Charleston Race Week

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The water off the coast of Charleston may not be warm enough by mid-April to go for a swim at the beach or to talk a buddy into taking the boat out for the first time of the season, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be any aquatic activities in the Low Country.

Coinciding with the 350th anniversary of the founding of Charleston, Sperry Charleston Race Week is April 23-26 for its 25th anniversary regatta—the first of three boat races coming to the area this spring.

“It’s really the gift that keeps on giving,” said Randy Draftz, event director of Sperry Charleston Race Week and owner of the outfitting company Charleston Yachting. “As the event has grown we’ve seen more and more interaction between European and domestic competitors and manufacturers.”

In 2019, there were 179 races spread across four days. Customarily, the fourth day¬—Sunday—is reserved for medal ceremonies, but due to inclement weather on Saturday, the completion of the Pursuit Hybrid and Pursuit Race events were delayed until the following day. Ultimately, five of the six Pursuit events came down to the final stretch, with ten boats in the fleet battling 20-22 knot winds that had gusts of up to 30 knots. The 2020 Sperry Charleston Race Week promises more of the same, with world-class competitors showing up for what has over the last decade become the world’s largest keelboat regatta, and quite a party to go along with the racing.

“Last year we served over 16,000 Dark and Stormy cocktails across three nights,” said Draftz. “That’s seventy-five cases of Gosling’s Rum and 400 pounds of limes.” And while the event’s signature drink is a cocktail and not a beer, Draftz says that beer is available at the beach party, buffet, and bar that takes place the first three nights of the event from 6-9pm. “We had a sponsorship with Sierra Nevada a few years ago, but for the last two or three, we haven’t had a craft beer partner. We’d love to have one, though! It’s such a great event for Charleston.”

The Sperry Charleston Race Week isn’t the only race coming to Charleston next year. On May 10, two weeks after Sperry Charleston Race Week has concluded, a different race will begin in the port city of Brest, France. The Transat, short for Trans-Atlantic and the oldest solo ocean race in the world, has sailors coming from the coast of Brittany to Charleston on single-occupancy tri-hull IMOCA 60sailboats. Sixty years ago when the competition began it could take roughly forty days to get from Europe to America, but now it takes anywhere from eight to 23.

Draftz said, “The Transat is really an endurance race. The competitors are living off of twenty-minute cat naps the whole time they’re out there and burning 7,000 calories a day.”

The Transat usually has obstacles of fog and ice to contend with, and there’s even been collisions with whales in the place that have damaged boats. The further north the racers go, the more likely they are to encounter chunks of glacial ice; if they venture too far south in their journey, they’re going to add hundreds of miles onto their path.

This is the first time the course of the Transat will take its racers as far south as Charleston. Traditionally, the race has finished in northern cities like Boston, New York, and Newport.

“It’s exciting to have ships from Europe coming into Charleston on our 350th anniversary,” said Draftz. “Hopefully Charleston will becoming more and more of an international destination for sailboat racing.”

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