Every Spring, a multitude of some of the world’s most skilled sailors take to the Charleston Harbor for a week of racing and unadulterated camaraderie. Sperry Charleston Race Week, now in its 22nd year, draws more than 250 boats. Approximately 2,500 sailors from around the globe arrive eager to participate in the largest keelboat regatta in the Western Hemisphere.
Many come here from a detour on their way to the Bahamas or the coast of Maine. You can recognize them by their bronzed skin, palms that rope-pulling has rendered a tad callused and, of course, that underlying sense of adventure. For those who choose a life at sea, the journey often supersedes the destination. Tides, swells and wind patterns are the predictors of their fate. From April 20 to April 23, sailors will have a chance to show their skills in the water and enjoy many a libation with their fellow nautical brothers and sisters.
“I really enjoy seeing the fun and enthusiasm we create for sailors and the sport,” said director Randy Draftz, who has held the title since 2009. “Sperry Charleston Race Week’s success has grown to become an internationally recognized event. This recognition allows race week to grow the awareness and create greater opportunities.”
Some of those greater opportunities are heavily tied to community outreach. Much of the money from the event goes to aid after-school boat building programs orchestrated by The Lowcountry Maritime Society. This nonprofit has exposed hundreds of students to the art of boat building. From the initial sketch to construction to getting the boat in the water, students are given the opportunity to build a vessel and take it for a spin.
“We have over 300 volunteers that make the event possible. Not only is it rewarding to share with them such a great event, but we are also helping the local sailing community,” said Draftz.
Another organization that Race Week directly impacts is Warrior Sailing. This nonprofit helps lessen the detrimental results of PTSD for veterans tainted by the trauma of combat and war. Sailing has been known to alleviate stress. Getting out on the open blue, breathing in the salt air and focusing on keeping the wind in one’s sails does wonders for anxiety.
“Warrior Sailing is the most successful sailing program of its kind,” said Draftz. “They have had several programs here in Charleston and work closely with the College of Charleston’s Sailing Program, which we also support. We also donate to a locally-based program, Veterans on Deck.”
While the weather conditions and fronts that roll through the Lowcountry aren’t always predictable or cooperative, these professionals come prepared for any and all things that arise during the races, which take place on six courses. Extra measures make certain other boats entering Charleston’s busy port do not interrupt or endanger sailors.
When not on the water, attendees will have a chance to socialize, network and, of course, enjoy plenty of good food. From espresso and bagels on the dock each morning to beach parties to conclude the days of racing, the festivities abound. The Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina is the ideal locale for these days that celebrate a sport loved by so many, regardless of gender, creed or nationality.
“Sailing is a great family sport. It’s challenging, and what a perfect activity for Charleston with the great harbor and its access to the ocean,” said Draftz.
They’ve seen the rocky coastline of Montauk and smelled the perfumed air of Barbados. Sailors are certainly a breed of adventure-seekers, enthused to discover the local flavor of their next favorite port.
It’s fair to say this once modest race, initially with only 29 participants, has now created a ripple effect within the international sailing community. The name is known and revered as one of the top-level sailing events in the world.
“The best is sending everyone back to their local areas talking about the great time they had at Sperry Charleston Race Week,” said Draftz. “It is always fun for us to be in Chicago or San Francisco or even Geneva, Switzerland, and hear people talking about what a great time they had at Race Week.”
If you want to catch a glimpse of these sailors in action, feel free to watch from the shore. All races are open to the public and welcome crowd support. For more information, visit www.charlestonraceweek.com.
By Kalene McCort