For PHRF racers and a cadre of one-design keelboat enthusiasts, Charleston Race Weeknow six years oldis the apex event along the Carolina coast. Just a toddler among established regattas elsewhere, this annual affair has nonetheless begun to resonate for sailors in the surrounding region, attracting a contingent of racers from Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina to compete against the usual suspects from around the Carolina Lowcountry. Joining them this year were competitors hailing from as far away as Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, and California, which prompted a nice uptick in the statisticsa 20-percent increase in out-of-town participation over the previous year.
What this meant was that more sailors would be analyzing their way through the harbor's uniquely puzzling labyrinth of tides where the confluence of the Ashley and the Cooper Rivers create a superb venue for short-course sailboat racingsuperb, that is, if you don't mind tricky tidal currents, migrating mudbanks, and a preponderance of commercial shipping traffic. In many ways, Charleston Harbor is the East Coast equivalent of San Francisco Bay, without the tall buildings, the consistent sea breeze, and, well, the rolling hills and a number of things.
Joining the J/105s as one-design groups at Charleston Race Week (a relatively new phenomenon at this event) was an 11-strong Melges 24 crowd, a half dozen J/24s and five S2 7.9s. Despite that congregation, PHRF boats continue to remain the focus of this regatta, which is staged by Charleston Ocean Racing Association (CORA), and the marquee class among those boats was a mixed bag of 14 entries where the ratings ranged from a negative 3 for Terry Smith's J/125 Rain Cloud to the a 123 for Brian Swan's J/27 Bazooka. In that group, Jack Vine's Antrim 27 Rasta Dog out of Winter Garden, FL, stole the show the first day by logging a bullet in the first race and a third in the following contest. It was sweet redemption for a team that made the trip to the Holy City last year only to lose a rig amid blasting breeze.
Day Two came at the competitors with quirky westerly breeze streaming down the Ashley River in fits and starts. That day's first contest sent the competitors upwind with the flood tide and local knowledge paid big dividends. Bob Johnstone's team aboard the J/105 Tern V eked out a small margin on the first beat and held on for six laps in the single-digit winds until the committee saw fit to shorten course as the wind began to back quickly to the south. Among the S-2 contingent it was great race for Linton Lewis's Cloud Nine as that crew grabbed a close victory over Terry Rainey's Spirit 2. Meanwhile, Tom Black's Pearson 33-2 Bold Venture was having a strong regatta among the main-and-jib classes. Her crew had logged a 1-2 the day before and added another bullet to lead the regatta by five points over their nearest rival.
The fourth race of the series, and the final contest of that day, was staged in a 12-knot southerly that sped over the water from nearby James Island, putting a premium on shifting gears near the upwind mark where the wind regularly changed angles and velocities. Success in this contest also required proper negotiation of the strengthening ebb tide and staying in breeze as well-defined puffs and lulls strayed down the course. Among the closely matched leaders in the Melges 24 class, it was time for Routt Reingarts' Suzanne to lead the hunt, and her crew managed to find sufficient jets to get around the four-lap course with enough of a lead to secure the win. It was also a good end of the day for Rick Moore's J/30 J-Moose. The Mooseketeers made it look easy grabbing their lone win of the regatta by finishing two seconds ahead of Henry McCreay's sister ship Samson.
On the final day, the wind swung out of the east-northeast with a vengeancethe competitors congregated out on the water for the finale in winds upwards of 20 knots and a strong flood tide. For John Porter's Savannah, GA-based Melges 24 team aboard Roo, it was time for redemption. The crew had launched out of the gates, logging two wins on Day One and then faltered, posting finishes of 7 and 10 on the middle day. But the heavy air was their element, and they blasted around the three-lap course to finish more than a full minute ahead of the next Melges, securing a lock on second place overall. Rick Peper and his crew aboard Spank Me Again won the regatta despite scoring a sixth in the final race when they lost and then retrieved a man overboard.
Browder agreed that local knowledge was an important factor, but said: "The way the courses were set up, the tides really weren't that much of a factor all together because everybody had to face the same conditions. What gained us places was good tactics and boat handling."
Except for the final awards party, Race Week was all over. The racers put away their steeds and those who had fared well celebrated by hoisting a few libations, courtesy of newfound sponsor Mount Gay Rum. And those who didn't come out on top found plenty of solace at the bar as well. Consolation for Eddie Evans, who finished last aboard his Beneteau 381 Naut-on-Call in the non-spinnaker fleet, came in the form of a free trip for two to Paris, France courtesy of presenting sponsor Beneteau USA. Not bad for three days spent out of the office. (For full scores, log on to the CORA website at www.sailnet.com/cora.)
The Reconnaissance Game
Racing sailors active in coastal regions have a slight advantage over those who sail inland when it come to understanding tidal currents and their effects on the racecourse. And sailors who compete in areas where there's greater current usually have a slightly better handle on such phenomenon than those who sail where the tidal range isn't quite as great. In Charleston Harbor, tidal currents can exceed three knots, regularly shifting the silty river bottom to create a mutable venue that is often tricky and always challenging.
So what's traveling competitor to do? Conventional wisdom dictates that you gather as much information you can on the venue and its peculiarities in advance of racing, and get this information from as many sources as possible to average out the error. Remember, everyone's got a theory, but much of what you collect can be drivelwell-intended, but drivel just the same. Usually the best sources for information regarding current behavior are the people who work on the waterharbor pilots, fishermen, and commercial captains. Even recreational fishermen can be good sources of information if they're regulars in the given area. And don't overlook the sailors who call the region home, it's likely that the most senior of them have had a chance to observe the area's tidal activity over a long period of time.
Of course you can buy published tidal charts and check on-line sources, but this information is rarely as accurate as actual on-site observation. Come race day, rely on your own observations by getting out on the water early and spending some time sailing where the course will be set. After you judge what the current is doing you can factor thatalong with all the other information you gathered beforehandinto your game plan for the race.
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