Expect ‘gnarly’ sailing in Fort 2 Battery Race

The Fort 2 Battery Race features various types of sailboats and kiteboards. (Photo provided)

Tim Fitzgerald completely understands any reservations the average person might have about watching a sailing race from start to finish.

“If you’ve ever seen a sailboat race, it’s complex, somewhat confusing. The boats all seem to go in different directions. It doesn’t make any sense,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ve sailed my whole life and I totally understand why sailing looks boring and it looks elitist. Those are the things that I hate about sailing, too.”

But now, Fitzgerald is actively trying to change that perception, and he’s using the third annual Fort 2 Battery Race as his platform to do so. The race, which Fitzgerald founded two years ago, will kick off on Saturday around 2 p.m. It will feature not just sailboats competing against each other, but kiteboards participating in the field, as well.

The idea is that if kiteboarders are competing against each other at or around 40 mph, and sailboats are racing at about 34 mph, the race as a whole will be much more exciting to watch from a spectator’s vantage point. It’s essentially a dead sprint to the finish line, which is about 3.8 miles away, and more than 80 racers have signed up.

To Fitzgerald’s knowledge it’s the first race in the country, if not the world, that mixes sailboats and kiteboards together.

“It’s almost like the NASCAR version of sailboat racing,” he said. “This is not the traditional sailboat race that you’re used to seeing. This is much more of an X-games kind of deal. If it’s windy, you’ll see a lot of these guys wearing helmets and crash jackets and stuff.”

Fitzgerald encouraged anyone wanting to watch the race to arrive around 1 p.m. at The Battery. The race itself will only take a matter of minutes, since the boats are traveling so quickly.

But while The Battery is typically the ending point of the race, this year it’ll be the starting point because of winds.

“In previous years, we’ve had an easterly wind so “Fort 2 Battery” is accurate,” official starter Mike Palazzo said. “This year, the wind is backwards. It’s west. So it’s going to be a “Battery 2 Fort” race. We always make down winds for these guys because they’re just speed machines and that’s just kind of the gnarly aspect we’re looking for.”

Palazzo said the best way for spectators on land to catch the action would be with binoculars, since the boats are starting about a quarter of a mile away from where they typically finish.

Like Fitzgerald, he’s hopeful an extreme race like this one will help morph the sailing culture into one that is more appealing to a larger audience.

“This is a different aspect of sailing. I used the word gnarly before. You don’t usually hear that with sailing,” he said. “People think of sailing as a rich people’s sport — white collar and all that stuff. This is hopefully bridging that gap.”

Grace is the Post and Courier's Clemson reporter. She graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in journalism.