By Bill Wagner
Consistent breeze that ranged from light to medium to heavy? Check. Close competition and exciting racing across the broad spectrum of classes? Check. High-quality race committee work? Check.
Factor in three days of beautiful, warm, sunny weather and the 2022 Charleston Race Week demonstrated why sailors come back year after year. Kevin McNeil, Farr 30 Seabiscuit skipper, was a newcomer to this iconic event and came away impressed. “I thought it was a great regatta. The race committee work was outstanding, everyone was very welcoming, and the weather couldn’t be any more beautiful,” said McNeil. “It truly was champagne sailing.”
J/70 Class – Texas skipper Bruno Pasquinelli repeated as champion of the J/70 Class despite racing with a completely different crew than last year. Morgan Reeser served as tactician aboard Stampede, which won two races and finished fifth or better in five others, totaling 42 points – 14 better than runner-up Yonder (Doug Newhouse). Matt Woodworth (trimmer) and Max Skelley (bow) also crewed for Pasquinelli, who won the J/70 Class a year ago with brothers Charlie and Jonathan McKee.
“I’m very proud to be able to defend the title,” said Pasquinelli, who competed at Charleston Race Week ten times before capturing his first regatta win. “It was super-difficult out there.” Pasquinelli had high praise for Reeser, a veteran pro who was able to sort out the shifty wind patterns and strong current. “Morgan was on fire this week, which was critical because this was a highly tactical regatta. He consistently put the boat in a good position.”
Winning here is special to Pasquinelli, who has relatives in Charleston and has been visiting the southern port city since he was a young boy. He got off to a tough start, absorbing a 29th in Race 1 that he could not wait to throw out.
Yonder, which had Australian professional Jeremy Wilmot as tactician, trailed by 10 points entering the final day and could not close the gap thanks to results of 11th and seventh. Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year nominee Laura Grondin posted a first and third on Sunday to move into third place in the 49-boat fleet – largest of the regatta. “You’ve really accomplished something when you win a major regatta in this class because there are so many talented boats,” Pasquinelli said.
VX One Class – Relief was the prevailing feeling for Chris Alexander after he finally got over the hump in the VX One Class, the second largest of the regatta with 37 entries. The eight-year class veteran held the lead entering the last day of Charleston Race Week in 2018, 2019 and 2021 and finished as the runner-up all three years.
Having set himself up in the same position again this year, the Mississippi resident vowed to finish this time. Alexander did just that by winning Race 9 and placing second in Race 10. “It’s definitely a bit of redemption after being runner-up three times in a row,” Alexander said. “It feels good to finally get it done and I’m pleased that we did so convincingly and cleanly.”
Madeline Gill trimmed the main, Ricky Welch trimmed the jib with both providing tactical advice aboard Counterproductive, which won three races and placed second in two others in totaling 29 points. “Starting on the correct side of the line and getting clean air were crucial because our upwind speed was outstanding. We were probably the fastest boat in the fleet going upwind,” said Alexander.
Melges 24 Class – Skipper Travis Weisleder led from start to finish to earn a three-peat in the Melges 24 class. Mark Mendelblatt returned as tactician aboard Lucky Dog, which won 8 of 10 races, posting just 11 points – a whopping 23 less than runner-up SUNNYVALE (Fraser McMillan). John Bowden, who has been racing with Weisleder for more than a decade, trimmed the headsails.
“We did a good job of staying patient. That south to southwest breeze was super-shifty with lots of holes,” Weisleder said. “Sometimes, you had to take your lumps and wait for the right opportunities.” Weisleder attended the College of Charleston and believes his experience racing on the harbor has paid dividends at Charleston Race Week, which he considers a “home regatta.” “We know how to sail the boat well in this venue, which is so unique. I think understanding the different tide changes and back eddies and recognizing what the current does to laylines is critical.”
