Crew Spotlight: Corinthian Teams Top Pros at Charleston

The Melges 24 and J/70 fleets were stacked with some of the biggest names in the business, but these two teams showed that an all-Corinthian crew can be just as fast, if not faster, than the pros.

Sailing Decorum - The Ratliff siblings' Corinthian team Decorum races to a first place Corinthian finish at the 2016 Sperry Charleston Race Week. Photo by Karen Ryan.

The 2016 Sperry Charleston Race Week attracted some 230 boats for inshore on-design racing, offshore one-design and PHRF racing, and a pursuit division. Among the J/70 and Melges 24 fleets mixing it up on the racecourse, a couple of Corinthian teams showed it doesn’t take a pro to sail a small boat fast.

20/20 vision

Dr. John Arendshorst from Holland, MI, has sailed a number of small one-design boats over the years, including the Melges 17 and Melges 20, and he’s most recently added a J/70 to the 20/20 racing family. He kicked off first season racing the J/70 at Key West Race week in January 2014. Arendshorst sailed with a professional crew up through the 2015 J/70 worlds in Newport, but has since gathered a Corinthian team of close friends and good sailors primarily from his home area of Macatawa Bay.

“I think the class has done a good job from the start at making sure they do whatever they need to do to have a pretty strong Corinthian presence at every regatta that I’ve ever been at. It’s well represented,” he says.

Whether you’re a professional team or Corinthian, you still have to have a driver, a tactician, and another two talented crew members to coordinate the sail trim and boat balance and help manage the race course. While having a pro on board can put you on the fast track in terms of learning, there’s some added energy equity to sailing with a Corinthian crew. “Everyone is into it equally,” he says.

Of 67 boats in the J/70 fleet at CRW, 20/20 finished 29th, scoring as high as 2nd over three days of racing.

“You’re all duking it out with all the professional teams and the Corinthian teams, their results are spattered throughout the fleet. Some Corinthian teams do very, very well.”

With the help of Scott Nixon and Troy Scharlow, Arendshorst has also added a new set of Quantum sails. “Quantum has responded well not only to developing sails that work very well with the boat, but have also put lot of good infrastructure in place. They have a lot of people to keep you tuned in to what sailing this boat well looks like,” says Arendshorst.

To get the boat set up with the new sails, Arendshorst started with the tuning guide. “I think some people enjoy having the boat feel a certain way, but for the general idea of how to get the boat all locked in together—it’s a good starting point.”

Sailing Decorum

The Ratliff siblings, brother Hunter and sister Megan, also grew up sailing in the Macatawa Bay Area before moving to Chicago. After crewing on a number of other boats, they decided to take the plunge and become owners themselves. They knew they wanted a physical, high-performance one-design boat in a competitive fleet, and finally settled on a Melges 24 called Decorum. Their first test was the 2015 St. Petersburg NOOD Regatta.

“The competition is just phenomenal, that’s what’s so great about the class—the fact that you can sail against the pros. Initially that learning curve is unbelievable. So it’s really satisfying when you start putting things together, when you start hanging with or even competing in front of these teams with pros on board,” says Hunter.

Hunter drives the boat while Megan does bow. The rest of their all-Corinthian crew consists of jib and spinnaker trimmers from the Midwest and a tactician based in the St. Petersburg area.

The Ratliff’s say sailing in the tough Melges 24 fleet can be discouraging at times, but it’s also an opportunity to learn from the best. Their advice to other fleet newcomers—don’t be afraid to ask questions.

“Marty [Kullman] has been very helpful, not only with getting us set up with equipment, but also with answering questions and really helping us with development and analyzing photographs of sails. Scott Nixon and Chris Rast as well—all three of those guys are not only experts in their field, but also super approachable people and really knowledgeable,” says Hunter.

The Ratliff’s follow their Quantum tuning guide for plug-and-play results, but the dialogue with Kullman and Nixon has been how they’ve been able to fine-tune both their sail trim and their boat handling skills, and of course, time in the boat is essential. “We try to get as much sailing in as we can because we’re so new to the class,” Hunter adds.

They culminated their winter tour with a fifth place overall result (and first Corinthian) Sperry Charleston Race Week. “It just goes to show that the hard work is starting to pay off a bit,” he says. Next up are spring and summer regattas in Michigan, a September training session, and US Nationals at Lake Geneva in October before the final push for worlds in Miami.

No matter what your skill level or fleet you sail in, there’s always room for improvement that stands to make sailing a lot more fun for you and your crew. Make sure to tap into all the resources available and keep those questions coming—we’re here to help!

Related to this article is a piece that we wrote on being a competitive Corinthian.

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