Charleston Race Week – Charleston, SC
Charleston, SC has had a long history with boats.
First there were the Lords Proprietors, who were given the Carolinas by King Charles II of England. In 1663, they sailed up the Ashley River and settled the original Charles Towne a little bit upstream. After moving the town down to its current location on the peninsula, Charleston became the southernmost point of English settlement during the late 17th century and was often subject to attack from the sea. Spain and France tried in vain to reclaim the region that they had found first, and pirates often raided the seaside landscape.
After growing into a profitable shipping town, Charleston again became the center of English naval attention during the American Revolution. South Carolina patriots began to build a fort to guard Charleston harbor in 1776. Nine British warships attacked a still incomplete Fort Sullivan on June 28, 1776, near the beginning of the American Revolutionary War. The soft palmetto logs that the fort was made out of did not crack under bombardment but rather absorbed the shots. Cannon balls reportedly even bounced off the walls of the structure, being retrieved later by the patriots and used to fire back on the British ships. This became the first unofficial American victory during the Revolutionary War, at the fort that was later renamed Fort Moultrie.
Charleston harbor again became the center of national attention, this time during the Civil War. It was at Ft. Sumter, the still unfinished fort set out in the middle of the harbor, where Confederate soldiers fired the first shots of the war. After the Civil War, Charleston continued to be a thriving port city, even housing a naval shipyard from 1901-1996. Nowadays, Charleston Harbor is filled with every manner of seafaring vessel, including giant freighters, water taxis, sailboats, ferries, tour boats, crab boats, yachts, cruise ships, the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier, and many others.
So why this long history lesson? Well for starters, Charleston is ALL ABOUT their history. (We took 4 different tours while we were in Charleston, and each of them gave us this exact same history lesson) They’ve clearly got a lot of it, and tons of buildings and streets in the city have been preserved, keeping the city in a historical time warp of sorts. But what you can also tell from this brief history lesson, is that it would’ve just felt wrong to pick a sporting event happening on land for South Carolina. Which is what brought us to the 2012 Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week.
The Charleston Race Week is now in its 17th year, and began as a local regatta championship. In 2005 the event partnered with the South Carolina Maritime Foundation, with the intent on growing the event in stature. Their efforts were rewarded, as the event began to grow in size, attraction boats from all over the country and even as far away as England. The steady increase in participants has led to the Charleston Race Week, now sponsored by Sperry Top-Sider, becoming the largest and fastest growing keelboat regatta in North America.
The 2012 event featured 260 boats on the water, with around 2,000 sailors competing in various sailboat categories both in the Charleston harbor (inshore) and out on the Atlantic Ocean (offshore). Amateurs and professionals alike competed against each other to catch the best winds, turn on a dime around buoys, and lead their respective vessel to victory. Although not often thought of in this way, competitive sailing is a complete team effort. Coordinated teams move like a well-oiled machine, with each person knowing their individual assignment and waiting for the exact opportunity to flourish. Teammates steer the rudder, raise and lower the sails, and even move from side to side (ducking under the swinging mast) to balance the boat with their collective weight. It’s that team coordination that takes center stage at this event, as the race courses were filled with boats sailing in every direction, making avoiding other boats just as important for the sailors as was sailing fast.
But if you’re in the same boat as us (no pun intended… OK, maybe a little pun intended) and don’t know the difference between a mast and a keel, or a jib and a tack, then the Charleston Race Week becomes all about the sea of sailboats sailing amid the backdrop of a beautiful Charleston waterfront. Hundreds of boats sailing together in a crowded Charleston Harbor, with iconic landmarks like Ft. Sumter and the Charleston Battery on the horizon. Plenty of interested boaters made their way out into the water to get a closer view of the racing action, but it was just as good to view the races from shorelines like the Charleston peninsula, Mt. Pleasant, Sullivan’s Island, James Island, or even Morris Island.
And just like Charleston itself, under that graceful appearance of sailing lies a much tougher interior. If its place as a sport were ever in doubt, the media room doubling as the sailor weigh-in room led us find out that sailors burn upwards of 5,000 calories and a couple of pounds after a full day of sailing. It’s a good thing that food and plenty of Gosling’s Rum was flowing each night, as these sailors needed the caloric intake of a few “Dark and Stormy” signatures drinks in their system to fuel their next day of sailing.
But in all seriousness, sailing is a historical part of not only Charleston, but the entire world. Without it, we’d still be living on the other side of the world not knowing about beautiful harbors and cities like Charleston, SC. And much like the city itself, sailing’s history is being preserved even as new technologies push sailboat racing to new heights. As the Charleston Race Week continues to grow, its exposure can only push newcomers to the sport, preserving nautical history and lessons for generations to come. Just learning to sail a boat is an exercise in history, which is the same thing that can be said about a visit to Charleston.
Here’s a video from the 3rd and final day of racing at the Charleston Race Week: