Looking Forward to Charleston

The sailors lucky enough to be present for the 2010 Key West Race Week witnessed a pretty quiet rum tent, with numbers down for the second year in a row in the IRC and PHRF fleets. When I mentioned how shocked I was to find there was no wait for the free Heinekens, a Savasana crewmember explained, “It’s because all the racers are pros. They don’t want to drink; they want to go home and sleep. Maybe order a pizza.”

Reasons for the slump abound, but it’s understood that the current financial situation has forced many boat owners to re-examine their yearly sailing budget. The costs of campaigns are now viewed in terms of mortgages, medical bills, and for some, unemployment wages. It’s a tough time to be a boat owner.

It’s normal, then, to look at the current entry list for Charleston Race Week —set to take place April 8-11—as an indicator of things to come. In only its 15th year, Charleston has gained a reputation for being home to Melges one design racing, with a strong PHRF contingent and a formidable Viper class. You don’t need a 70ft IRC racer to have a great time in Charleston.

Better still for those north of the Mason-Dixon line, South Carolina weather in April is much the same as Key West in January—a phenomenon best illustrated by the number of Canadian and New England sailors who make the annual trek each year to thaw their hulls.

Charleston’s annual registration numbers have been increasing steady despite the economic crunch, with 137 listed entrants in 2008, 166 in 2009, and 144 already registered for 2010.

Viper 640s and Melges 24s represent roughly a third of all entrants, but this year a new class looks to share the spotlight as well. Announced at the Newport Boat Show last fall, the J/80 USA Tour begins in Charleston and continues through eight other regattas throughout the year. Already 14 J/80s have signed up for Charleston, up from nine in 2009 and 11 in 2008.

And the PHRF class is holding strong a well. My own experience at Charleston involved a thorough walloping by a fleet of Tripp 26s. I’m pleased to see the majority of them headed back for more intimidation and domination.

The majority of the PHRF A fleet is also returning, with several 2010 Key West top finishers ready for the line. Boats new to the market join the lineup daily, making the prospect of being a spectator as well as a participant even more enticing. The brand new Summit 35 Act One, for example, is entered, along with a handful of Audi Melges 20s.

For all these reasons, the numbers for the 2010 Charleston Race Week are promising to the sport. This perhaps goes to show that even in a time of economic hardship, top-level competition in an ideal setting is priceless.

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