This April, Charleston Race Week will celebrate its 25th anniversary. The event will actually be a reprise because like so many regattas last year, the actual anniversary – Race Week 2020 – was cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic. With safety paramount in their planning, the organizers in Charleston, SC are forging ahead and making plans for a special edition of this annual sailing extravaganza, one befitting a silver anniversary.
According to Randy Draftz, the longtime event director for Race Week, he and his fellow organizers are closely following the guidelines put forth by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Town of Mt. Pleasant. Their safety-first approach means that a new set of protocols will be in place. For instance, he says every participant, whether they’re a volunteer, crewmember, skipper or sponsor, will have to provide personal information to facilitate contract tracing. And, the organizers are working with the professionals at the Medical University of South Carolina to ensure that all the chosen safety protocols will be working effectively.
“We’re optimistic that things will be better regarding the pandemic by the time the event date rolls around, but we’re still not taking any chances,” Draftz says. “All of our steering committee members and everyone involved in planning the regatta is embracing a safety-first outlook. That means the event will look a little different, but we’ll still deliver a fun, competitive and satisfying regatta that will live up to its reputation of being a genuine bucket-list event for sailors.”
Among the changes Draftz alludes to is a new plan for post-race activities. Like previous years, the beachfront regatta village at the Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina will be in place and open with limited occupancy. Whether there would be any post-race parties was a decision that was still under consideration as of mid-February.
Draftz adds that some aspects of the regatta, such as the skippers meeting and the pre-regatta local knowledge briefing, will be conducted virtually to augment safety. A further change is the use of tracking devices aboard all boats entered in the event. The organizers will use these to offer real-time tracking for those following the competition online. Use of the trackers will not only augment the virtual experience for spectators – with on-site commentators offering additional insights – but will also enable each participating crew to analyze the performance of its boat after-the-fact. Additionally, the trackers will assist race committees in precisely recording mark roundings and finishes.
And Draftz says that he and his fellow organizers are making plans to utilize remote-controlled MarkSetBots to reduce the need for additional race committee volunteers on the water. These bots have wind direction sensors and can relay that information back to the committee boat.
With all these changes, there’s still one constant of Charleston Race Week, and that’s its appeal for sailors “from off.” Those are competitors who don’t live in Charleston or aren’t from the area. Each year, nearly 80 percent of the participants at this mega-regatta travel from outside the region. And almost 30 percent of the competitors in any given year are racing here for the first time. So, what is it that gets these folks to pack up their boats and come all the way to the Carolina Lowcountry from homes as distant as Seattle, Los Angeles, Toronto, San Antonio as well as overseas?
Well, there’s no one answer to that question. And that’s because Race Week has it all. You want competition? Some of the top sailboat racing teams in the country regularly materialize for this event. You want challenge? The tricky tidal currents that meander around Charleston Harbor and the offshore waters are enough to befuddle even the most veteran local racers. And added benefits? The organizers always arrange for pre-race weather briefings and post-race tactical analyses – aided by the beachfront Jumbotron – from some of the most astute and experienced competitors around. Past luminaries have included Ed Baird and Stephanie Robles, and this year Draftz hinted that Peter Isler or Cameron Appleton might fill that role. Add to all this the event’s always-fun post-race opportunities available in the nation’s No. 1 tourist destination and you have a formula that’s hard to beat.
Of course, Draftz is keen to acknowledge the support that Race Week has seen from its longtime sponsors. “We are grateful that these companies have chosen to continue working with us through a very difficult time,” he says. “Quantum has been terrific, and Goslings Rum as well. And our venue sponsor, Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina, has been a steadfast ally, along with B&G Sailing Electronics. Along with all our sponsors, they’ve really stepped up to support the regatta.”
As usual, the organizers have put a lot of thought and effort into planning for an onslaught of out of town competitors. That means working with local yacht clubs and businesses to plan for efficient launching and hauling facilities. And doing the same to ensure there’s a sufficient number of berths available throughout the regatta. All of these provisions are spelled out on the event website in a post entitled “How to do Race Week.” Check it out.
This year, Race Week is scheduled for the second weekend in April (April 8-11). As always, the format will be the same – four nights of fun interspersed by three days of heightened competition. The usual top-level race management that longtime participants have come to expect will be in place.
“We know that Covid has changed everyone’s lives,” Draftz offers, “and we’re working hard to strike a balance between staging a completely safe event and delivering on the superb racing and social experience that people customarily associate with Race Week.”
Interested competitors can register online at charlestonraceweek.com. Do it, and once you experience Race Week, you’ll understand why it’s billed as a regatta unlike any other. ■