54th annual Hobcaw Yacht Club Regatta continues effort to get youth involved in sailing

The Hobcaw Yacht Club held its 54th annual regatta on the Wando River in Charleston Harbor on Saturday and Sunday.( Leroy Burnell/Staff)

The party started at almost 3 p.m. on the nose Sunday — immediately after the sailors cleaned their boats and darted for the pool.

The tunes of Michael Jackson, Bruno Mars and Al Green set the tone, while fathers tossed their daughters in the air, teenagers dove into the water and toddlers squealed in their floaties.

In his six-plus months of helping plan the 54th annual Hobcaw Yacht Club Regatta, it was Skip Sawin’s hope the regatta would have a family feel to it during the weekend. In particular, the club’s sailing director was optimistic he’d see a large youth presence.

By the end of the weekend-long event Sunday, those efforts had come to fruition and were on full display.

The 2016 regatta saw about 90 boats register, up 20 boats from the 2015 event.

Even better, from Sawin’s point of view, about half of those 90 boats were filled with junior sailors younger than 18 years old.

“What you have a lot of times is you have a guy who sails — a guy who sails and has kids and stops sailing to chase his kid,” Sawin said.

“Now, we’ve taught the children how to sail and now we get back out on the water and we’re able to watch our kids sail and get back to the thing we love the most.”

Sawin’s own 14-year-old son, Lucas, competed in the regatta, placing first in his fleet of laser boats.

Some of the younger sailors, like 11-year-old Addyson Fisher, were crew members on their parents’ boats. Addyson is the daughter of College of Charleston sailing director Greg Fisher and his wife Jo Ann, who all placed first in the lightning category.

Other junior sailors skippered their own boats, like Lucas, and a female duo from School of the Arts did.

Frances Hart, 15, and Caroline Keinath, 17, were the top finishers in the 420s category, both having come from the School of the Arts’ sailing team.

Frances said she first started sailing at the Carolina Yacht Club’s junior camps, where she’s now an instructor.

Like Sawin, she’s seen her demographic start to appreciate the sport more through the years.

“I started sailing when I was about 10 years old,” she said.

“Over the course of time I’ve seen more people at my school get involved.”

Caroline, a rising senior, echoed that sentiment, adding that she was one of those younger sailors who was encouraged to try the sport around high school. Now, she has plans to sail in college.

During the awards ceremony at the conclusion of the three-day event, Sawin encouraged the participants to already start thinking about next year’s regatta, which will be held during the second weekend of July again.

For about a five-year period, the Habcaw Yacht Club moved the date of the regatta, but in 2015, it decided to move it back to the second weekend of July for consistency.

Though the club had to delay some of Saturday’s courses to Sunday because of lightning, Sunday’s weather was optimal, and sailors had little to no issues.

If all goes as planned, the 2017 regatta will follow 2016’s lead — hopefully with even more youth, Sawin said.

“The more kids we get into the sport, the more parents come, the more people come and it just builds overall,” he said.

“We’re not trying to train Olympic sailors. We’re trying to train little water people.”