Charleston Race Week gets off to blustery start

The wind was up and down all day, but most boats saw the kind of full planing that California’s Daniel Thielman shows off here aboard second-place Melges 20 Kuai on Friday.

A brisk northeasterly breeze greeted the more than 2,000 sailors competing this weekend in Sperry Charleston Race Week on Friday.

With dangerous surf at the harbor’s edge and a building wind forecast, all offshore racing was canceled before 8 a.m

Meanwhile, the shelter of Charleston Harbor meant the inshore fleets — eight of them on three separate courses — had powerful but very manageable conditions, with all classes finishing three or four races in winds under 18 knots.

Sperry Charleston Race Week serves as the Melges 20s National Championship regatta, and two-time (and reigning) U.S. champ Jason Michas looked determined to take the three-peat this year as his New York-based Midnight Blue jumped out of the blocks to an early five-point lead.

California’s Danuel Thielman (Kuai) and Russ Lucas (Shimmer) each took a race win, though Michas’ speed and consistency won the day.

Just under 70 teams are racing identical J/70 sportboats, with many America’s Cup, Olympic, and Championship racers.

After three races, no professionally driven and crewed boat is beating 13-year old Gannon Troutman, whose crew includes his dad.

“We put a lot of time into getting faster and progressing over the winter, and it’s definitely showing this week,” said Troutman.

Youthful exuberance abounds in the J/70 fleet, while experience and tradition fill the J/24 fleet — a Charleston staple. Local racer Mike Palazzo and his team on Jo’mama sit in 10th place after three races.

Another local, College of Charleston sailing coach Mitch Hall, unexpectedly ended up on the tiller in Michelle Lee’s Viper 640 for all four races Friday.

Hall and company ended up with scores of 3, 3, 9, 1. Hall said their success wasn’t necessarily due to local knowledge.

“It was pretty two-dimensional out there except for the last race. What was cool is that the top competition is really close. There were at least two races where the top four positions weren’t decided until the last 60 yards of the course.”

Also sailing on board with Lee and Hall are John Calaruso and Alexis Scott.

Tim Healey turned some heads when he jumped ship to the Melges 24 Class in advance of that class’s historic world championship later this year in Miami.

“Learning a new boat is a challenge I really enjoy,” said Healy, who sits in third place behind former Melges 24 Class president Travis Weisleder and former Corinthian Melges 24 world champion Bruce Ayres. “We had some great runs today, and we’re in a good spot on the results, and we’re loving it,” Healy said.

The weather forecast shows significantly warmer temperatures Saturday, with stable racing winds on all courses.