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Big J/70 class to highlight Sperry Charleston Race Week

by Dan Dickison 14 Apr 2017 13:40 BST 20-23 April 2017
J/70s such as these will be among the 230 boats at Sperry Charleston Race Week 2017 © Tim Wilkes /

The largest keelboat regatta in the America's – Sperry Charleston Race Week – is known to attract big one-design fleets. And that trait will continue this year as 77 J/70s are expected to compete when the initial starting gun fires next week on Friday, April 21.

Now in its 22nd year, Sperry Charleston Race Week has evolved to become a mecca for trailerable one-design sailboats from across the country. Along with the J/70 Class, event organizers are expecting a significant turnout among the Melges 24, VX One Design, J/24 classes in particular. And several other one-design classes are expected to produce strong numbers as well. In all, 230 boats have registered to compete.

"We characteristically see a robust turnout among one-design classes," said Randy Draftz, the Event Director for Race Week. "Informal surveys of competitors indicate that people love to attend this event because it truly is a regatta unlike any other."

Part of Race Week's appeal, Draftz says, is that it regularly draws top-caliber sailing talent and presents challenging conditions. "Our competitors have to deal with Charleston's tricky tides," he explains. "But we also know that sailors are drawn here by the location. We have a superb beachside venue that's ideal for the social aspects of the regatta. That's where we set up our regatta village and event headquarters. When you combine all that with Charleston's popularity as a destination, this event is hard to beat."

This year, competitors will be arriving from 24 different U.S. states and seven foreign countries. Several factors keep sailors coming back to Race Week each year says Draftz. "We strive to provide the best on-the-water race management possible. Our race officers are among the most experienced in the sport, and they all share a competitor-centric outlook. That means their No. 1 priority is doing what's best for the racers. That's ingrained in the DNA of this event."

This year, one of the things that will be "best for the racers" is the fact that the organizers have adopted the ORC (Offshore Racing Congress) Rule for all handicap racers except those in the Pursuit classes. The ORC system provides fair and competitive scoring for different boat types and is the largest measurement-based system in the world. (An FAQ page explaining the ORC Rule is available on the Sperry Charleston Race Week website.)

Another new feature that the organizers have developed for participants is a Pro-Am event scheduled for Saturday after the regular racing finishes. This series within a series is intended for spectators at the event and it's being staged as a fundraiser for the College of Charleston's Sailing Program. Ten high-profile racers who are well known in the sport will each steer one of the College's J/22s. Their crews will include one member from the College's varsity sailing team and guests who have paid for the privilege of sailing with some of the most talented sailors in the sport.

Sperry Charleston Race Week gets underway with practice races and a skippers meeting on Thursday, April 20, and the competition starts in earnest the following day. More than 220 boats have registered to compete. Follow the event on its website and on its social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube).