surface almost entirely covered with whitecaps. Gusts surpassed 40 knots as the awards ceremony began, with bright sunny skies overhead.

With no racing on any other courses, winners were decided based on results posted after Saturday’s busy action, and the Charleston Race Week Perpetual Trophy for best overall performance in the most competitive one-design class went to Rochester’s Kris Werner in the J/24 Class. Unfortunately, Werner and his crew hit the road early to get a jump on the 18-hour drive home and weren't on hand to collect their hardware.

“I feel terrible that we didn’t stick around to hear it, but I’m absolutely thrilled to get the award,” he said over the phone. “To be honest, with all these high-profile sportboat fleets, we kind of felt like we were sailing the classic division, so it’s really gratifying to be recognized by the organizers.” This was Werner’s first-ever trip to Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week, and he says he owes the win to a crew that’s been together for 10 years along with a well-prepared boat.

Robin Team's J/122 crew Teamwork wins Palmetto Cup for best overall PHRF performance
“Our superb sail inventory and a group of guys that never give up is what gave us the edge; [fellow Rochester J/24 racer and two-time Charleston champ] Mike Ingham would have had us if my boys didn’t grind back from about 20th all the way to 6th in the final race.” Werner was keen to add that he thinks Charleston is on the cutting edge of sailboat racing in America. “Most sailors today want to go faster with less hassle and on a smaller budget, and in that sense, Charleston really is the showcase for where sailing is headed. It’s just a spectacular regatta from every angle,” Werner said.

In the overall awards, the Palmetto Cup, which is given to the top performing boat among the PHRF classes, went to Robin Team’s all-family program aboard his J/122 Teamwork (they also won PHRF Class A). This was the second time that Team and company have won the Palmetto Cup. If they get one more overall victory in this event, the Beaufort, NC based ensemble will tie Steven Stollman’s all-conquering C&C 115 Primal Scream as the winningest boat ever in Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week history. “We will be coming back here for a long time, and we’ll just see how it plays out,” Team said with a grin.

And special mention goes to local J/24 racer and Charleston Ocean Racing Association Commodore Mike Palazzo, who was the inaugural winner of the Jubilee Perpetual Sportsmanship Trophy for his actions on Friday. Palazzo and his Jo Mamma crew rescued a man overboard in that day’s breezy chaos, but he declined to ask the jury for redress for his crew's actions. In fact, the rescued sailor tried to seek redress on Palazzo’s behalf, but that’s not how Mike rolls. It’s yet another example of the kind of good-natured camaraderie and competition here at Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week.

Full results are available here, while photos, videos, and updates can be found at the event website and Facebook page. Congratulations to all the competitors and all the new champions. We hope to see you back in Charleston next year, when the event runs from April 10th-13th.