Just a couple of days remain before the starting guns sound for the 2014 Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week, but already sailing activity on Charleston Harbor has been fast and furious for several weeks. Five independent events over six weeks in April and May makes Charleston Harbor the epicenter of spring sailing in North America. Over the past week, hundreds of sailors have descended on the Holy City as this region has become one of the most active sailing destinations in the world during the spring.
Founded in 1996 by local sailors, Charleston Race Week has experienced explosive growth over the past decade – from 117 boats in 2005 to nearly 300 this year – making it the Western Hemisphere’s biggest keelboat regatta. The event has served to highlight Charleston Harbor as one of the country’s best sailing venues. Along with the Lowcountry’s growing acclaim as a tourist destination, Charleston’s sailing renown is yielding an almost non-stop ‘springtime of sailing’ for the area.
Three substantial events have already taken place, while two more are on the horizon. Two weeks ago, the James Island Yacht Club hosted a 17-boat fleet of speedy E-Scows, and just last weekend, a fleet of the world’s fastest sailing dinghies made another appearance here. The high-flying, hydro-foiling International Moth Class held its North American Championship here, with reigning World Champion and past Charleston Race Week champ Bora Gulari taking the top prize.
The third spring sailing event took place on Sunday, April 6 when the harbor was awash with kiteboarders, windsurfers, dinghy and catamaran sailors of all stripes, each vying to be named ‘King of the Harbor’ in the inaugural edition of the Fort2Battery Race, a high-octane, unrestricted dash-for-cash that was open to any wind-powered craft.
This upstart event is the brainchild of new Charleston resident Tim Fitzgerald, an active kiteboarder. Fitzgerald started his inaugural drag race Sunday afternoon just off Fort Sumter in a solid, 15-knot northerly breeze. Almost immediately, Gulari sailed his Moth away from an oversubscribed fleet of 60 competitors, once again proving his supremacy on the water. It took the Detroit-based Gulari just under nine minutes to complete the four-mile course. That’s an average speed of around 30 mph, faster than many powerboats.
The Kansas-born Fitzgerald said he moved to Charleston largely for its reputation as a perfect sailing spot. 'With the beaches, the breeze, the harbor, the great attitudes here, and the strong maritime tradition, it’s really a playground for those who love the wind and the water,' he said. Fitzgerald was surprised at just how welcoming the community was for an all-new racing concept, adding that he ‘couldn’t believe’ that his new race sold out just weeks after announcing it. 'Honestly I couldn’t believe the level of support from everyone; local communities, the Coast Guard, the SCDNR, and sailors of every variety.'
For Gulari, who has been competing in Charleston for more than a decade, it was like a day at the office. He says Charleston is a pretty consistent place to sail. 'The breeze, the great people, and the incredible hospitality are always reliable here in Charleston, and I’m just happy to be here for another year.'
As the organizers of Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week – the Western Hemisphere’s biggest and most high-profile event of its kind – get ready to host over 280 boats, crews are arriving early to set up their boats and spend a few days practicing, turning Charleston Harbor into a hive of sailing activity.
Every year, Charleston Race Week also sees the launch of some of the world’s newest racing boats, and one of the most exciting for 2014 is the new 28-foot Farr 280, which has been christened Chessie Racing. A product of the CAD systems at legendary naval architects Farr Yacht Design of Annapolis, Md., this new design will be crewed by Farr designers and staffers, including Farr Yacht Design President Patrick Shaughnessy.
'For us, the Farr 280 is probably the most important new project we’ve had in years,' said Shaughnesy, adding that Charleston is the perfect place to debut the new rocket. 'When we looked at how to best demonstrate the 280, it seemed pretty obvious that Charleston was the place to be,' he said. 'This is the quintessential springtime East Coast regatta, in a beautiful city, with great people; what more could we want?'
Chessie Racing will square off in the tough, 11-boat PHRF A fleet; one of the 16 classes that will be spread over five race courses in the harbor and outside the jetties. More than 80 boats will battle in the largest fleet – the J/70 – and nearly 300 boats will compete for trophies and bragging rights over three days of racing.
Event website: click here