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These are of the spectator fleet along the race course. Sea Island One Designs racing. Photo: Priscilla Parker
These are of the spectator fleet along the race course. Sea Island One Designs racing. Photo: Priscilla Parker

Revelry Abounds at the Rockville Regatta

The Rockville Regatta on Bohicket Creek south of Charleston, South Carolina is considered by many local sailors to be a rite of summer. Sailing into its 124th consecutive year, this nautical tradition began as a friendly competition over the summer among area yacht clubs, ultimately becoming Sea Island Yacht Club’s Rockville Regatta. This year’s festivities are August 2-3. It’s a family tradition with generations of families from the sea islands participating. If anyone dares to schedule something other than racing on the first weekend in August, that person is met with shocked gasps of “What were you thinking?”

Around 1947, a local sailor, Oliver Seabrook, sketched what became the Sea Island One Design (SIOD), that he then sent to Henry Scheel, a naval architect in Mystic, Conn. for the final draft. The SIOD is a wide, wooden, shallow (23”) draft skiff measuring 20’ 6” in length with a 7’ 4” beam. The 31’ 10” mast and 14’ boom carry 271 square feet of sail, making sailing in the afternoon sea breezes a true adventure for the crew of three. The first four, which still race today, were built by different yacht clubs. Today there are nine SIODs, the newest launched in 2011.

The SIODs are definitely the belles of the ball at Rockville, although other classes – Sunfish, Optimists, Lasers, Y-Flyers, Moths and E-Scows – also compete. At the height of its popularity, the regatta hosted over 300 entrants. Today, the fleet is usually closer to 50 boats.

Of course, when the regatta began, it was a little more formal than today. The Friday night shrimp dinner and dance at the Sea Island Yacht Club was a dressy affair. During the weekend, families would picnic on the club lawn in the shade of tall live oaks, strolling back and forth to watch the races.

Nowadays, while the fleet is smaller, the spectator fleet has continued to increase, so much so that the state Department of Natural Resources officers are hard put to keep the race course clear of boats and swimmers. It’s also a bit more rambunctious than the early days.

On Saturday and Sunday, a stream of boats heads into Bohicket Creek from Charleston in the north and from Beaufort and Hilton Head in the south. Massive floating rafts accumulate: sport fishing boats, motoryachts, sailboats, ski boats and even jon boats, filled with spectators ready for the two day party. If it weren’t for the marker buoys for the course, you might be able to cross the creek just by stepping from one boat to the next…and be invited to eat and drink on each! And all involved – spectators, racers, judges – have a great time.

Registration takes place Saturday morning on the porch of the yacht club. Races start at noon on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, contact the Sea Island Yacht Club at seaislandyachtclub@gmail.com.

 

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