Six sailboats left Charleston Harbor ready to harness the wind Friday for a 777-mile direct run to Bermuda, marking the start of the scaled-down 2009 "C2B" race.
Though the fleet was small, supporters say the goal remains the same: eventually fielding 30 boats or more every two years for a race linking Charleston and a friendly isle that carries deep connections to the state's historic past.
Bermuda was once a stopping point for Civil War blockade runners eager to burst through and resupply the South.
Prior to the noon start, there were prayers for strong winds and some last-minute paperwork for crews gathered just off the Charleston Maritime Center ahead of the starting cannon. Spirits were high — and not just because the sky was only partly cloudy.
How much liquor on board? "Not enough," shouted a crewman on board the 63-foot speedster "Spray," out of Hilton Head Island, before getting under way.
The "Spray" crew planned to start fishing for a grilled dolphin dinner as soon as they reached 200 feet of water, about 30 miles out.
Organizers point to the declining economy for the drop in entries this year — well below the 18 boats that raced two years ago. Time and cost are the biggest expenses, starting with the per-boat entry fee of $600, plus $40 for each crew member.
In addition to the S.C. Maritime Foundation's schooner Spirit of South Carolina, only one other Charleston-area boat is taking part, the 43-foot Beneteau "Tohidu."
Other race entries are the Cadence, Grateful Red, and Nova, all measuring between 40 and 63 feet.
The "Spirit," running the race in an exhibition category, is making its first trip to Bermuda, where it will participate in Bermuda's tall ship event.
A contingent of Bermuda officials was on hand for the start, and all said they'd like to see the Charleston race grow, in part because it provides an off-year event to the biannual Newport, R.I., to Bermuda event.
"We're hoping to build this into a 30- to 40-boat race, and we think it can be done," Ralph Richardson, commodore of the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, said before the start.
Charleston officials and those from Bermuda said they hope the race will boost each other's tourism.
This is the seventh running of the "C2B," which began in 1997 and is open to any boat 30 feet or longer. Friday's start went off without a hitch. "You are clear to Hamilton, and Godspeed," an announcer told all the sailors.
The race should take no longer than six days, depending on the wind and sometimes troublesome Gulf Stream currents.