Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week – Same as it Ever Was, but Bigger, April 18-21 By Dan Dickison
ne of the few constants within South Carolina’s competitive sailing scene over the past decade has been the continued growth of this region’s pinnacle event—Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week. Each April, more and more sailors from around the country and the world make their way to the Carolina Low Country to compete and enjoy the superb hospitality of what has become the largest regatta of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. With support from a raft of sponsors – including Outside Television offering commercials to eight million viewers—it’s about to get even bigger. Here’s a concise pictorial overview. Roots of the Regatta Back in the day, when Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week got its start in 1996, there were only 35 boats on the scratch sheet, and the entire fleet competed under the PHRF format; there just weren’t any one-design classes at that seminal event. These days, more than 60 percent of the 260-plus boat fleet competes in one-design classes, but the regatta hasn’t evolved too far from its roots among the offshore entries. Except for the Tartan Ten, J/111 and Swan 42 classes, the offshore boats are mostly dissimilar designs that compete under PHRF or the new High Performance Rule. Among them are boats such as the Charleston-based One-Design 35 Fearless, in the foreground above. Photo by Meredith Block.
Latest and Greatest When the initial starting gun sounds on Charleston Harbor on April 19, an amazing gathering of J/70s will rip off the starting line and head straight into history. As of press time in early March, 47 crews sailing these zippy, new onedesigns had registered for the regatta. “This is more than huge,” asserted Randy Draftz, event director. “We’ve had big classes at past editions of the event, but never a new design with such critical mass in its first year. To put this in perspective, there were 47 Melges 24s on the scratch sheet in 2011, but that was after the design had been established and growing for nearly two decades. With the J/70s, one of the first ones in existence was on display at the regatta as a demo boat just a year ago, and now these boats make up our event’s largest class.” Photo courtesy J/Boats. 48