Charleston Race Week, hosted and organized by the Charleston Ocean Racing Association, is rounding the buoys to rack up more new records April 18-21. Last year, 252 sailboats actually raced. As of the end of February, 250 boats – from across the United States as well as Bermuda, Canada, Great Britain and Norway – were already registered for the event sponsored by Sperry Top-Sider.
The regatta features two courses each for inshore and offshore racing. There is also a pursuit race for cruising boats with the slowest boats (according to handicap) heading first out of the harbor to a mark offshore then returning to the start, about 25 nautical miles. It’s designed for boats that don’t normally compete in buoy races. It was introduced last year and “appears to be more popular than ever,” according to Dan Dickison, CRW’s spokesman.
Hakki Etem is bringing his Beneteau Oceanis 461, Layla, from his home in St. Augustine, Fla., for the Pursuit race. He crewed on a friend’s boat last year and enjoyed it more than cruising division races back home that place restrictions on spinnakers. “My girlfriend and I sail the boat shorthanded flying the spinnaker all the time – we enjoy that!” Etem commented. “We don’t think cruising classes should be restricted from using spinnakers, so we thought Charleston would be a good event for us.”
The Melges 24 class will have 30 entries vying for their National Championship, so line honors for both that and Race Week will be at stake. Chris Farkas, president of the class, said the Charleston event “has more Melges 24s participating than almost every other regatta across the country. Coupled with Charleston’s inviting conditions, that made the national championship an easy (and unanimous) decision.”
The hottest class this year is the new J 70 fleet, launched just last year. In January’s Quantum Key West Race Week, which doubled as the J 70 Mid-Winter Nationals, it was the largest fleet with 39 entries crossing the start line. The Charleston event is the second in the class circuit this year for the racy 22-footer with its carbon-fiber rigging.
Charleston sailor David Loring owns the J 70 Stampede, with Bruno Pasquinelli from Dallas, Texas. They met seven years ago when Loring was putting a J80 race program together. Their team for Race Week consists of Loring at the helm, Pasquinelli as tactician, Patrick Wilson (another local pro racing hotshot) trimming, and Emory Williams who races with Wilson. “I met Emory, also from Charleston, at a party. We chose him because he weighs less than 125 pounds!” Loring said.
Having taken third in the class at Key West, the team is looking forward to competing against the other 45 J70s already registered. Loring fully expects another 20 to join in the fray.
Besides the obvious charms of being in historic Charleston with its reputation for friendliness toward sailors, great restaurants and wonderful scenery, what attracts more racers to this event each year? Loring thinks it’s the conditions – the winds and tides building a challenging course, especially for those not familiar with the area.
“I grew up sailing here, not a hundred yards from the race site,” Loring explained. “It is still my favorite place to sail.”