Crash bang excitement

A taster of what to expect at this weekend's Charleston Race Week

Wednesday April 16th 2008, Author: Meaghan van Liew, Location: United Kingdom
A 4 foot wave lifted the 24ft sailboat as easily as a surfboard, and when the enormous neon yellow spinnaker sail caught the wind at the top, the boat rocketed down the face at speeds that most people don't associate with “sailboat.” 1800 pounds of carbon fibre, epoxy, and stainless steel crashed over and through the wave as the crew alternated between hoots of exhilaration and grunts of exertion, blasting their way down the race course. The skipper looked around the harbour, nervously planning a route that would get him to the small, orange turning mark, less than 500 yards from Fort Sumter, ahead of 25 identical racing boats – all moving at 15 miles per hour.

This kind of excitement is routine for people who sail high-performance racing sailboats, and it's what Charleston area residents can expect to see on the waters of Charleston Harbor this Friday through Sunday.

The Melges 24 is named for America's Cup and Olympic legend Buddy Melges, whose family builds the high-tech racer in Wisconsin. 27 of these rockets will race against each other at 2008 Charleston Race Week, making them the biggest class of racing boats amongst 143 total entries at South Carolina's biggest sailing event of the year.

“This is our first time at Charleston Race Week, though we wish we had come sooner,” said Paul Hulsey, owner of Hoodlum Racing. Hulsey's team is one of the country's best, and they typically travel to regattas all over the U.S. to hone their skills. “Aside from great conditions and Charleston's draw as a great town, we wanted to be ready for our National Championship, which takes place this fall here on Charleston Harbor.”

According to Event Director Brad Van Liew, attracting a big variety of raceboats is what helps an event become successful. “Race Week has matured since its inception in 1996 when the event saw mostly local racers,” Van Liew said. “While we still have many of those low country sailors, the level of competition has grown considerably, and 72% of the teams this year are out-of-town teams who see Charleston Race Week as one of spring's premiere regattas.” Van Liew added that each visiting team includes between 3 and 11 crewmembers, and those sailors hail from 20 different states, and a number of countries, and as far away as Australia.

Van Liew heads the South Carolina Maritime Foundation, which created and built Charleston's own Tall Ship, the Spirit of South Carolina. “We've got a lot that makes Race Week unique among sailing regattas - not least of which is the fact that the profits from the event go directly to the Maritime Foundation and educational programs for youth onboard the Tall Ship,” Van Liew said.

The growth of Charleston Race Week has paralleled the growth of high-performance sailboat racing in the United States. Advances in boat construction, sail materials, and design have created new breeds of racing boat, as well as new techniques for getting these fast, lightweight boats around the course.

2008 Charleston Race Week will see 5 one-design classes and 7 handicap fleets with boats from 21 to 51 feet long, and the largest single fleet includes 27 raceboats.

Whether on the inshore harbor course, or one of two separate ocean courses outside the harbor entrance, each class of raceboat sails up to three races a day around floating marks aligned to the wind direction.

Charleston Race Week is an event of the South Carolina Maritime Foundation and the Charleston Ocean Racing Association (CORA). Profits from the event support educational programs aboard the Spirit of South Carolina, a classic tall ship serving South Carolina’s youth. Charleston Race Week is sponsored by Raymarine, Gosling’s Rum, Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina, Vineyard Vines, Gill North America, West Marine, the Town of Mt. Pleasant, Charleston Boatworks, and Azalea Moving & Storage. Check out www.charlestonraceweek.com for more information, including Notice of Race, Sailing Instructions, and logistical information.

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