Each year, roughly 20 to 30 percent of the people who attend Race Week each year are new to the event. Given that, it makes sense to offer a primer on how to do Race Week. Here’s the lowdown on the easiest ways to get the most out of your first time at Sperry Charleston Race Week.
Where to launch and haul? Each year we coordinate with area yacht clubs and boat yards to ensure that launching and hauling is available, accessible and economical for all trailerable entries. We even go so far as to offer free shoreside boat storage in advance of the event so you can drop your boat off several weeks early. Remember, it’s always important to be informed well in advance regarding logistical concerns and the best source of information can be found via the “Logistics” tab on this website.
Where to tie your boat? During the regatta, most entries prefer to berth at the Charleston Harbor Marina in Mt. Pleasant, which is adjacent the regatta’s headquarters and the site of all the event’s social activities. It’s also the closest marina to all of the race courses. This is a 459-slip facility with ample capacity, but it’s always wise to make reservations early. And, if you choose to berth elsewhere, there are several other marinas not far from the race courses and the regatta headquarters.
Where to lay your head? As the No. 1 tourist destination in the world (according to the readers of Conde Nast Traveler magazine), Charleston has lots of accommodation options from hotels to historic inns to B&Bs and rental homes on the nearby beaches. The No. 1 option – if you want to be close to the action – is Charleston Harbor Resort, which is also an event sponsor. The hotel’s newest facility boasts 92 luxury rooms, along with an expansive pool patio complete with bars and a bocce court overlooking the marina. For other options, begin your search on the Charleston Area Visitors’ and Convention Bureau website.
Need sail repair? If you blow out a kite or tear a seam in your mainsail, not to worry, we’ve got you covered. There are three sailmakers that operate in Charleston year-round, and one of our big sponsors is Quantum Sails. The folks from Quantum are super supportive, so they have a repair facility on site from Thursday through Sunday.
Need gear? Forgot your spray top? Need a new ratchet block? No worries. Several of our sponsors will be set up on site to assist with issues just like those. Coral Reef Sailing Apparel, a longtime Race Week sponsor, has all the wearables that you’ll need, and a number of equipment suppliers will be exhibiting and selling merchandise at the event, including B&G, New England Ropes and Bainbridge.
Where to park your vehicle? If you’re not staying at the Charleston Harbor Resort (meaning you don’t have a parking pass), just park as close as you to the event headquarters each day and take advantage of the event’s shuttle service. For the peak morning and afternoon hours, we’ve got golf carts running from the outer parking areas down to the hotel and back. And, if you’ve got a trailer to park, we’ve got you covered there as well. Again, just check the “Logistics” tab.
What about lunch? Though there are several groceries nearby, we try to make lunches easy for you as well. You can just sign up online in advance to order lunch and it will be available for pickup at the marina each morning. (Find details on this under the “Logistics” tab.) And, if you’re looking for a quick bite in the morning, coffee and bagels are always available on the dock, gratis.
Is the airport close by? The Charleston International Airport is just 20 minutes’ drive from our event headquarters. You can arrange an Uber, take a cab, or pick up a rental car all right there on site.
On the water
Local Knowledge For most competitors at Race Week, tidal current is the biggest concern when it comes to local knowledge needs. Charleston Harbor’s tides can be fierce, particularly if you’re not accustomed to sailing in those kinds of conditions. To offer everyone a better handle on this aspect of racing, we partner with our friends at the College of Charleston Sailing Program to present a local knowledge briefing each year the day before competition begins. These sessions are given by College’s coaches who spend a good deal of time on the water in this area.
Courses and conditions Race Week is held in the spring, a transitional time for the seabreeze phenomenon. Generally speaking, if there isn’t a substantial weather system affecting the area, a consistent southwesterly seabreeze can be counted on to materialize each day around noon. With exception of one offshore course for the larger entries, all the racecourses are set in the harbor, ordinarily in the South Passage, which is between James Island and Shutes Folly. This is a well protected body of water, yet you can still experience a chop of nearly two feet if the winds are strong, flowing opposite the tidal current and coming out of the east or northeast. Though there are a number of shallow mud flats near the surrounding shoreline, the harbor’s only true hazard is Middle Ground, a pile of rocks located just a quarter mile south-southeast from Shutes Folly. This feature can come into play for those boats racing on Circle 2.
Safety and support It’s important for you to know that we put a big emphasis on safety. We collaborate closely with the Charleston Harbor Pilots Association to ensure that all competitors are made aware of any commercial traffic that’s apt to be in the area during racing. (Charleston is the fourth busiest port on the East Coast, and shipping traffic here is active.)
In addition, the we’ve established a strong partnership with Roper St. Francis Healthcare to ensure that we always have several teams of paramedics on hand. These emergency personnel are standing by throughout all the on-the-water hours of the event.
Charleston's Many Attractions
There’s a reason that Charleston is the No. 1 tourist destination in the world; several reasons in fact. And if you come to Race Week, you don’t want to leave without sampling some of the city’s highlights.
Historic Charleston Downtown Charleston is rife with historic homes and buildings. It’s also home to 65 public parks. Even if you only walk around for 30 minutes, you’ll be charmed by the quaint abodes and impressive mansions that dot the peninsula. A good way to see historic Charleston is to rent a bicycle or take a carriage tour. And, you don’t even have to get in your car because the Charleston Water Taxi runs from the marina adjacent Race Week’s headquarters, right across the harbor to the city.
Restaurant mania You may already know that Charleston is a foodie’s paradise. The restaurant scene here rivals that of most major cities in the U.S. According to the Washington Post, “Eating well is almost a birthright here in the Lowcountry.” Take the time to look around and you’ll discover high-end restaurants, outdoor cafes, fresh-from-the-dock seafood, and more accomplished chefs than a Cordon Bleu conference.
Golf galore The great thing about golf is that it doesn’t conflict with sailboat racing. You can’t play golf when it’s windy (well, you can’t play well) and you can’t sail when there’s no wind. So, if there’s a lay day, or you extend your trip to Charleston by a day, there’s plenty of golf to check out. In fact there’s a course right next door to the regatta headquarters site. So bring your clubs.
Lay day activities And if the wind gods do decide to take a powder one day, there are lots of alternative activities to keep you busy. Only a half mile from the regatta headquarters, there’s a multiplex theatre with movie showings beginning as early as 11:00 a.m. Or if something more active is your preference, sample some go cart racing just a few miles out Highway 17 at Blackbeard’s Cove Family Fun Park. You can also rent kayaks or standup paddleboards at one of three nearby outfitters on Shem Creek. And, there’s always the option of spending the day at one of Charleston’s beautiful beaches, just 10 minute’s drive from our base at the Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina.
So, if you’re coming to Sperry Charleston Race Week for the first time, take a few moments to get the lay of the land by checking out some of these options online.
A version of this article was first published in Windcheck magazine.