Lucky Dog used the regatta as a tune-up for the Melges 24 Worlds, held May 7-15 in Fort Lauderdale, FL. “We feel pretty good about our boat speed and handling. We have a strong team and hopefully we can contend next week,” Weisleder said.
J/105 Class – Rob Marsh got the gang back together again and the results were simply spectacular. The Maryland resident, who had not participated in competitive sailboat racing in 13 years, bought a J/105 back in December and convinced five childhood friends to compete at Charleston Race Week. “We sailed the boat for the first time just last weekend,” Marsh said. “We used this regatta as an excuse to spend time together and party.”
Marsh and his team aboard Blowboat!! did much more than that, winning two races and placing second in three others en route to capturing the J/105 title in a close battle with Skimmer. Marsh’s crew, consisting of men aged 62 to 68 who grew up sailing out of North Shrewsbury Ice and Boat Club in Red Bank, NJ, counted no result lower than fifth in the nine-boat fleet. “It was a fantastic regatta with great organization, great racing, great people and great weather,” said Marsh, who owns a boat dealership and storage facility on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Skipper Mike Martschink and his Carolina Yacht Club crew on Skimmer took second by tiebreaker over Dead on Arrival, owned by Joe Highsmith.
The J/105 Class was deemed the most competitive one-design class at the 2022 Charleston Race Week, and Blowboat!! received the Charleston Race Week Cup. Marsh was somewhat surprised by Blowboat!!’s success considering he had a crew of five, while every other boat in the fleet had seven. “Honestly, it came down to making fewer mistakes than the competition. We sailed fairly smart and consistent,” he said.
J/88 Class – Dutch held the lead at the end of all three days of racing to win the J/88 Class, then dedicated the victory to boat owner John Leahey, who had to pull out of the regatta at the last minute. Minus its skipper and helmsman, the Chicago Yacht Club entry had to shuffle the crew. Will Holz took over as driver, while Matt Clark and Charlie Gallagher combined to call tactics. It’s a crew that has been together a long time and did not miss a beat without its leader. “This victory is definitely for John and his father,” Holz said. “John has been cheering and coaching from afar, calling every day to give pointers and advice.”
Dutch actually dropped to third – one point behind Exile and Deviation – after finishing seventh in the first race Sunday. “We suddenly found ourselves behind for the first time but knew if we won the last race we would get the tiebreaker,” Holz said. “The team’s performance was phenomenal throughout the regatta, and everyone really came through in that last race.” Holz felt the key to victory was coming off the start line clean in eight of ten races, which enabled Dutch to find clear lanes and clear air. “We were very confident in our boat speed, especially upwind,” he said.
J/24 Class – Skipper Marcus Rogers and his crew aboard Wind Monkey won six of the nine races they sailed on the way to an impressive victory in the J/24 Class, which attracted 10 boats. Carter White steered while Evan Headley-Jones called tactics for Rogers, who got the gun in Race 9 to clinch the series. Chris Lombard (trimmer) and Molly White (foredeck) completed the crew aboard Wind Monkey, which finished six points ahead of Ice Cube (Michael Quaid).
“It’s an honor and a privilege to win Charleston Race Week, especially in tough conditions like this. It was hard-fought racing and a heck a lot of fun,” Rogers said. “Our consistency was tremendous. It was easy to post a big number in this regatta, but we sailed conservatively, grinded away and always stayed in the game.”
RS21 Class – Ryan Walsh and his crew from New Bedford Yacht Club had a dominant showing in the RS 21 class, winning six races and placing second in the other four, totaling 13 points. That was 11 fewer than the runner-up entry, skippered by Adam Korbin of Vancouver, BC. Ike Babbitt trimmed the main and called tactics, while Joey Mello handled the headsails for Walsh, one of eight skippers that chartered entries in the 10-boat fleet. “We weren’t the quickest boat out there, but we did a great job of changing gears during the transitions,” Walsh said. “We found a way to gain a half a boat length here and there.”
