Written by Jack Fenwick, RS21 International Class Manager
An Englishman in New A Scotsman in Charleston Race Week. Racing in a new country is always a challenge, and as my first event in the USA, it was always going to be interesting.
Getting off the plane at lunchtime in late April in Charleston, South Carolina, two things hit you: the heat; and the warm welcome. Everyone I have met while here has been so friendly and helpful, but this is about Charleston Race Week.
Distances in America are almost inconceivable to a Brit, even one who is used to travelling from Edinburgh to Southampton for a weekend’s racing, but that means you have to get creative with transport solutions. The RS21 will stack three high is a big help when you have to move nine charter boats around the country, but the team at RS Sailing in the US has got some great solutions (including a massive box trailer complete with winches for lifting boats).
After a few days of prep work putting the boats on their keels and rigs up, we had eight charter boats ready to join Jonas from Charleston and Neil from North Carolina, eager to line up against the teams who had chartered.
Thursday at Charleston Race Week is practice day, great for all competitors but especially helpful to those who have never raced there or in the RS21. After a few practice races and some time getting to grips with rig set-up, the teams ventured ashore to Patriots Point to enjoy the festivities and get ready for the next day’s racing and the first of ten races.
‘Circle 2’ was to spend three days racing inside the harbour, a short sail from the marina at Patriots Point. As the teams arrived at the race area they were greeted but blue skies and a warm 10-12 knot breeze, much less than I was expecting but glamourous sailing nonetheless. The efficient race management team got us away on a one-mile beat. Some smart sailing by Adam Corbin earned him and his team from Canada their first win of the day. While the breeze was reasonably stable, the tide was quite tricky. In the second race, Ryan Walsh and his team, veterans of Charleston Race Week, got the best of the racecourse and picked up their first win.
Races 3 and 4 went the same way, with Corbin taking the 3rd race and Walsh taking the 4th. After four races, Ryan led the day with a 2nd and 3rd. Despite winning two of the races, Adam’s 3rd and 6th place finishes put him in third place behind Paul Adam, whose consistent scoreline of three 2nd places and a fourth gave him a one-point advantage.
For me, sailing with two crew I had only met the day before, I was happy to walk away from the day tied in 4th place with twice Rolex Yachtswoman of the year, Cory Sertyl. I hadn’t got my head around the forecast, and while we were quick downwind, I’d done a lousy job of setting up the rig, definitely too tight, and all too often rounded the weather mark last. Oh, and hitting the rocks in the middle of the racecourse didn’t help much either…
Once back on the dock, we took the opportunity to grill the winners of the day on exactly how they’d managed to eke out that three-point advantage. There was a lot of lively discussion around rig set-up, sail trim, and the right amount of backstay versus mainsheet. Everyone left planning their attack for the next day.
Day two dawned, and while the racecourse looked very similar to the day before, it had a trick up its sleeve. The breeze was probably 40 degrees further right. It was now coming straight off James Island, not a massive geographical feature but enough to add some pretty significant and random shifts to the already challenging tidal conditions. Still, we had sunshine, breeze, and competition getting ever closer. The shifty breeze meant that no race was ever over, and so it was 45-50 minutes of tight racing the entire way around, with places changing rapidly. The only exception to this was Ryan Walsh and his team, who earned three 1st places and one 2nd. Another solid day by Paul Adam, stealing the first place in the last race of the day would keep them in touch with first overall and now six points ahead of third-place Adam Corbin. Cory Sertyl had started to get into her groove and was just one point behind the third place for the day. Local legend, Selden US boss, Jonas Berg, had a much better day, tied in fifth place with the Walsh family. It was a more frustrating day for us, the shifts proving hard to read and everyone else having taken the lessons of the previous day’s debrief on board, the fleet was getting tighter.
The final day would see two more races in conditions almost identical to Saturday. Ryan Walsh picked up where he’d left off, taking the opening race despite starting at the pin on a right hand favoured course, which saw Cory Sertyl lead at mark 1. Keen to challenge for the top, Adam Korbin chased Walsh to the finish and managed to sneak past Cory with Paul Adam in fourth. The final race saw a great battle all around the race track. As Walsh and Korbin battled each other down the last run, they started to overtake boats in the J/70 fleet that had started five minutes before them. Despite trading places around these boats, Korbin took the final win of the event. With Paul Adam managing an uncharacteristic 5th place, Korbin could leapfrog to second place overall.
With the majority of the fleet having chartered boats for this event, teams could sail back to the dock, quickly pack up, and then jump on a plane home, no de-rigging or craning needed.
I have to say, Charleston Race Week was a great experience, and I would recommend it to anyone who will listen. The racing is first class, the facilities are excellent, but most of all, the welcome is as warm as the mercury. I will be back next year; time to get in training now.