If you search “sailing capital of the world” on Google, the top results are Annapolis, Md., and Newport, R.I.
Neither city officially has been given that label, so it really comes to personal preference and regional biases.
But one thing’s for sure: Charleston didn’t make the list. And that’s okay, said David Loring, a longtime member of the James Island Yacht Club.
Though the Holy City has a rich sailing history, Charleston’s claims to fame are its heritage, great food and beaches.
And all of those benefit the sailing community. They’re part of the reason this year’s JIYC regatta will play host to one of the biggest sailing competitions in North America.
Loring says the James Island Yacht Club is expecting about 70 boats in the harbor for its two-day event. That includes sailors from Ecuador, Argentina and across the U.S. who will compete in the 2019 U.S. Sunfish Class Association North American Championships.
The event will include Loring, who won the Sunfish world title in 2009, as well as several other world champions.
“Some really high-caliber people from around the world are going to be here,” he said. “Having such an event in our waters is huge for Charleston. It puts us on the map.”
The sunfish is a personal-size boat, with a wide beam that offers more stability in the open waters. It’s a good learning boat for those who are relatively new to the sport.
“This competition increases our footprint as a yacht club and our presence as a sailing community on the national stage,” said Kurt Oberly, chairman of the James Island Yacht Club regatta.
After James Island, four other Lowcountry yacht clubs will host their annual regattas. Hobcaw is next, followed by the Charleston, Carolina, and the Sea Island Yacht Club, with its Rockville Regatta.
While waiting for their turn, Carolina Yacht Club chairman Walter Prause says the club has been busy. Like the others, their sailing season includes youth camps and other events that have pushed the sport to the forefront.
“It all serves as a benchmark to kind of see where you are and how your skills have developed,” he said. “And that’s especially good for the youth programs. They really feed the culture here.”
While regattas and other events are often dominated with local participation, sailing enthusiasts are quick to point out that sailors from all over the country come to Charleston to compete.
Largely, it’s because Charleston has a premier harbor mixed with thermal air that creates a perfect sea breeze for sailing.
But after the boats are docked, competitors turn into tourists, Oberly added. They often stay at nice hotels, hit the shops and dine at the many restaurants downtown.
“We have a lot to offer that other major sailing cities don’t have,” he said. “We’re very much a sleeper pick in that regard.”
Most of the sailors will be in Charleston by Friday. And keeping with Southern hospitality, the JIYC will have appetizers and cocktails for members and regatta attendees Friday night.