What started as a way of life for Sea Island farmers 123 years ago, continues today in a grand way. The Sea Island Yacht Club at the tip of Wadmalaw Island overlooking Bohicket Creek is the setting each August. Large crowds of on-the-water spectators come every year to celebrate the tradition of sailboat races, and to keep in touch with Lowcountry nautical tradition.
Several classes of sailboat will race during the Aug. 3-4 event. Races involving Sunfish, Optimists, Lasers, Y-flyers and E-Scows will all follow the Sea Island One Design boats that start the Rockville Regatta each year. The SIOD boats were designed by Rockville sailing enthusiasts just after World War II and are unique to the Lowcountry.
“The first weekend of August is off limits to just about anything except spending time at Rockville,” said John Settle, the son of a former SIYC commodore. “We don’t plan any weddings, or work days at the hunt club, or family vacations for the first weekend in August.
“The weekend begins with a Friday night social at the clubhouse with a shrimp supper, live music and dancing,” said Settle, who has participated in the race for many years. “There is a captain’s meeting on Saturday morning and then they will get in as many races that day as weather will allow, and then finish up on Sunday. Long ago, this was a dressy affair, and it carried a large sailing fleet. These days the sailing fleet has dwindled, but the spectators keep coming to this must-see opportunity each summer.”
The spectator fleet occupies half of Bohicket Creek, and the race committee cordons off the racing area with a series of buoys. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources is on hand along with a heavy law enforcement presence to keep the sailing lanes open. Swift currents and the narrow course make the Rockville Regatta challenging.
The spectator fleet builds each morning of the race with boats streaming in from the North Edisto River, traveling north from Beaufort and south from Charleston. All the boats are at capacity, since the Rockville Regatta is a hot ticket for revelers, and the level of camaraderie becomes apparent when many of the boats raft up to one another.
The bigger the boat the better, and everything from sportfishers to john boats will be anchored up and rafting together.
The hot weather of August makes a day on the water one of the best ways to beat the heat, and afternoon thundershowers can help to create the breezes that sailing requires. Taken altogether, the Rockville Regatta is a spectacle of summertime. To stroll under the live oaks along the shoreline at Rockville, and watch the fleet pass back and forth up and down Bohicket Creek, is to embrace a part of sailing history.
Jeff Dennis is an outdoor writer and photographer who grew up on a creek in Charleston loving the saltwater, and he contributes regularly to All At Sea Southeast. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com.