Tommy Harken, the PRO on Circle 1, grew up sailing in Charleston and has raced all around the Southeast. In high school, he competed in Y-Flyers and followed that with four years on The Citadel’s varsity sailing team. After that, he competed successfully aboard a series of J/35s and a Mumm 30 for almost two decades. Later, he became a force in the MC Scow, helping to establish a local fleet that thrived for the better part of 10 years.
Harken’s competitive prowess is matched by his expertise as a race manager. He’s been doing race committee work in a leadership capacity for a long time. “I can’t really recall when I got started, but I do remember in my early 20s telling an officer at the yacht club that I could do a better job running races than the person they had doing it for a particular event. The next year, I found myself in charge of that regatta and I’ve been doing this off and on since.”
He spent several years as the Deputy Race Officer for the Melges 24 circle at Race Week, and when the event expanded to three inshore circles, he was asked to be PRO for the third one. That was roughly six years ago, and he’s had that role since. Harken has also been PRO for the Melges Nationals, the Optimist North Americans (300-plus boats), the E-Scow Nationals and twice for the Laser Masters North Americans, among other events.
Harken regards his time doing race committee work as his payback to the sport. “I’ve been so fortunate to be involved in sport that I really love, so it’s important to give back. But also, I really value a well-run event and I hope that I’m able to deliver that for the other sailors when I’m not out there racing. For me, it’s fun to set a challenging but fair course. And we’re lucky here in Charleston because we have a lot of people that are willing to help and don’t seem to mind what they’re asked to do or who gets the credit for it. So, I’m supported by a lot of hardworking individuals who really should get the credit for the way we run races here.”
His philosophy of race management, he says, is informed by his experience as a competitor. “From a sailor’s standpoint, I hate to get out there and have a race committee that’s disorganized and not ready to go. It’s the worst thing when there’s too much downtime waiting for the RC to start the next race. I think that’s hard on competitors. So, when I’m the PRO, I strive to have everything organized and run the races on time. You know you’re succeeding in that when all of the post-race banter you hear is about the competitors and not about the race committee. And that’s exactly how it should be with a good race committee. They set the stage, but they’re not the focus of what’s going on.”