Charleston Race Week features more than 250 boats as event turns 21

More than 250 sailboats will compete during Charleston Race Week. (File/Meredith Block)

Walking around the Battery, running over the Ravenel Bridge, splashing in the Pineapple Fountain or relaxing at Sunset Park will give you a front row seat to watch more than 250 sailboats racing in and around Charleston harbor this weekend.

The 21st annual Charleston Race Week, with racing Friday through Sunday, features racers from more than a dozen countries, including Russia, Germany, Canada and Brazil.

The event, under veteran race director Randy Draftz and buoyed by support of the local sailing community in addition to hundreds of workers and volunteers, has not only become the largest keelboat regatta over the last two decades in the United States, but it has also become a bucket list event for sailors around the world.

“There is a perception of the sport of sailing that it is a rich man’s sport — and its not,” Draftz said. “Sure there might be some rich guys (racing this weekend), but then there are also more than 2,000 sailors out there on the boats competing with and against them.

“So we cater to everyone, and we make sure they all have a good time. We hope people come down (to Charleston), get jazzed about this event, then head back up to Chicago, Connecticut or wherever, and spread the word. ... Race Week is about growing the sport, and that’s one of the biggest responsibilities about race week I feel I have.”

Thanks to the efforts of Draftz and the local community, Charleston Race Week has caught the eye of the sailing world over the last two decades since its humble beginning, which featured less than 30 entries in 1996.

One of the sailors drawn to the Lowcountry is New Jersey resident Christopher Stone. He recently finished in a tie for second at the J/24 Easter Regatta in Columbia and will compete for the seventh time in Charleston.

“I like that there is more going on than pure boat speed,” Stone said. “Our particular race course is really devilish, three rivers, the island in play, the ‘pile of bricks’ as they call it on the East end of the course, the end of Charleston and all the docks. You have numerous factors going on, its like a multi-level chess game, and I really enjoy that.”

Stone, an architect, said plenty of things off the water in Charleston have caught his attention.

“From a pure aesthetic standpoint, the Ravenel Bridge is fantastic,” Stone said. “Its something you look at there and its just gorgeous. And downtown, my wife is a fashion designer, and she loves to shop on King Street and we always try one of the restaurants.”

The regatta, based out of Mount Pleasant’s Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina, will feature live local bands and plenty of post-race activities for sailors and spectators.

Starting at noon each day, spectators can watch the action on a Jumbotron at the Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina. It will also be live-streamed on Charleston Race Week’s Facebook page. There is also a spectator cruise for an even better view of the action on the water. Seating is limited for the cruise, and more information is available at ezwaves.com.

Follow Luke Reasoner on Twitter @lukereasoner