2008 US Corinthian National Champion Reggie Fairchild Tells All

At the end of 2008 Reggie Fairchild pulled off a fairly remarkable double, not only was he head of the organising committee for the 2008 US National Championships at Charleston Yacht Club but he also came away from the regatta as the new joint Melges 24 Corinthian US National Champion.

Justin Chisholm caught up with him recently to find out more about what makes Reggie tick and to get the low down on that Corinthian title victory….

IM24CA: Tell us about your background in yacht racing before you joined the Melges 24 class?

RF: I've been sailing since I was 6. Racing is in my veins. I love the competition and the camaraderie. I started racing in my parent's club in Port Jefferson on Long Island, NY, when I was 11 and won the club's Commodore's Cup Youth Championship at age twelve. During summers at college I helmed my father's Hobie 33 which I guess you could describe as an early sportboat. After college, I raced at Rock Creek Yacht Club and White Rock Lake in Dallas and sailed on the Texas J-24 circuit, which drew 45 to 65 boats every month. I didn't sail from 1995 to 2003 because I was busy with work and raising a family.

IM24CA: When and where did you first sail a Melges 24, with who and what were your initial impressions of the boat?

RF: In 2003 I moved to Charleston with the express intent of racing one-design. I knew that the Melges 24 was the main one design class here so I called all the M24 owners the week I arrived. A couple days later I was racing on Brian Swan's Melges 24 "Buzzard" Brian's a great guy and a great sailor. I spent the summer racing with him and learning the ropes. I had tons of fun and this fed my desire to get my own boat.

IM24CA: Looking from the outside what was your view of the Melges 24 class at that stage?

RF: Before I joined the class, I knew I wanted to race one-design with a medium sized crew, as I knew from past experience that it's hard to recruit and retain a crew of eight or nine people. The Melges 24 had a great reputation and it was doing pretty well in Charleston and had five or six boats that raced regularly.

IM24CA: How soon was it before you purchased a boat of your own? Tell us about that process? New boat or used?

RF:I knew when I arrived in Charleston that I wanted to get my own boat so I started looking in August 2003 and finally found a used boat I liked in the December. Along the way I educated myself about the pricing of used boats and some of the things to look for. I've written some Blogs about the pricing. See http://m24ster.com/
One of the key things to ask for when buying a used boat is the Measurement Certificate. You want to make sure the boat is legal within the class rules. Some of my friends helped me understand the certificates. For example, it's important to have a keel that's close to max forward and max down. But if the spinnaker pole is too short, it's no biggie. It only takes about 15 minutes to reset the stops so it extends further.

IM24CA: You pulled off a double in 2008 by organising the Melges 24 US National Championship and winning the Corinthian Division. Which required the most preparation?

RF: My primary focus was on making sure that the Nationals was a successful event. In 2007 I ran the Melges 24 Gold Cup with the help of just a few people. I think I got 4-hours of sleep that weekend. It was a killer. I knew going into the Nationals in 2008 to recruit a great team, layout what I wanted, delegate and let the team produce great results. That worked for both the event and the racing.

IM24CA: When did you start preparing yourself and your crew for an attempt on the Corinthian title? Talk us through the preparation schedule?

RF: In the spring, I recruited a team that I thought could work well together and meet the weight limit. We raced together for Charleston Race Week, had fun, and learned a bunch about each other. Pretty soon after we committed to doing the U.S. Nationals together. In July, we got serious. We started racing together about once a week as well as practicing about once a week. Only two of us had extensive Melges 24 experience so we spent a lot time tacking and gybing and practicing starts. Every week we got a little better. As the event approached, we started working on the boat, making sure the sails and equipment were in great shape.

IM24CA: Introduce us to your championship winning crew?

RF: Everyone had dual roles in that each had a boathandling responsibility as well as a thinking role. Anne Bowen, an amazing florist and former Honorable Mention All American at the College of Charleston, ran the bow. In addition to her bowgirl duties, she was also responsible for calling the wind and waves. Marketing consultant Tracy Pleimann was in the number two slot. Her job was handling the pole, hiking like crazy and keeping track of fleet position. Ned Goss is the owner of a sailing school called OSAsailing.com and so is an ISAF category two sailor. Ned has raced with me since 2005 as our spinnaker trimmer. He doubles as our speed expert so also handles the rigging and tuning. When we are racing I rely on him to remind me to keep the boat flat and fast. David Dabney is our jib trimmer and tactician. He's a former two-time All American with the College of Charleston and works as a business process consultant and software architect.

