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A Q&A with event director Randy Draftz about Charleston Race Week

by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor on 19 Apr 2017
Charleston Race Week Race Director Randy Draftz Melges 24 World Championship
Since its creation in 1996, Sperry Charleston Race Week (CRW) has quietly grown from a regional event into what event organizers describe as the “the largest keelboat regatta in both North and South America”. While Charleston’s charming and historic downtown and great sailing conditions certainly helped fan this growth, the event organizers-originally the Charleston Ocean Racing Association (CORA)-have consistently had an eye towards sustainable growth. This started with a calendar move from the summer months, when the event was originally sailed, to April, with hopes of enticing boats that were returning from the Caribbean and the Florida circuits to stop for a few great days of racing, en route to their home waters.

CORA has been consistently intent on growing CRW into one of the East Coast’s premiere regattas-a goal they have achieved in part by staying true to their roots, keeping costs reasonable and ensuring that the regatta remain accessible to all interested parties.



The strategy worked, and by 2006, some 70 percent of the CRW’s fleet was from out of town, with entries arriving from as far afield as California and the United Kingdom.

According to the event’s website, the 1996 CRW attracted a modest 29 boats, but a quick look at the spreadsheet for the 2017 regatta reveals that there are-at the time of this writing-217 boats registered. This proud number includes 76 J/70s, which make up the biggest One Design fleet, as well as 21 Melges 24s, 21 J/24s, 16 VX Ones, 10 Viper 640s and eight J/80s, plus larger keel boats that are registered to race under PHRF and ORC handicap rules.



I recently corresponded via email with Randy Draftz, who is serving as the event director for this year’s Charleston Race Week (his sixth CRW in this role), to learn more about what has made this early season regatta such a hit, and to also learn more about the event’s commitment to environmental responsibility and stewardship.

Can you give me a 35,000’ overview of what’s new and exciting about this year’s CRW?
Every year, we make some tweaks to our programming. This year, one of the big changes is that we’ve added a fourth inshore course to help us spread out the classes. Having this will also help us accommodate additional classes in the future.

And a further tweak is that we’ll be using ORC for handicapping, which we hope will prove appealing for future attendees in those classes.

And one really fun change is that, for the first time, we are hosting a Pro/Am event with stadium-style racing. We’re doing this because it will be fun for all the competitors and it will help us generate some additional awareness, locally, for the sport and for our event.



CRW has enjoyed a lot of growth and has generated some great headlines for awesome racing in the past five to ten years-what do you attribute this growth and great press to?
We think this event provides a great [return on investment] for the sailors. When you consider that it’s just a three-day commitment on their part and they get great racing in a magnificent harbor with fun parties and value-added instructional aspects, that’s a pretty good formula. The other thing is, every decision we make we do that with the racers’ needs and interests in mind.

As far as numbers, what classes are set to offer the greatest levels of on-the-water competition this year?
The J/70 Class is once again leading the way with 76 boats registered. Several of the other classes are down a bit from previous years. We just hosted the Melges 24 Nationals here a week ago [Ed Note: April 7-9, hosted by the Charleston Yacht Club], which took some competitors away from Race Week because some boats could only sign up for one event or the other, not both the Nationals and [CRW].



What bigger keelboat classes have been attracting great competition? Are there any 30- and 40-foot classes that sailors from other parts of the country/world should pay extra special attention to?
We have lost some of the 40-footers that used to participate due to a lack of boatyard capabilities in the local area. The J/88 class will have a good turnout for [CRW], and it looks like we’ll have a nice ORC A class that will include the TP52 Gladiator.

Is the plan to rifle off as many windward-leewards (W-Ls) as possible, or will CRW also use triangles and “mini-distance” courses, or racecourses that also feature reaching legs? Or, do the sailors want W-Ls?
Our inshore racecourses are so full with competitors that it’s difficult for our committees to set any courses but windward-leewards. We do have Pursuit Course and the boats in that division race out of the harbor and around some marks in the ocean.

Then, on our offshore course, the race committee there also relies on windward-leeward course configurations, but the sailing instructions allow the committee the option of having the final course leg finish back inside the harbor.



Can you tell us more about CRW’s involvement with Sailors for the Sea and the event’s commitment to sustainability? Also, can CRW be a model of sustainability and environmental stewardship for other regattas?
We’re fortunate to be able to work closely with representatives from Sailor for the Sea. This will be the third year in a row that we’ve continued our commitment to operate in a more sustainable fashion. Last year, we achieved Sailors for the Sea’s Gold Level certification in the Clean Regatta Program and we’re planning to do that again this year.



Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?
Attendance at our event has waned somewhat this year, but that’s something that almost every regatta around the country is experiencing. Despite that, we intend to continue our support of programs that grow the sport by utilizing the event’s resources in the most productive ways possible.

Our mission from the very beginning has been to grow the sport and make it better. That’s why we push ourselves each year to develop new initiatives such as the adoption of ORC and our new Pro-Am event. Come take a look for yourself some time.

(Editor's Note: For more information about CRW, point your web browser at www.charlestonraceweek.com.)

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