Hopeful for Charleston Race Week 2.0

Published on February 18th, 2021

Charleston Race Week was supposed to celebrate its 25th anniversary last April until the popular annual regatta was among many casualties of the coronavirus pandemic. However, event organizers are forging ahead with a special 2021 edition of this annual sailing extravaganza for its silver anniversary.

Longtime event director Randy Draftz said the Charleston Race Week organizing committee will operate under guidelines put forth by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control as well as those issued by the Town of Mount Pleasant.

“We’re hopeful things will be better regarding the pandemic by the time the event date rolls around, but we’re still not taking any chances,” Draftz said. “All our steering committee members and everyone involved in planning the regatta is embracing a safety-first outlook.

Their safety-first approach means a wide range of special protocols will be in place when Charleston Race Week is held April 8-11. Organizers are working with the professionals at the Medical University of South Carolina to ensure that all the chosen safety protocols will be working effectively.

To begin with, everyone involved with race week – whether skipper, crew, regatta management, volunteer or sponsor – must provide personal information to facilitate contact tracing.

Masks will be required at all times when on site at Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina, which will once again serve as regatta headquarters. Masks must also be worn on the docks with no post-race dock parties permitted.

“That means Charleston Race Week will look a little different this year,” note Draftz. “However, we’ll still deliver a fun, competitive and satisfying regatta that will live up to its reputation of being a genuine bucket-list event for sailors.”

Among the most notable changes caused by concerns about coronavirus involves the social side of the regatta. Like previous years, the beachfront regatta village at the resort will be in place and open with limited occupancy.

Organizers will not make a final determination about post-race parties until closer to race week based off the climate locally and state-wide at the time. It is possible there may be smaller, socially distanced parties held at multiple locations.

Draftz said some aspects of the regatta, such as the skippers meeting and pre-regatta local knowledge briefing, will be conducted virtually this year.

Draftz recently underwent contact tracing training with Johns Hopkins University and is well aware that COVID-19 testing can offer a false sense of security because individuals who test negative one day can develop symptoms as soon as the following day.

“So, we’ll be very vigilant regarding signs and symptoms among the participants,” he said. “That’s just the best way to go about staging a safe event.”

A positive addition in terms of the on-water racing is the use of tracking devices aboard all boats entered in the regatta. Organizers will use these to offer real-time tracking for those following the competition online.

Use of the trackers will not only augment the virtual experience for spectators – with on-site commentators offering additional insights – but also enable each participating crew to analyze the performance of its boat after-the-fact. Additionally, the trackers will assist race committees in precisely recording mark roundings and finishes.

Draftz said plans are in the works to utilize remote-controlled MarkSetBots to reduce the need for additional race committee volunteers on the water. These bots have wind direction sensors and can relay that information back to the committee boat.

With nearly 80 percent of participants traveling from outside the region, the organizers have put a lot of thought and effort into planning for these competitors. That means working with local yacht clubs and businesses to plan for efficient launching and hauling facilities and dockage during the event.

Draftz recognizes how COVID has changed everyone’s lives. “We’re working hard to strike a balance between staging a completely safe event and delivering the superb racing and social experience that people customarily associate with Charleston Race Week.”

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