Low Country Hook Ocean Race 2017
Skidaway Island is Hooked on Sailing

by Amy Collings

The second annual Low County Hook Ocean Race was held July 29, and while skies were cloudy, one thing was clear: the race has become a major island attraction and one of the region’s premier sailing events.

Drawing the largest number of sailboats of all the “big boat” events from Charleston to Jacksonville, the event featured 24 racers and brought close to 200 attendees to the celebratory, post-race dinner, an increase from last year’s inaugural event.

The five-hour race, which began at Harbour Town Yacht Basin in Hilton Head and concluded at Landings Harbor Marina, was organized by Skidaway Island Boating Club (SIBC) in partnership with the Yacht Club of Hilton Head (YCHHI).  Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, Southeast Coastal Properties returned as the title sponsor of the 25-mile race.

Last year was the first time in more than 20 years that a sailing event took competitors through open ocean waters off the South Carolina and Georgia coasts.  From Harbour Town in Hilton Head, the sailboats went southward around Tybee Island, and then turned up Wassaw Sound and the Wilmington River to Landings harbor, following a J or hook-shaped course.  Its instant success and strong community support guarantees it will become an annual event.

“Last year’s brainstorm is this year’s tradition,” said SIBC Hook Committee member Jane Master, one of many dedicated volunteers who served on the race committee.  “The Hook has quickly become our signature event. It’s now part of the regional racing calendar.”

After the racers docked, dined and recounted their high seas successes and travails, trophies were given in three categories, spinnaker, and non-spinnaker A and B, to the top three finishers in each class. Spinnakers are the large, colorful, three-corned sails that billow off the bow to increase speed. Non-spinnaker boats were divided into groups A and B based on boat size and speed potential.

In the spinnaker category, Gebel Sesse placed first aboard High Visibility, Troy Lamb placed second aboard the Wahoo, and Paul Reddick and his Blue J came in third.

Jake and Jane Master won top honors in the non-spinnaker A category, aboard Masterpeace, Todd Williams took second with his Grand Cru and John Springer aboard Direction placed third.

In the non-spinnaker B category, Leo Peolquin won first place with Merlin, Robert Benton aboard Gazaway took second, and Hap Todd placed third aboard MacKenBri. All three were commended for displaying “expert seamanship” while sailing through rough weather towards the end of the race.

US Sailing Race Officer Joleen Rasmussen gave special recognition to David Jackson who, within sight of the finish line, stopped his boat, “Your Move!” to assist another boater whose mast toppled over when a brief but intense rainstorm descended and a gust of wind estimated at 40 mph struck.

“That’s what you’re supposed to do,” said Jackson, modestly. A resident of Atlanta who was sailing out of Beaufort with his son, he made sure the captain and crew were fine and that a tow boat was on the way, before finishing the race.

SIBC Commodore Lee Carroll presented the awards and thanked the captains, crew, race officials, Landings harbor staff, sponsors and volunteers who helped make the event possible, with special thanks to race co-chairs SIBC Treasurer Jake Master and Vice Commodore Roger Herrick, as well as SIBC Board members Paulette Hamilton and Linda Dew who organized and coordinated the festivities.

Open to sailboats longer than 22 feet, the race was handicapped, with times adjusted proportionally so that both larger and smaller sailboats could compete based on the skill of the crew. Captains, crew and race officials gathered Friday evening at Harbour Town marina for dinner sponsored by YCHHI and a review of the rules. Competitors came from as far away as Charleston and just north of Jacksonville. A total of 28 registered for the challenge, but four dropped out due to mechanical problems, leaving 24 boats on the starting line.

With excitement and optimism in the air, the race got underway Saturday morning. The sailors encountered “rough but fun conditions, perfect for an ocean race,” said Williams, with crewmembers riding the rails most of the time to counterbalance the wind. As an added bonus, they also encountered “wonderful sea life” including lots of dolphins, a loggerhead turtle and four manatees, said Rasmussen.  The race concluded at Landings Harbor Marina where a barbeque dinner, along with nearly 200 family, friends and supporters, awaited. The captains and their crew members from Hilton Head overnighted at the marina, and, fortified with coffee and donuts, sailed back home Sunday morning.

The Hook race is the only short open ocean water sailing event in the Low Country. While many area boat clubs host annual regattas in inland waterways lasting only an hour or more, the Hook offers the unique opportunity to compete in open ocean waters for several hours which historically was a large part of sailboat racing.