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Here’s the ‘Hook:’ New sailing race to Savannah debuts Saturday

Offshore yacht racing returns to the waters off Hilton Head Island this weekend in what organizers hope will become a summer staple – or at least an annual “hook.”

The Low Country Hook, named after the shape of the race route from Calibogue Sound to Savannah’s Skidaway Island, will debut Saturday with more than a dozen boats setting out on the 30-mile journey. It should take about six hours to determine a winner.

“This is our first (venture) in at least a decade offshore,” said co-chairman Jim Landis, a member of the Yacht Club of Hilton Head Island. The club is one of two race organizers, along with the Skidaway Island Boating Club.

The route will take competitors from Calibogue Sound to sea southward past Tybee Island, turning west toward Wassaw Sound, then hooking north again to the finish at Landings Harbor.

“It will offer local sailors a truly different experience than the other local regattas provide,” said Paul Reddick, another of the race organizers.

The race is open to any type of sailboat larger than 22 feet, with competition divided into spinnaker and non-spinnaker classes. A handicap system also will be utilized to adjust times based on vessel size.

“It lets (entrants) compete with some sense of confidence that they’re competing on their sailing skills,” Landis said. Prizes will be given to the top three finishers in each class.

Beachgoers on Hilton Head Island’s south side will be able to see competing boats start to spread out after the start. Boat owners also are invited to observe the race from the water.

Offshore racing, defined as competitions held primarily in open water and requiring several hours to complete, has been largely absent from the Lowcountry’s yachting calendar for a generation.

“There were offshore races run between Charleston and Savannah, including Hilton Head,” Landis said. “But it’s probably been 20 years since we’ve had offshore races. Just a lack of numbers, and the program eventually died.”

Most racing these days take place on inland or coastal waterways, where races start typically start and end in the same vicinity.

Landis and some fellow YCHHI members had been seeking to put an offshore race back on the calendar, but needed a counterpart on the other end to put the idea into motion. The Skidaway Island Boating Club came into the picture about a year ago.

“They’re really making this event happen,” Landis said. “They’re actually doing more of the work than I am.”

The race is the highlight of a three-day schedule of festivities. Competing boats from Savannah will sail to Hilton Head Island on Friday for a skippers’ meeting and welcome party hosted by the YCHHI. The race follows at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Another party is set for Landings Harbor Marina after the race’s completion, open to all participants, sponsoring club members and guests. Sunday brings competitors together again for breakfast before the Hilton Head Island boats head home.

Organizers are still taking late entries from interested boaters. For more information, go online to SkidawayIslandBoatingClub.org/low-country-hook-race-about/.

Jeff Shain: 843-706-8123, @jeffshain