I agree with an April 23 letter, "Sad sailing sign," that it's a shame that the Spirit of South Carolina is no longer active in Charleston, serving as an educational platform for young students from across the Palmetto State.
However, the letter writer is wrong to lay blame for this situation entirely on Charleston's sailing community. He's also mistaken if he believes that the Spirit's misfortune has any connection with Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week.
It's true, Charleston Race Week (as it's known informally) was, for several years, a funding source for the South Carolina Maritime Foundation - the organization that built and operated the Spirit. However, since its inception in 1996, this regatta has been the property of Charleston Ocean Racing Association (CORA), a nonprofit, membership-based organization committed to promoting sailing in Charleston and making it more accessible.
While the failure with the Spirit is a loss for all South Carolinians, and especially for those who were directly involved (many CORA members donated resources and thousands of hours to that project), Charleston Race Week is something to be celebrated. It has evolved to become the largest event of its kind in North and South America.
It attracts huge numbers of racing sailors to the Lowcountry each spring (over 2,200 in 2014, with over 80 percent from outside South Carolina), and has an estimated economic impact of $4 million. Nearly 300 volunteers - most of whom are CORA members and local sailors - assemble over the span of four days to ensure that this regatta helps Charleston live up to its reputation for superb Southern hospitality.
The event and its volunteer corps are also responsible for introducing numerous corporate entities to Charleston and the Lowcountry.
What's less known about Charleston Race Week is that each year, its organizers donate a considerable portion of the regatta's proceeds to area nonprofits that are engaged in sailing.
In recent years, contributions from Charleston Race Week have helped to support Veterans On Deck, the South Carolina Special Olympics Regatta, and Charleston Community Sailing, among other organizations.
And this year, the regatta helped to carry on some of the important work that used to take place on board the Spirit. The event organizers partnered with U.S. Sailing (the national governing body for the sport) to stage a one-day professional development session for middle school teachers and nonprofit leaders from Charleston and Marion, S.C., who work with at-risk students.
This session instructed these educators on different ways to use sailing as a platform for teaching STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). This one session doesn't begin to compare with the widespread impact that the Spirit had, but it's definitely a start in the right direction.
Contrary to the letter writer's assessment, our local sailing community need not hang its head. In fact, there's much to be proud of, particularly regarding Charleston Race Week - the most popular sailing regatta in the country, and an event that is helping to establish Charleston as a top-tier destination for sailing.
Charleston Ocean Racing Association