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Charleston Race Week – Celebrating 25 Years

It’s a silver anniversary redux. Like so many events, Charleston Race Week 2020 was derailed by the global pandemic. Now, the organizers are forging ahead, determined to celebrate the regatta’s 25th anniversary in April – just a year late.  

 Charleston Race Week isn’t just one of the largest sailing competitions in the U.S. It’s also one of the most venerable mega-regattas. Other regattas have endured longer than 25 years, yet there are few in this size range that can claim the same longevity.

Dating to 1996, Race Week has long held unique attractions for racing sailors. Few venues around the country offer abundant room for inshore racecourses coupled with the option of easily accessible offshore courses.

And few sites boast the same challenging tidal currents that regularly befuddle seasoned competitors and first-timers alike. Add to those attributes the singular charm of historic Charleston – the No. 1 tourist destination in the U.S. – and the unequalled convenience of the regatta headquarters at the Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina, and you have a formula for regatta distinction that’s hard to beat. 

It might escape those new to this event that Race Week is entirely homegrown. It was established when the directors of Charleston Ocean Racing Association (CORA) stepped up to help their fellow sailors from the South Atlantic Yacht Racing Association (SAYRA) find a home for their annual offshore championship. It was a marriage of convenience that drew fewer than 30 entries for its inaugural edition, yet few could have guessed then that it would evolve to become one of the premier sailing events in the country. 

For 2020, the organizers had planned a grand celebration befitting a silver anniversary. But prudence and statewide restrictions in South Carolina meant that Race Week had to be cancelled. For 2021, the organizers say their key focus has been on staging this regatta in the safest possible way given the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“We anticipate that things will be better regarding the pandemic come spring, but we’re still not taking any chances,” says longtime Event Director Randy Draftz. “The management of the hotel that is our regatta headquarters and all of our committee chair people and essentially everyone involved in planning the event is taking a safety-first outlook. Consequently, there will be Covid protocols in place. For example, every participant, whether they’re a volunteer, crewmember, skipper or sponsor will have to provide personal information to facilitate contract tracing.”

Draftz and his fellow Race Week organizers are obligated to follow the guidelines set in place by the Town of Mt. Pleasant, S.C., as well as the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control. “We’re adhering to all the safety guidelines set in place by the state, and the town,” he explains. “And, we’re also working with the professionals at the Medical University of South Carolina to ensure that our safety protocols are working effectively.

As part of implementing the most effective safety measures, Draftz himself underwent training for contact tracing with Johns Hopkins University recently. He says he’s aware that Covid-19 testing can offer a false sense of security because individuals who test negative one day can develop symptoms as soon as the following day. “So, we’ll be very vigilant regarding signs and symptoms among the participants,” Draftz says. “That’s just the best way to go about staging a safe event.”

Another aspect of staging a safe event is limiting the size of post-race gatherings. Consequently, the organizers are planning smaller, socially distanced parties. Some of those will take place on the beach at the regatta village, as they ordinarily do, and some will also take place in downtown Charleston at an open-air facility owned by the City of Charleston. 

The organizers also say that some of the elements of the regatta, such as the skippers meeting and the pre-regatta local knowledge briefing, will be conducted virtually online to augment safety. 

A further adaptation this year will be the use of tracking devices aboard all boats entered in the event. Draftz and his fellow organizers are planning to offer real-time tracking for those who are following the competition online. The use of trackers will not only augment the virtual experience for those following the regatta, but it will also enable each crew to analyze the performance of its boat after-the-fact. And, the trackers will assist the on-the-water personnel in doing a more precise job of recording mark roundings and finishes.

Additionally, the organizers are making arrangements to have observers on the water on each course who will add commentary about the conditions and the action. 

Draftz is keen to add that he and his fellow regatta managers are making plans to utilize remote-controlled MarkSetBots to reduce the need for additional race committee volunteers. These bots have wind direction sensors and can relay that information back to the committee boat.

Race Week is scheduled to take place the second weekend in April (April 8-11). The event format will the same – four nights of fun interspersed by three days of competition. The same top-level race management that longtime participants have come to expect will definitely be in place.

“We know that Covid has changed everyone’s lives,” Draftz says, “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.”

Competitors can register online at charlestonraceweek.com. And if you register by January 31, you’ll receive a $100 discount on registration fees. So, register now, and as they say in the Carolina Lowcountry, you’ll be ‘good to go.’  (Note:  Registration fees are fully refundable should your plans change!)