Years The Preservationists
DEEP IN LOW- COUNTRY SOUTH CAROLINA, A GROUP OF SEASONED SAILORS GATHER FOR A UNIQUE REGATTA, COMPLETE WITH PLOUGH MUD, CLASSIC HULLS AND SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY.
drop away the farther you travel down Maybank Highway, which turns into dirt where ancient oaks hang overhead. The road ends at the front door of Sea Island Yacht Club, an open building with a wraparound porch overlooking Bohicket Creek. Each corner of this dance- hall- style building has a piece of history; wood planks from famous hulls hang alongside articles cut out from the local A solitary dock juts out over the marsh, and tethered to it are a few of the club’s namesakes, the flat-bottomed wooden-hulled Sea Island One Designs.
At 20.5 feet LOA (with a 7-foot-4-inch beam), these flat, wooden vessels look more like the box that the Y-flyer is shipped in rather than the highlighting vessel of one of Charleston’s summer- circuit regattas. The class, which hasn’t caught on anywhere else in the country, has one of the most loyal followings of any fleet. In Rockville, the land grudgingly gives way to the sea — winding creeks wash up on oyster beds and into the marsh, creating a rare landscape and the habitat for the rare species of boat that exists only here in the Sea Islands.
The club, which lauds itself on its timelessness and tradition, is a unique place for sailing. You would be hard-pressed to find anything new or remotely considered high performance on the property. The little hidden club has no desire to evolve, and there’s not a wasp or a viper to be found within 20 miles of the property. The sailors who compete here are not here for intense competition or any big trophy; they are here because they love the tradition of the boats and the scenery of the low country.
On this particular Friday night at Sea Island YC, volunteers are busy in the club’s sparse kitchen boiling shrimp pulled from the creek and baking corn bread for the crowd. In the heat and humidity, competitors and friends fill the club’s porch and front lawn. Among those gathered is Grayson Carter, the man responsible for preventing the Sea Islands’ probable extinction.
Carter’s Geechee inflection is perfect Charlestonian, a rare and refreshing sign of a true local. He’s easygoing despite his reputation as “fleet commander.” Carter commissioned two Sea Island One Designs: one in 1947 and another in 1952. Today, he owns
and Island Spirit, but he hasn’t raced them in years. “I don’t have any skin in the game; it’s all about providing the young people and good friends the opportunity to be a part of the history and tradition of the Sea Island One Design class.”instead, to uphold the competitive traditions of Sea Island One Design racing, he preserves them and lends them to able crews.
“Our goal is to keep and preserve the integrity of the class. I want to provide an opportunity for the younger generation that wants to be a part of the history.”
Carter raced in his younger days, but his humble nature keeps him from speaking to his own abilities in the boat. Instead he reminds sailors that he’s on-site to help in case anyone has an issue or a capsize. Of all the summer regattas in Charleston, Rockville boasts the biggest and wildest party. The creek turns into a giant raftup before the first gun goes off. Because of this, the creek is also heavily regulated and patrolled by DNR during the racing.
With the exception of the mark boats, Carter is the only exception to the strict rules that keep motorboats out of the racecourse. He trails the fleet in his T- top on the racecourse with the attention usually reserved for professional coaches to their sailors. If the Sea Island Yacht Club is the church of low-country sailing, then Carter stands in the pulpit and this is his ministry.
This area of Charleston, South Carolina, is known for its rich tradition and lore, and the Sea Island fits right into the story. Before
Post and Courier. Grey Ghost, Doghouse
plantations were able to ship their harvests to Charleston, they loaded goods like cotton and potatoes onto wide, flat barges with a sail. Barge captains staged an annual race to see who could transport crops the fastest. According to the lore of the fleet, the first documented competition happened in 1890.
The barges were eventually built to the winning design of the day, and the competition soon became one of skill rather than craft. In 1947, Oliver Seabrook — with the help of naval architect Henry Scheel of Mystic, Connecticut — streamlined the design and coined it the Sea Island. Since the first competition, the fleet has grown slowly but steadily, and not one of the boats built has been retired.
The ritual is carried out every year with the Rockville Regatta at the Sea Island YC, and the fleet now stands at nine, with the addition of Flounder in 2011, skippered by Michael Miller. Miller is a world- class racer and past Olympic 470 sailor who could otherwise be racing foiling catamarans or some other hot new one-design class, but the Sea Island’s appeal is its history, and the challenge of figuring out the fastest way to sail it. With the help of his crew, he makes sailing the Sea Island One Design look easy. Flounder was commissioned for Miller by a close friend, Hank Hofford. Hofford’s decision to undertake the project was inspired by the longevity of the Sea Island One Design, which is the oldest standing fleet in the Charleston area.
“As a kid I watched the Sea Island One Designs sail in the Rockville Regatta. I always wanted to sail on one. When the recession hit, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to play around on big boats, so we built a little boat. Michael Miller was a friend, and I asked him to help design it and build it. Frank Middleton built it in secret in his garage just around the corner.”
Flounder was built to be a perfectly fair member of the class. Middleton measured and weighed each and every boat in the fleet, making Flounder a perfect median of all the other competitors. Once finished, the team admired the boat, wondering what to name it.
“My wife was standing in the garage with me and Mike, and we were talking about what might be a good name,” says Hofford of the boat’s unique name. “The hull was upside down, and she says, ‘Well it looks like a flounder to me!’ So we named the boat Flounder.”
weekend without Laroche. He’s been racing Sea Islands since he was 10, taking after his father, who also sailed them his entire life; even when he was in the service, he found a way back each year to sail.
While Miller has an extensive background in racing, Laroche knows Bohicket Creek better than anybody. The two of them regularly share information to challenge each other to sail the boat ever faster. While the Sea Island hasn’t evolved much, the technique of sailing it has; the boats now sport a trapeze, used upwind as well as downwind to heel the boat to leeward in light air. When Miller joined the fleet, he put the heat back on.
“Everyone had been in a relaxed mood for a few years. And it’s inspired a lot of the other boats to step up their game and compete seriously,” says Hofford. “We have a very competitive fleet now.”
The fleet, he adds, is treated with a rare reverence not often given to pieces of wood, fiberglass, and metal by sailors and spectators alike. They aren’t very fast, and they definitely aren’t high tech, but surely the pilgrimage to Sea Island Yacht Club will continue for years to come. There is even a rumor that somewhere on the island there’s another Sea Island in production, hidden away, half-built, in someone’s garage. Q