Charlotte Harbor Regatta competitors

Three competitors in the 2017 Charlotte Harbor Regatta sit focused in their Harbor 20 class sail boat.

Landlubbers passing Charlotte Harbor this weekend may catch the distant view of sails leaning into the water.

That’s the view of a regatta underway, with boats racing to round the markers ahead of their competitors.

The 10th annual Charlotte Harbor Regatta begins today at 11 a.m. and lasts through Sunday. Start time is 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. This year, about 90 boaters and 40 boats will compete, said Regatta Director Brian Gleason. Almost all of them are from out of town, he said, from all over the U.S. and parts of Canada.

Boat classes include single, double and other multi-hull boats. Some will include single sailors and others with a crew. One race course is north of Gilchrist Park and the other is by marker one in the harbor, or north of Ponce De Leon Park.

The regatta is another example of sports tourism or sports leisure that is growing in popularity, said Gleason. People schedule their vacation around sporting events, either spectator or participatory.

“It is a market that includes competitive sailing, baseball, soccer, basketball … They plan their vacations around this,” Gleason said.

Charlotte County can capitalize on this market with its protected harbor, the Charlotte Sports Park, and even a planned aquatics center at the North Charlotte Recreation Center.

“It’s a market that Charlotte County has targeted for quite awhile,” said Gleason, who is also the public information officer for the county.

Interim Tourism Director Sean Doherty said the regatta brings in an estimated $180,000 depending on the number of boats, but that’s not the full benefit. The big benefit is showing sailors a harbor ranked among the top 10 in the country by Sailing Magazine. Boat people may then decide to come visit, Doherty said, once they realize the large size of the harbor, the lack of bridges to get in the way, the lack of commercial ships and the restaurants and shops waiting for them along the waterfront.

The regatta is run by a nonprofit organization that draws on people in the local sailing community. Groups include the Charlotte Harbor Yacht Club, the Punta Gorda Isles Yacht Club, the Punta Gorda Sail Club and the Charlotte Community Sailing Center.

The annual regatta has not necessarily gotten larger, but it has inspired spin-off events in the area, Gleason said, including the Canadian American Championship scheduled for Feb. 23-24.

For interested spectators, watching a regatta is not a simple task. Some people come to watch the boats launch from the county’s Charlotte Harbor Beach Park at the end of Harbor Boulevard, Gleason said. Other launch sites are at the two private yacht clubs where it is harder for the public to gain access.

People watch from Gilchrist Park in Punta Gorda, or the southbound bridge of U.S. 41 over the Peace River.

The best views are from another boat, Gleason said, but that can get tricky. Occasionally, a big trawler will try to follow the sail boats as they race. Regatta officials have managed to head off those problems, Gleason said.

“It’s not helpful to have to sail through a big wake from a power boat,” he said.

Figuring out what’s happening is also tricky, Gleason said, partly because of the distance, but also because the race direction will change depending on the wind direction. The courses are circular, and as the sea breeze picks up in the afternoon, Gleason said, the race may start out in a different direction. Also, racers have to tack, or change direction, because you can’t sail into the wind.

It looks peaceful from a distance, Gleason said, but up close, there’s a lot of action on a boat, with the crew exchanging instructions as they shift directions and adjust the sails.

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