Hullabaloo at the Halloween Regatta
Our chosen pastime is often acknowledged for the moments of serenity and excitement it so effectively provides. Gliding along under sail power alone with only the sound of water lapping the hull and the occasional flutter of sailcloth can be truly moving. And so can a tight-quarters mark rounding where tensions rise, tempers occasionally flare and superior skills reap big dividends. Such experiences are part of what keeps us all invested in this sport. But perhaps the one element that truly binds us all – racers or cruisers – is that special camaraderie you find among sailors at their events. And one place where this is very much in evidence is at the Augusta Sailing Club’s annual Halloween Regatta.
Strictly speaking, the Augusta Sailing Club is located in Georgia, so you’d be right to question what it’s doing in a column on Carolina Sailing. But the J. Strom Thurmond Reservoir, where the club is located, sits right on the South Carolina-Georgia border. And each October, when the club’s Halloween Regatta rolls around, there are almost as many South Carolina sailors in attendance as there are those from the Peach State. Folks from the Palmetto State not only bring their boats, they bring their kids, their kids’ boats, their tents and camping gear and, of course, their festive spirit.
The ASC’s Halloween Regatta (October 7-9 this year) is far more than a competition. To begin with, the event has been in existence for 57 years and has evolved to become the area’s signature sailing activity. According to one of the regatta’s chief organizers – ASC vice commodore Dan West – this regatta draws at least four times as many boats as the club’s second biggest gathering. “The Halloween Regatta is definitely our largest event of the year,” he explains. “In recent years, we’ve had 120 to 140 boats attend.”
So what is it that attracts sailors from as far away as New York for this two-day affair? “We really don’t know,” says West. “It could be the hospitality, or the club’s grounds or something else, but it’s clear that people love it. They come once and they keep coming back. If you’ve never been here,” he continues, “it’s hard to describe what a beautiful spot this is. The clubhouse is surrounded by tall Georgia pines and from one of the comfy rocking chairs on the wide verandah, you get fabulous views of what appears to be an incredibly underutilized lake. Maybe because it is the largest manmade lake east of the Mississippi – over 70,000 acres – it just seams like you’ve got it to yourself most of the time.” According to West, who actively races his J/30 out of the club, the physical surroundings here are hard to beat. “We’ve got a pretty good arrangement with lots of beach area, a launching ramp and several docks. And, you don’t have to go far to race. From right up at the club, you can see each of our race courses.”
Traditionally, the Halloween Regatta kicks off on Friday evening with a cookout at the club. “At that point,” explains West, “most of the competitors have already set up camp in the trees and down by the beach. We have a band, some kegs and great hospitality all the way around.”
The following day, participants are treated to a continental breakfast and a reasonable starting time for the competition – what West describes as “the civilized hour of noon.” To orchestrate all of the on-the-water duties, the club saturates the lake with 35 race committee volunteers on about 14 different boats, ensuring that the racing is well managed and fun. “That (the racing), goes on for as long as the sailors can stand it, or until dinner time, whichever comes first.”
Saturday evening is when the Halloween Regatta really hits its stride. As the sun goes down, 300 or so sailors and sailing supporters are amassed at the club for dinner and a costume parade and contest. “The kids and adults with kid-like tendencies parade through the grounds in their costumes, and everyone votes on the best ones. Then, we hand out awards for that,” says West, “but we also have a band, adult beverages, hay rides, and this year we’ll be putting on a haunted house for the kids. The event attracts about 30 Optimist sailors, most of them from out of town, so there are a lot of kids around.” Sunday, after a big breakfast at the club, racing resumes midmorning. “We’ve got so many out of town participants that we have to start early in order to get them off the water and on the road home afterward,” explains West. Of the actual sailing competition he says, it can be fabulous or it can be dead. “It’s definitely lake sailing, so you take what you get. We’ve had amazing days out there with beautifully consistent wind and we’ve had days when the wind just doesn’t appear.” Despite the occasional windless day, ASC’s Halloween Regatta continues to be popular throughout the Southeast and beyond. This year, says West, boats are scheduled to come from all over once again. He and his fellow organizers anticipate eight to nine fleets, including Optimists, E-Scows, MC-Scows, JY-15s, Sunfish, Lasers, Lightnings, J/24s as well as a class for PHRF handicapped boats. “We’re expecting the MCs to be the most numerous with 30 plus entries, followed by the Opties with about 30. And, we shuld have a pretty big E Scow fleet with six boats based right here at ASC.”
One of the best things about the Halloween Regatta is that you get all of this fun, racing, meals and camaraderie for an economical price – $55 for adults, $35 for juniors. For a lot of sailors, that can really take the scare out of Halloween. For additional information check out the Augusta Sailing Club online
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Oct 15, 2012, 11:49 AM