By Bill Wagner
Cedric Lewis had never competed in Sperry Charleston Race Week before last year. The Annapolis resident always heard great things about the regatta and therefore jumped at the chance to crew for John Potter in the VX One class.
Potter and Lewis wound up winning, but success on the race course was just part of why the Sperry Charleston Race Week newcomer came away mightily impressed. Lewis, co-owner of a J/105, has attended similar events in the past and knew what a race week should be about.
“It’s definitely a five-star event. The Charleston Race Week folks really have their act together,” Lewis said. “I love the sailing venue and the hospitality is off the charts. This regatta offers tremendous value for the money.”
That has been the clear consensus among sailboat racers throughout the country, who return to Sperry Charleston Race Week year after year because the event consistently delivers on all fronts.
First-class customer service has produced remarkable loyalty and transformed Sperry Charleston Race Week into one of the premier events of its kind. What started in 1996 as a regional gathering has steadily grown into the largest keelboat regatta in North and South America.
“We feel we have found a formula that resonates with the sailors and we are constantly working to refine what we are offering,” said Randy Draftz, now in his 14th year as event director of Sperry Charleston Race Week.
Draftz said the Charleston Ocean Racing Association, organizing authority and owner of event, hit a home run when it landed Sperry as title sponsor. Sperry’s involvement has been a driving force behind the remarkable development of Charleston Race Week, helping take the event to another level in terms of quality and prestige.
“Sperry is more than just our title sponsor, they are a true partner,” Draftz said. “As a company, Sperry is fully invested in Charleston Race Week and brings incredible value that makes the event better.”
Sperry Charleston Race Week is also fortunate to have the continued support of three critical corporate sponsors in Quantum Sails, Gosling’s Rum and Vineyard Vines. West Marine has been added to the lineup of corporate sponsors with the world’s premier retailer of boating, fishing and paddling gear announcing it will give away up to $30,000 in gift cards.
Sailors from all over the United States and beyond are gearing up for the 23rd edition of Sperry Charleston Race Week, being held April 12-15 out of the famous South Carolina port. Nearly 250 boats in 16 classes are slated to compete in the three-day regatta, which combines one-design and handicap racing along with inshore and offshore courses.
Sperry Charleston Race Week 2018 will feature eight returning champions, including the top two award winners. Skipper Joel Ronning and his Catapult crew will be back to defend the Charleston Race Week Cup after capturing the highly-competitive J/70 class last year.
That prestigious perpetual trophy is presented for the best overall performance by a one-design entry. J/70, which is once again the largest class in the regatta with a whopping 70 entries, will certainly contend for the Charleston Race Week Cup as racing figures to be fierce in a fleet comprised of numerous class champions.
Meanwhile, skipper Mike Beasley and the Rattle-N-Rum team will attempt to reclaim the Palmetto Trophy that goes to the winner of the tightest class among handicap divisions. Beasley’s GP 26 is one of 13 entries in ORC C, consisting of a wide variety of speedy sportboats.
“Winning the Palmetto Trophy was certainly one of the highlights of my racing career,” said Beasley, who operates an all-purpose marine company in Annapolis. “We are very much looking forward to going back to Charleston and trying to repeat our success of last year.”
All the elements that have made Sperry Charleston Race Week so popular remain in place, starting with the sheer beauty and elegant atmosphere of the historic host city. Factor in world-class accommodations along with top-notch facilities and you immediately have the makings of a big-time regatta.
Draftz and his team have steadily built on the basic template to enhance the event and every year brings further improvements. One major development in 2018 is the addition of the Columbus Street Terminal as a new facility for boat storage, launching and hauling.
Organizers of Sperry Charleston Race Week have made arrangements with the South Carolina Port Authority to facilitate launch, haul and trailer storage service at this spacious facility, which is conveniently located almosgt directly across the Cooper River from the Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina.
Current plans call for launching boats on Wednesday and Thursday prior to the regatta while hauling on Sunday and Monday afterward. Owners should send an email to email@example.com with preferred launch and haul dates and times.
“We want to thank the Port Authority for allowing the regatta to utilize their superb facility. This is a much-needed service and the Port Authority has been very gracious to offer the services of its equipment and staff,” Draftz said.
Other public facilities available for storage, launching and hauling include the Cooper River Boatyard, James Island Yacht Club, Charleston Yacht Club, Hobcaw Yacht Club and Remley’s Point Boat Ramp. Click on https://charlestonraceweek.com/logistics/storage-launch-haul for further details and contact information for each facility.
College of Charleston, which has historically provided considerable support to the regatta, will be docking numerous boats at its J. Stewart Walker Sailing Center. Many of those boats are affiliated with the school’s sailing program, including four that will be crewed by members of the College of Charleston intercollegiate dinghy or offshore teams.
Volunteer coach Chuck Coyer will lead one team onboard the J/36 Soul in ORC B while head offshore coach Ned Goss will oversee another crew aboard the Melges 30 Cougar in ORC C. Members of the College of Charleston Development Team will race a pair of J/22 entries.
