Charleston Race Week preview - The heat is on!

Preparations by this sportboat crew are relaxed, but the action is about to heat up among the 249 sailboats that will compete at Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week 2012 for the next three days.
Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week 2012 is America’s biggest regatta and will see 17 different divisions of racing boats on six different courses battle it out over the next three days on the waters of Charleston Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean.

Sailors from 10 countries and 29 states will race up to 12 races between Friday and Sunday, with champions crowned Sunday night at the regatta's beachside regatta village. Races last between 40 minutes and two hours, and winners receive trophies, valuable prizes, and, of course, bragging rights. Classes include boats up to 72 feet long, and the largest class is the Viper 640, which has 41 entries.

In the The Viper 640 Class, the trendsetter continues to be 2011 Race Week champ Brad Boston with crew members Lee Shuckerow, and Eric Vigrass aboard Jackpot, though last year’s runner-ups are gunning heavily for this Toronto-based team. 'There are a huge number of teams that can take home the trophy this year, and we’re hoping to be one of them,' said last year’s third-place skipper, Justin Scott. Three years ago, Scott was one of the loudest voices urging the Viper fleet’s participation in this regatta, and he’s gratified now to see the Vipers with the biggest fleet in town. 'Honestly what really makes me happy is to see so many people enjoying such a great variety of small, exciting boats in this beautiful town.' The Viper fleet includes crews from the UK, the Caribbean, Ireland, and for the first time, Puerto Rico. 'I just finished a five-regatta season in the Caribbean with my own boat, but to come here to Charleston and see these huge fleets is just amazing,' said Jaime Torres. Torres will sail with perennial top performer Paul Zimmerman on Playstation, out of Marblehead, MA.

The Melges 24 Fleet includes the two most recent Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week champions in Kristin Lane (Brick House) and Bora Gulari (West Marine Rigging/New England Ropes). Their crews include Olympic, America’s Cup, and world champions, which may not be enough to hold off Alan Field’s Southern California-based WTF. Field hopes to break a streak of near-victories in Charleston with the help of new tactician and multiple Melges 24 World Champion Jonathan McKee. The battle for Corinthian (non-professional) champion should be just as hot, with Corinthian World Champ Bruce Ayres’ Monsoon pit against local phenom Russ O’Reilly on C.R.E.A.M. Charleston’s famous currents may give O’Reilly an advantage, though Ayres’s experience may be sufficient to secure the win in this super-tough class.

Michael Kiss’s Bacio and crew are back to defend their title in the Melges 20 Fleet with America’s Cup vet Chris Rast on the crew roster, but according to Elevation Sailing pro trimmer Justin Hood, talent is so deep in the Class that almost anyone can win. 'Shimmer, Blink, Argo, Red Sky, Lemonhead, Layline – anyone can win at any time – that’s what makes it fun!' said Hood.

Among the offshore classes, the regatta’s organizers are proud to welcome the 72-foot mini-maxi racer Shockwave to the harbor – the biggest-ever racing yacht at Charleston Race Week. They’ll face off in the IRC Class against a pair of IRC-optimized Transpac 52s; Flying Jenny from Annapolis, and Interlodge from Newport, RI. Michael Denelio’s 55-foot Denali is also a first-ever entry at Charleston Race Week fleet, and rounding out the class is the well-traveled Cookson 50 Privateer.

PHRF A will see some of the tightest racing anywhere on the course, with three identical Farr 400s racing boat-for-boat against another new design, the McConaghy 38 Carbonado. All four will have to work hard to overcome the handicap time they owe to John Cooper’s Mills 43 Cool Breeze and the Farr 40 Madina.

PHRF B is a huge class that also features a group of identical boats – this time, the new J/111, with four entries, along with eight other 40-foot racer/cruisers are guaranteed to be fighting for the championship all weekend.

PHRF C will see the return of 2011 champion Tim Tucker’s Rock Star. The Rock Star crew includes Charleston Race Week’s winningest sailor – crew Anson Mulde, who remains the only tactician to win three consecutive Palmetto Cups – the prestigious and historic trophy awarded to the best overall performer at the event under the PHRF format.

Tight battles will be featured across every one of the 17 race courses, though for the first time, one of those courses is specially designed for cruising boats. Local veteran Cal Huge aboard his Beneteau 37 Jubilee Rose, is always a favorite, while Bernie Schapiro’s Beneteau 411 Pied-a-Mer will revel in the reaching conditions. Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week’s organizers are proud to welcome Halvard Mabire from Berneville, France to the cruising class, and the longer course for this class should offer a big advantage for his Class 40 Campagne De Franc.

Charleston Race Week website