When College of Charleston director of sailing Kevin Jewett described to a friend what Sperry Charleston Race Week is all about, he used an auto racing analogy.
The regatta, he said, is a combination of the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 all rolled into one. But, of course, it's on the water.
“There are so many different classes, so many different boats and so many different courses in the harbor and outside of it that it’s like several regattas in one,” Jewett said. “There are professional crews with professional captains competing and then there are the Corinthians crews that are out there for the love of the sport and they compete each other. Everyone who loves to sail has these dates circled on their race calendars.”
Sailors from across the United States and around the world are gathering this week in Charleston for the 2019 Sperry Charleston Race Week. The event will run begin Friday and run through Sunday with racing in and outside of Charleston Harbor.
Charleston Race Week features more than 260 boats with 18 registered classes that will race in one-design and handicap racing on inshore and offshore courses. Headquartered at the Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina in Mount Pleasant, Charleston Race Week features eight returning champions, including Joel Ronning and his crew, which includes James Island native Patrick Wilson, on Catapult in the highly-competitive fleet of J/70s.
“It’s become the largest sailing competition in North or South America in the last five years,” Jewett said. “Based on the numbers of sailors, the number of boats and the size of the boats, I don’t think there’s a bigger event on the race calendar. The J/70s is probably one of the most competitive classes in the whole regatta.”
The M32 will be racing for the first time in Charleston. Organizers brought two of the high-speed catamarans to last year’s regatta to assess the logistics and then added them to this year’s lineup.
“Charleston checks so many of the boxes we look for in venues – nice conditions, easy logistics, a fun city,” said Dave Doucett, director of M32 North America. “We did some test-racing there last year and absolutely had a blast. We are looking forward to bringing a strong fleet and enjoying some exciting racing in a beautiful locale.”
College of Charleston has been involved with Charleston Race Week in a number of ways, including hosting a Warrior Sailing clinic, a program to get veterans on the water that provides physical, mental and emotional therapy. Twenty-one sailors in three different classes from Warrior Sailing are expected to compete in Charleston Race Week, some aboard J/22s, which were provided by the College of Charleston.
“It’s a great program to be involved with,” Jewett said.
Jewett said as many as 35 members of the College of Charleston intercollegiate dinghy and offshore sailing teams, whose varsity coed team is ranked No. 4 and women’s No. 3 and team racing No. 2 nationally, will be participating this weekend.
“I’m looking for ways for the team to benefit from having race week here in Charleston,” Jewett said. “It’s great for recruiting and raising funds and promoting our program.”
Jewett, who was a professional sailor and has competed in Charleston Race Week, will not be racing this weekend.
“It’s going to be a different experience for me,” Jewett said. “My focus is on our program at the College of Charleston and I figure every five years it’s OK for me to take one off. I might be really hungry to get back into it again after this year.”
Greg Fisher, the former sailing director at College of Charleston, will be back on the water this year in the VX One class. Fisher, who left the Cougars to become the Chief Operations Officer for U.S. Olympic Sailing, will be competing with his wife, Jo Anne, and Jeff Eiber.
“I haven’t done a lot of racing since I started with the U.S. Olympic Sailing program, so I don’t have huge expectations,” Fisher said.
In addition to members of the College of Charleston varsity team, former team member and current professional sailor Sam Greenfield will oversee another crew aboard the Melges 30 Cougar.