How do you run a regatta with a whopping 246 boats in 16 classes? It requires flawless organization, and a ton of manpower. Those two factors go hand in hand.
Ultimately, the massive success of Sperry Charleston Race Week is due largely to a talented, dedicated army of volunteers. Properly executing an event of this size requires 220 on-water volunteers and another 100 for shoreside duty.
“A regatta this size requires a Herculean effort and we could not do it without such a large contingent of outstanding volunteers,” event director Randy Draftz said. “There are regattas all over the world wondering how we do this. The easy answer is because we have lots of great volunteers.”
Draftz, in his 10th year as event coordinator, conducted a meeting with all the volunteers on Thursday at noon and the large tent on the beach was almost completely full. It was an opportunity for Draftz to thank everyone for their support.
“Obviously, our goal is to keep the racers coming back and the on-water race management along with the onshore hospitality is why they do,” Draftz said. “That is a real credit to the great job done by our volunteers.”
Hank Stuart, on-water principal race officer for Sperry Charleston Race Week, asked for a show of hands for how many volunteers were working the regatta for the first time. Approximately 25 people responded, showing there is a constant influx of talent.
“We actually have a waiting list of people wanting to volunteer. I think that speaks volumes about the event,” Draftz said.
What was truly remarkable was the high number of folks that raised their hand when Stuart asked who had been volunteering for 10 then 15 years. Bill Jarvis of New Bern, North Carolina fell into that category. Jarvis attended a Charleston Ocean Racing Association annual meeting that introduced him to the event.
“They were soliciting for volunteers to work Charleston Race Week and I thought that would be a very worthwhile thing to do,” Jarvis said. “I volunteered to help out and have come back every year since.”
Jarvis could not provide a specific answer when asked what role he plays with the race committee.
“I do whatever I’m asked to do. I’m a regional race officer so I’m supposed to know how to do all the different jobs on a typical committee,” he said. “I’m happy to do whatever is needed, and that might change from year to year. I love coming down here to Charleston, I love the regatta and I love all the people involved.”
Carla Kinnett was one of a handful of volunteers that have been doing Charleston Race Week for 20 years or more. Kinnett, who lives in nearby Isle of Palms, participated in the inaugural Charleston Race Week as a competitor aboard the family-owned Lindenberg 26. Her father sold the boat the following year and they jointly decided to join the race committee in order to stay involved.
“Working on the race committee is the next best thing to racing,” said Kinnett, who does the scoring on the J/70 course. “It’s a really fun event and I enjoy catching up with friends every year. I just love being out there on the water. The parties are great, the weather is usually fantastic and the racing is very exciting.”
Becky Royal is in her second year as the overall coordinator of the volunteer crew while Fran Trottman focuses purely on coordinating the on-water work force. While some of the volunteers are local, roughly 80 percent come from out of state and as far away as California, Connecticut and Canada.
“Our support from the Charleston community and across the country is incredible and provides a level of volunteers that is unheard of,” Draftz said. “You could not run racing on six different courses without a critical mass of race management personnel. Same could be said for what we do onshore. You simply could not sustain an event of this size without the commitment of so many volunteers.”
Stuart spent five years as a race officer on one of the circles at Sperry Charleston Race Week before transitioning into the big-picture role he’s held since 2015. He makes sure the regatta has consistency and uniformity by working closely with the six principal race officers – 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).
“We recognized as the event was ramping up and becoming bigger and bigger that we needed an onshore PRO to oversee all six circles and just kind of coordinate things,” said Stuart, a Rochester, New York resident who served as championship coordinator for the Melges 24 class for 12 years.
Stuart explained why the race committee requires 220 volunteers. It is because not everyone can work all three day of the regatta due to personal or business commitments.
“It is nice to be able to draw from such a large pool of people to make sure every job is filled every day,” he said.
Organizers with Sperry Charleston Race Week find housing for almost half of the volunteers, but the entire work force willingly pays the cost required to attend.
“They’re all volunteers who pay their own expenses to get here. I think it’s a testament to how good the event is and how much fun everyone that all these people keep coming back year after year,” Stuart said.
Because Sperry Charleston Race Week is the largest regatta in North America, it naturally attracts some of the finest principal race officers from around the country.
“Each one of these race officers that is running a circle is very, very experienced. I’ve done a number of regattas with all of them and that provides a high level of comfortability.