“We’re really excited that our team performs well on the collegiate scene, but we’re also extremely proud that they do a lot of sailing outside that realm,” said Greg Fisher, Director of Sailing for the College of Charleston. “We want our sailors to enjoy the sport of sailing and take advantage of all it offers. There is no better way for them to gain tremendous experience and learn a different aspect of the sport than by competing in Sperry Charleston Race Week.”
Fisher will be participating in the regatta himself as skipper of a VX One entry while a group of College of Charleston sailing team members and alumni will spearhead other entries. Additionally, Fisher estimated that at least 30 current members of the intercollegiate dinghy or offshore sailing teams will be participating in Sperry Charleston Race Week as crew aboard various boats.
College of Charleston has been dedicated to supporting adaptive sailing and recently hosted a clinic with Warrior Sailing. Fisher is thrilled that six teams from Warrior Sailing will compete in Sperry Charleston Race Week aboard J/22s provided by the college.
As always, all shoreside activity will be based at the fabulous Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina, largest in the state of South Carolina with 459 slips. Sperry Charleston Race Week is renowned for its nightly beach party featuring the Gosling’s Rum Bar and live music.
Seventeen South is scheduled to perform on Thursday while Chewbacky will be onstage Friday with tickets available online or at the gate. An Event Pass for all four days of race week can be purchased for $85 while daily tickets will also be sold.
Quantum Sails returns as a corporate sponsor and will present the very informative daily dock talks and video debriefs featuring accomplished professional Ed Baird. A veteran of multiple America’s Cup campaigns and a champion match racer, Baird will deliver his “Applying the Forecast to the Race Course” presentations twice each morning – once for the offshore and pursuit classes then later for the inshore classes.
During the beach party each evening, Baird will utilize the Jumbotron to conduct Daily Debrief sessions specific to each circle by utilizing on-course video action provided by Keith Brash. College of Charleston assistant coach Mitch Hall will assist Baird with opening remarks about the local conditions in Charleston Harbor following the initial competitors meeting on Thursday.
An important hallmark of Sperry Charleton Race Week involves expert race management provided by a dedicated team of US Sailing certified volunteers. Hank Stuart returns as the overall Principal Race Officer and will lead a contingent of vastly experienced volunteers.
Continuity and consistency are the bywords as the six separate race committees are overseen by Sperry Charleston Race Week veterans in Tommy Harken (Circle 1), John Strassman (Circle 2), Hal Smith (Circle 3), Wayne Bretsch (Circle 4), Taran Teague (Circle 5) and Ray Redniss (Pursuit Race classes)
Redniss and his team are adding several new course configurations to spice up the Pursuit Race classes, which have become increasingly more popular. Teague and her team are in the process of rewriting the Sailing Instructions for the offshore courses being used by the larger two ORC classes to accommodate racing back into Charleston Harbor.
Back by popular demand for the second straight year is the Pro-Am regatta, being held on Saturday night using J/22 sloops donated by College of Charleston. Racing will be held off A Dock at the south end of the marina with Ed Baird providing commentary to a live stream of the action on the Jumbotron.
Past Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Steve Benjamin and former Olympian Paris Henken headline the list of professionals participating. US Sailing president Bruce Burton anjd Gill North America president Dave Pritchard bring further prestige to the Pro-Am, which will also feature Scuttelbutt editor Craig Leweck, North Sails professional Allan Terhune and one-design standout Travis Odenbach.
College of Charleston senior sailor Christophe Killian is the defending champion and will be joined this year by women’s team member Paris Henken, who represented the United States at the 2016 Summer Olympics in 49erFX class.
Mau, an employment agency based in the Charleston, is sponsoring the Pro-Am Regatta. Two high school sailors from the seven teams in the Charleston area will serve as crew members aboard the nine boats competing.
Sperry Charleston Race Week is once again proud to participate in the Sailors for the Sea Clean Regattas Program. Thanks to the incredibly hard work of the volunteer Green Team, all participants and sponsors are pitching in to make this a more sustainable event while striving for Gold Level status.
ABOUT TITLE SPONSOR SPERRY
Sperry was founded in 1935 by avid sailor, inventor and intrepid explorer Paul Sperry. From the invention of the world's first boat shoe, the brand not only continues its eight-decade tradition of creating comfortable styles that resonates with people across time but now offers full men’s, women’s and children’s collections including sea-tested lifestyle products that ground the wearer in uncertain weather conditions. The brand provides a firm footing that spans generations, genders, styles and geographical locations and is distributed around the world in department and independent retailers in North America, Asia, Europe and Latin America, as well as Sperry specialty retail stores and www.Sperry.com. To learn more, visit Sperry.com and follow the brand at its various social media handles across all platforms. Sperry is a division of Wolverine World Wide, Inc. one of the world's leading marketers of branded casual, active lifestyle, work, outdoor sport, athletic, children's and uniform footwear and apparel.