12th February 2016

A Brief History of Charleston Race Week

Sperry Charleston Race Week is now in its 21st year. The regatta was established in 1996 by members of Charleston Ocean Racing Association (CORA). The event actually came into being when CORA’s officers opted to merge two area regattas into one – the South Atlantic Yacht Racing Association’s PHRF Championships and the Charleston Palmetto Cup, a local championship event. That year, on the initial scratchsheet, there were 29 entrants.

inaugural charleston race week

The first few editions of Charleston Race Week, as the event was formerly known, took place during the summer. At the time, the roster was largely made up of teams from around Charleston, and occasionally from the Savannah, GA, and Wilmington, NC areas. In early part of the last decade, that began to change.

The event’s organizers developed a strategy to grow the regatta by moving it to a spring date in order to attract boats that would be migrating north after the Caribbean regatta season. In addition, several back to back years of minimal winds during the summer reinforced this decision.

In 2005, the regatta began to change dramatically after CORA’s leaders struck a creative bargain with the directors of the South Carolina Maritime Foundation to have that organization manage the event. Both factions were intent on seeing the event grow in stature, and collectively they worked on a long term strategy to establish this as one of the premier regattas on the East Coast. An important key to that success was the implementation of specific policies to ensure that the regatta remain affordable and accessible to all prospective participants.

Their collective efforts were rewarded. In 2006, Charleston Race Week drew entries from as far away as England, Canada, Michigan, and California, with more than 70 percent of the competitors arriving from out of town. The story was much the same in 2007 and 2008, with increased numbers of participants each year. The event has grown by an average of 15 percent in recent years and evolved to become the largest keelboat regatta in the Western Hemisphere.