Rockville Regatta celebrates 125th anniversary

Skipper Stan Laroche looks for the finish line as he and his crew take the first race of the 2014 Rockville Regatta in their Sea Island One Design sailboat. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

For sailing enthusiasts, all roads and all waterways this weekend lead to Rockville. The population of the tiny little community on Wadmalaw Island will swell by thousands Saturday and Sunday when sailors and party-goers gather at the Sea Island Yacht Club for the 125th Rockville Regatta.

It isn’t the biggest regatta in the Charleston area with only 40 to 50 boats expected to participate. But its long history makes Rockville a special place as the area’s open regatta season wraps up. Hundreds of spectator boats usually fill the waters across from Sea Island Yacht Club in what some call the world’s largest floating cocktail party. But be aware that law enforcement officials from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office will also be out in full force to make sure the festivities don’t get out of hand.

“Rockville has always taken place the first full weekend in August,” said Grayson Carter, the immediate past commodore and current treasurer of Sea Island Yacht Club. “Rockville was a place for the people who lived in Charleston, who lived on Johns Island and Wadmalaw Island, to congregate and escape the heat of the summer, a place to be able to cool off, be near the water and enjoy the sea breeze.”

It also was a place where the area’s sailing clubs would gather with their scows to see who could best navigate the swift currents where Bohicket Creek joins the North Edisto River.

While many classes of sailboats compete today, the focal point of the competition is the venerable Sea Island One Design (SIOD) class, conceived by Oliver Seabrook who collaborated with naval architect Harvey Scheel on the design that was first sailed in the late 1940s.

Today, the SIOD fleet consists of nine boats. The original four – Undine, Marcheta, Cygnet and DogHouse – have been joined by Privateer, Island Spirit, Bohicket II, Grey Ghost and Flounder, the last boat which was built in 2011.

“All the boats are privately owned except for one, the Cygnet, which is owned by James Island Yacht Club,” said Carter, who owns DogHouse, Island Spirit and Grey Ghost. “Van Smith (owner of Privateer and Bohicket) is the one solely responsible for revitalizing this class in the late 1980s when he built the fifth boat in the fleet. The class was dying out, worn out. Van, being a lifelong sailor and Charleston resident, wanted to see the class revitalized and have the history and tradition continue. He did so by building Privateer.”

The Rockville Regatta officially kicks off Saturday with registration on the porch of Sea Island Yacht Club beginning at 9:30 a.m. The skipper’s meeting will be held at 11 a.m., with the first race starting at noon Saturday and Sunday. A dance featuring the East Coast Party Band will be held Saturday evening at Sea Island Yacht Club with tickets $15 at the door.

The awards presentation will follow Sunday’s racing, with the top prize being the Daniel W. Ellis Memorial Trophy, presented to the boat that has performed the best throughout the entire regatta season. Carter noted that the SIOD boats have been sailed at all the area regattas including Beaufort.