I believe strongly in teamwork. We each have a role to do and no one person can do it all. If David said, "tack," I said ",ready about." I'm really proud of the work we did together as a group.

As an illustration of how strong we built that team, when I couldn't make the North American Championship in Annapolis I had such a high degree of trust in the team that I lent them the boat. In his first Melges 24 regatta as the skipper, David and the crew pulled off a 2nd in the Corinthian Class. Very impressive.

David grew to love the Melges 24 so much that he just took delivery of a brand new boat from Melges. The Charleston fleet is growing steadily and we now have eight boats all sailing regularly. We are always looking to recruit more boats to the fleet so anyone who wants to come join the fun should contact me.

IM24CA: Going into the 2008 US National Championship, what was your level of confidence? Who did you see as the biggest threat? What was your best Corinthian and overall US Nationals result previously?

RF: My team is the classic Corinthian story. When I started in 2004, I was pretty bad. I was new to the area and new to the class. It was hard to recruit crew. I travelled to a bunch of regattas, everywhere from Annapolis to Detroit to Chicago. I called something like a hundred and twenty five people that year in order to have crew for all the events. Last year, I called 10. All along the way my crew and I kept getting better. Marielle Charette and David Hollyday helped me get better and recruit people. We kept plugging, having fun and finally we won a race. It was just a Wednesday night series race, but wow was it a thrill. We talked to all the experts, like Scott Nixon at Quantum Sails and Andy Burdick at Melges to pick up tips.

Going to the Worlds in Key Largo in 2005 was a turning point. Over the eleven races we improved steadily against the best teams in the world. We went from 86th in the first race to 14th and 22nd in the last two races. In 2006, we finished 12th at the U.S. Nationals in Jacksonville. We neglected to register for the Corinthian Class, but probably would have finished 2nd or 3rd.

Coming into the 2008 US Nationals, my focus was more on the event organisation than the racing. We had a good, but new crew. I set my sights medium high. I was hoping for a top twenty finish overall and a top five in the Corinthian Division.

IM24CA: Talk us through your regatta and your battle with Paul Hulsey? At what point did you feel certain that you had won the Corinthian championship?

RF:Paul Hulsey is a terrific competitor and tons of fun. He was leading the 2007 Corinthian Nationals in Detroit until the last day. So we knew he was a threat. At the end of the first day, he was right there with us. By Saturday night, he was just 2 points back. On Sunday morning, we had an up and down race. At one point Paul was well in front us. We fought back and finished just behind him: zip-zip our chutes crossed the finish line with seconds of each other. The final race was five legs and for all the marbles. He had a so-so start but fought back so that at the first leeward mark he was very close. We camped on him, feeding him dirty air on the beat and slowly pushed him back. From there on in we just covered him around the racetrack.

Paul was one of the first people to congratulate me and my crew. He is a terrific Corinthian competitor and I look forward to racing him many more times.

IM24CA: What do feel are the major differences between the teams using pro sailors and the Corinthian campaigners?

RF: I love sailing against the pros. It helps make me a better sailor. The biggest difference between the two groups is the amount of time people spend sailing. It's an old adage - if you want to get better, you have to spend time in the boat. The more you sail, the better you'll be.

IM24CA: What do you believe will be the key to helping the Corinthian Division thrive during 2009 and beyond?

RF: The Corinthian sailors are the key to the success of the overall Melges 24 class. They organize the events, pay the bills, build the camaraderie and keep things fun. Recognition for the Corinthian crews and owners is the key. All the stories, Blogs, results, and photos should feature the Corinthian sailors FIRST. Put Paul Hulsey on the cover. Put John Lucas's name in lights. These guys are great sailors. I've learned a bunch from both of them. Let's give the Corinthian sailors the attention they deserve.

We published the names of all the crewmembers in the 2007 Gold Cup results and on the 2008 Blog (m24charleston.wordpress.com). If I was running the 2009 event, I'd do even more of that.

IM24CA: How many Corinthian entries would you hope to see at the Worlds?
Hopefully, half the boats will be Corinthian.

IM24CA: Is there anything else you would like to say?

RF: Thank you for running this story. There are so many other people I'd like to recognize, especially all the volunteers who helped organize and run the 2008 US Nationals. My co-chairs for the event -- Chris Hamilton and Judy Drew Fairchild along with the PRO Hal Smith and the Head Judge Bob Bowden -- did such a great job that I could focus on the racing. Many thanks to everyone who attended the event. We hope to see you all back in Charleston racing again soon.