J/22 Class – Skipper Will Rucker and his crew from South Carolina Yacht Club got the gun in six races and finished second in two others to top the J/22 Class. Rucker’s worst result was a third and he totaled 13 points, beating Clemson 1 by two points. Nilah Miller skippered Clemson, which counted all first and second place results.
ORC D Class – Skipper Kevin McNeil was in a good mood after capturing ORC D class in convincing fashion. The Annapolis resident steered his Farr 30 Seabiscuit to victory in nine straight races then headed into port before the final start of the series.
Veteran professional Jonathan Bartlett called tactics aboard Seabiscuit, which was third-fastest boat in the class behind a pair of Melges 32s. Matt Beck trimmed the main, while Rich Bowen and Teddy Haaland teamed to trim the headsails. Seth Minninger handled the foredeck, while his wife Ginny Minninger worked the pit aboard the Farr 30, which sailed a lot less mileage than the other seven boats in the class by virtue of its ability to go straight upwind and downwind. “We had a great group of people on the boat. Everyone did their job very well and kept the boat going,” McNeil said. “We had a crackerjack crew and a well prepared boat with quality sails that was tuned right. It was just one of those magical weekends.”
PHRF Inshore Class – Skipper Toby Hemmerling posted bullets in seven races and placed second in two others to lead Whiskey & Knives to victory on the PHRF Inshore course. Paul Doucette called tactics aboard the Sparkman & Stephens 30-footer, which beat the Express 27 Eagle One by five points. “It’s an amazing feeling to win this great regatta,” said Hemmerling, who has competed in Charleston Race Week ten times since 2006. “Teamwork is the first thing that comes to mind. We had great communication on the boat and worked really well together. We had our fair share of hiccups, but always did a good job of recovering.”
Eagle One, skippered by Tim LaRiverie, was scratch boat in the fleet and owed Whiskey & Knives nine seconds per mile. “Our game plan was to stick closely with Eagle One unless there was a compelling reason to separate,” Hemmerling said.
Offshore Courses – Mike Glover bought an XP 38 in December and debuted the racer-cruiser at the 2022 Charleston Race Week. He brought in a crew of small-boat sailors from Lake Lanier Sailing Club and the results were fantastic. Glover steered Spectre to victory in the Performance Pursuit Class, which did one distance race per day out in the Atlantic Ocean. Spectre placed second on Friday and Saturday then got the gun on Sunday in posting a low score of five points.
Team Kraken (Jim Archer) placed second with 12 points and three other entries totaled 14 points. Performance Pursuit was deemed the most competitive handicap class and Glover was presented with the prestigious Palmetto Cup as a result.
“As of two days ago, we had not even put the mainsail on. We spent last weekend putting the boat together then had two days of practice,” Glover said. Glover has participated in three previous editions of Charleston Race Week aboard a Melges 24 and a J/70. He was thrilled to receive the Palmetto Cup and gave all the credit to his crew. “It was all about the team effort. We had some outstanding sailors onboard and they were able to get the most out of the boat,” he said.
Emily Potter and Sean Groskoph co-skippered the J/36 Soul to victory in Pursuit A with a pair of firsts and a second. Michael Brandon (tactician), Kate Herter (pit), Kyle Comerford (squirrel), Olivier Geraghty (mast), Caroline Williams and Connor Marion (both foredeck) also crewed on the College of Charleston entry.
Skipper Timothy Vienneau steered Peregrine to top honors in Pursuit B, winning the third and final race to edge out Cheers (Tom Mackin) by one point. The Beneteau 456 had taken third in Race 1 and second in Race 2. Retox, a Beneteau 41 owned by Hunter Weekes, won two races and placed second in the third in capturing Pursuit Non-Spinnaker. David Poston and his team on the XP 44 Polly Esther cruised to victory in ORC B, which sailed distance courses featuring a scoring gate out in the ocean. Polly Esther amassed five first place results and also counted a second.
Complete results are posted at charlestonraceweek.com. Next year’s Charleston Race Week is scheduled for April 20-23. ■