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An interview with Randy Draftz about the 2019 Sperry Charleston Race Week

by David Schmidt 8 Apr 08:00 PDT April 11-14, 2019
J70s at Sperry Charleston Race Week © Tim Wilkes /

Springtime can’t come soon enough for anyone who is motivated to get back on the water after a long winter’s hiatus from the great game of sailboat racing, and for years the annual Sperry Charleston Race Week has been one of North America’s marquee season-opening regattas. This annual event (April 11-14, 2019) regularly attracts top-flight One Design and handicap (ORC and PHRF) teams from up and down the East Coast, as well as from points West and abroad, by offering high-level racing on Charleston’s beautiful and historic waters.

While competition is plenty fierce in the PHRF and ORC classes, One Design racing has long been Sperry Charleston Race Week’s beating heart, and this year is no exception. A quick visit to the online entry form reveals 58 J/70s, 35 Melges 24s, 14 Viper 640s, 26 VX Ones, and 11 J/88s, not to mention smatterings of J/105s, J/120s, J/24s, J/80s, 1D35s and Flying Tiger 7.5s, as well as handicap boats ranging from Beneteau’s and C&Cs to a TP52 (Victor Wild’s FOX) and a Tripp 62 (George Collins’ Chelsea Racing).

Additionally, 2019 is expected to see the Sperry Charleston Race Week debut of the RS21 class, and RS Sailing is offering charter deals for sailors interested in helping to write the class’s history at this highly competitive multi-class regatta.

Sperry Charleston Race Week is now on the eve of its 24th edition and is set to unfurl over four big days, beginning with Thursday’s informal practice-race starts and concluding with Sunday’s final races, closing beach party, and awards ceremony. Racing will take place on inshore and offshore circles, and some of the handicap classes will take part in pursuit-style racing in their own racing courses.

I checked in with Randy Draftz, event and race director of the 2019 Sperry Charleston Race Week (April 11-14), via email, to learn more about this now-classic early spring regatta.

What’s the most important thing that a newbie to Sperry Charleston Race Week needs to know to have a great regatta?

Don’t drink too many Dark n’ Stormies! Staying at the resort is key as it makes everything easier. Get there a bit early to practice we have lots of current and if you are not used to it laylines can become a disaster.

We have plenty of practice races set up for Thursday provided by Quantum and College of Charleston. We a debrief session at the end of the day.

Conditions-wise, what should competing sailors all be hoping for in terms of velocity and direction? (Or, in other words, what are the typical best-case and worst-case conditions to hope for/dread?)

The prevailing wind direction is southeast (sea breeze) [and] we have had a mild winter so water temperatures already in the sixties Fahrenheit. So, if we get some warm days that breeze will build into the high-teens.

The worst is anything out of the west. We might as well just wait the sea breeze.

For the offshore teams anything with any velocity out for northeast makes things pretty dicey. We learned the hard way [that] we’re better off setting up a course up north of the big bridge inshore for those conditions.

How big of an advantage is local knowledge at Sperry Charleston Race Week? Also, looking back over the last few years’ worth of winners, were most of them returning veterans?

I think the current gets into the heads of the less experienced. I know it did for me moving here from Chicago and the Midwest. The courses are shorter so its puts a premium on starting that and owning your lane so that you can follow your strategy. The good sailors always figure a way to prevail.

What classes do you suspect will be the most competitive, once the starting guns start sounding?

We have great turnout in the Melges 24 class, the J/70 class, the VxOne class, the J/88 class, and it’s the Viper’s Atlantic Coast Championship.

New to event are the M32s and RS21s, and they will be very competitive as well.

We have an overall [award] called the Charleston Race Week Cup that will go to most competitive class winner.

How many boats are you and the other organizers expecting this year? Also, does the event have to cap registration numbers, or do you have the infrastructure to accommodate fleets of all sizes?

We’re expecting to [go] up about 5% over last year’s [numbers], so maybe about 260 to 270 [boats total] would be my hope. We are limited to the number of classes we can have on any circle do the length of our first legs, which range 0.8 to 1.1 miles.

A number of years ago we had capped the J/70 class at 60 boats until we figured a way to create subclasses which opened up ability to sail up to hundred on one circle if needed. I think the most we have had is a little of eighty on that course.

We’re logistically challenged with all these boats wanting to get out of the water at the same time on Sunday. Next year will be our 25th anniversary [event], and we are looking hard and inviting some new classes and hosting them in the earlier part of week.

How has the introduction of the wildly popular J/70 class changed the composition and feel of Sperry Charleston Race Week compared to regattas a decade ago? Less larger keelboats and more One Designs? Or, has it not made a significant change?

I think we were early to adopt the new sports boats and they have had a significant impact on [our] race week and the sport as well. We have had to get pretty creative to keep the larger keelboats attending. Our Pursuit Course which we started for the cruiser racers has grown so much in popularity that we have created what we call a Hybrid Pursuit for the racer cruisers . They will race out to an offshore windward leeward course and then race back in. We’ll see how this works out.

What is the hardest parts about organizing and running a regatta as big and prestigious as Sperry Charleston Race Week? And how do you overcome these each year?

I say this every year to our team: “I have good news and bad news. The good news is we pulled off a great event. The bad news is we must make it better for next year.”

The worst thing you can do is stick you head in the sand or rest on your laurels. You don’t have to go and make huge changes, but you need to listen to your customers and try to make it easier and better for them.

Can you tell us about any steps that you and the other organizers have recently taken to help green-up the regatta or otherwise reduce its plastics/CO2 footprint?

We have been working with Sailors for the Sea for years now and we are a Gold Level Clean Regatta. We compost, we have gotten rid of the pallets of bottled water and we recycle.

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