While major regattas around the world are still getting cancelled because of coronavirus, Charleston Race Week elected to press forward with its 25th anniversary celebration. It came one year late since the 2020 edition was cancelled due to the developing pandemic last April.
Mass vaccinations combined with a decrease in positive cases throughout most of the United States prompted longtime event director Randy Draftz to forge forward with a Charleston Race Week 2021.
Regatta management did so with an abundance of caution and numerous precautions were put into place to ensure the event was held in a safe and responsible manner. All participating sailors were encouraged to get tested before attending the regatta and that provision did lead to some positive tests that caused a few boats to pull out.
Even though Charleston Race Week has a well-earned reputation as a party regatta, organizers made the tough but wise decision to cancel all social activities. For this year, the focus was fully on producing top-notch racing, and on that front the regatta was a tremendous success.
Race committees on all four inside circles banged off two races in breezy conditions on Sunday to complete a busy series for all one-design fleets. Classes on Circle 1 (VX One), Circle 3 (J/88, J/105, ORC D) all reached 10 races, while those on Circle 2 (J/70, Melges 24) and Circle 4 (J/22, J/24, PHRF Inshore) finished with nine.
Offshore racing for the ORC A and B classes that sailed distance courses along with the PHRF (Spinnaker A and B, Non-Spinnaker) classes that did pursuit starts was also action-packed with all three days delivering solid conditions.
“We appreciate all the hospitality down here. The race committee did a fantastic job and the regatta seemed to work even with Covid. It was refreshing to be able to get out and compete,” said John Leahy, skipper of the J/88 class winner Dutch.
Mount Pleasant resident Andy Guhl proved a popular winner of the Palmetto Cup, presented annually to winner of the closest class among handicap divisions. Guhl skippered Fogdog, a 1D35, to victory in ORC D by winning five races and placing second in three others.
Fogdog finished with 14 points, four fewer than runner-up Fearless – a Melges 32 co-owned by John Lucas and Marc Durlach. Interestingly, Guhl bought the 1D35 from Dr. Lucas, a Charleston resident, and they have become rivals on the local circuit.
“We had a great boat-to-boat battle with Fearless all three days and it was a lot of fun,” Guhl said. “We sailed aggressively on Friday and Saturday but were a bit more conservative today. I give a lot of credit to my crew, which really worked hard and sailed well.”
Guhl is a transplant from Baltimore who has immersed himself in the Charleston sailboat racing scene. He served as commodore of the Charleston Ocean Racing Association last year after four years as rear commodore.
Of course, Guhl understands the significance of the Palmetto Cup and was stunned to have won it. “I certainly didn’t expect this, but I sure am honored. We’re still digesting what just went down here,” Guhl said. “We’re very proud to represent Charleston area sailing and it’s just awesome for a local boat to win this prestigious trophy.”
Doug Clark pulled a sneak attack in coming from behind on the final day of racing to capture the VX One Class, which attracted 25 boats. The Mystic, Connecticut resident entered Sunday in fourth place, seven points behind leader Chris Alexander.
Clark steered Angry Baboon to second place in Race 9 then got the gun in Race 10 to vault over three boats and win the regatta. Clark and Alexander both finished with 35 points with the former winning the tiebreaker based off more first-place results.
“We knew it would be tough to move up with only two races today, plus the top teams have not been making many mistakes,” Clark said. “I knew the points going into the last race, which was really important. I knew we needed to win in order to get the tiebreaker. We sailed well today, but I’d be lying if I said a little bit of luck didn’t come into play.”
This was the first Charleston Race Week for Clark, a longtime intercollegiate sailing coach who is normally in-season during the month of April. Now in his 16th season as head coach at Coast Guard Academy, Clark is a relative newcomer to the VX One class but served notice he was a top contender by winning the Sarasota Winter Series.
“We’re on a little bit of a roll, which is cool,” Clark said. “I had a great team for this regatta and they deserve all the credit.”
Rod Favela, who has been racing the VX One since inception of the class, worked the middle. Emmi Triplett, a member of the College of Charleston intercollegiate sailing team, handled the bow.
Clark was already driving north when he heard from Triplett that Angry Baboon had earned the Charleston Race Week Cup as one-design Boat of the Week.
Written by Bill Wagner