America’s Cup audition

The largest boat participating in Charleston Race Week will be the 72-foot Shockwave, which requires a crew of 16 to manage.

Given the grim fate of some famous sports trophies — has Nick Saban finished sweeping up the pieces of Alabama’s national championship crystal? — it is little wonder that the America’s Cup trophy flies first class.

The Cup, known as the “Auld Mug” in the sailing community, is the oldest active trophy in sports, dating back to 1848.

The sterling silver Cup will be in the Lowcountry this weekend as part of Charleston Race Week, under the protective custody of Tom Ehman, vice commodore of the Golden Gate Yacht Club in San Francisco, which will host the America’s Cup finals next year.

But if Charleston Race Week organizers have their way, more than just the America’s Cup trophy will come to Charleston. They are hoping to use the presence of America’s Cup officials to audition for a spot in the America’s Cup World Series races.

“They are here, so let’s show them what we have to offer,” said Randy Draftz, race director of Charleston Race Week, the largest regatta of its kind in North America. “While they are here, we have to get their attention about it.”

With some 2,000 sailors and 269 boats registered for Charleston Race Week, which is headquartered at Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina in Mount Pleasant, Draftz said the timing is perfect.

“What we have to offer is the harbor and the ocean,” Draftz said. “It’s a tremendous venue. We have the port and the terminal, just like they did in San Diego (which hosted an America’s Cup World Series event last year). The America’s Cup people just took over one of the terminals for their venue.”

Draftz said landing an America’s Cup World Series race would be a “big, big, big deal.”

“We’re going to have the PGA golf championship this year,” he said. “It’s of that scale.”

The America’s Cup World Series has races coming up in Venice, Italy, next month and in Newport, R.I., in June. World Series events for the 2012-13 season are set for San Francisco, Venice and Naples, Italy.

“They go all over the world,” Draftz said. “There’s no reason why they couldn’t be here, too.

Draftz, in his fourth year with Charleston Race Week, said the booming regatta — which pumps about $2 million into the Lowcountry economy — is testament to Charleston’s growing stature in the sailing world. Charleston Race Week began 16 years ago with about 40 or 50 local boats, and now attracts boats and sailors from all around the world.

It takes some 300 volunteers to make Race Week go smoothly, and some of the sport’s heavy hitters will spend $30,000 to $50,000 this weekend, Draftz said. The fleet includes six boats in the 50-feet-plus category — America’s Cup-size boats.

“It’s a wonderful thing,” said Ken King, a local dentist and avid sailor. “The fleet was probably half local as recently as six or seven years ago, and a lot of factors have come together to make it more of a national regatta.

“It’s a convenient place to travel, and the world has discovered Charleston sailing.”