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The Heart of Sailing in Charleston—

The Charleston Ocean Racing Association By Dan Dickison Boats gathering for a CORA regatta on the Ashley River in Charleston.


he French have a saying: “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.” Roughly translated, that means “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” According to Kirk Weichsel—the new commodore of the Charleston Ocean Racing Association (CORA)—it’s an apt way to describe this organization. “And,” says Weichsel, “that’s a good thing.” A 10-year resident of the Charleston area—and one of CORA’s biggest proponents—Weichsel is taking over the organization’s top role after serving as its treasurer for the past year. As a longtime sailor, he’s been involved with CORA nearly the entire time he’s lived here. Regarding the lack of change, he offers some perspective: “We run about 30 races a year. Along with our partners at the South Carolina Maritime Foundation, we also run Charleston Race Week, which is hugely successful. We’re actively promoting our offshore series, and with those three things, we really have our hands full. I view this as CORA not necessarily doing more, but doing it better. To date, I’d say what we’re doing has been successful. So, all I want is to see us continue promoting the sport.” Promoting the sport is CORA’s central mandate. That’s been the case, says Weichsel, since the organization was founded in 1967. Though it has no facilities, no clubhouse and no boats, this grassroots organization succeeds in offering a steady diet of races on a year-round basis. With just a Web site and 300-plus active members, CORA has evolved to become the most active and influential sailing organization in Charleston—the de facto heart of sailing here. (That same sentiment, in roughly the same words, appeared in this column two years ago. As the French say, “Plus ca change…”) What’s unique about CORA is that the majority of those 46

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members aren’t boat owners, but crew. They’re what the organization deems “associate members.” When CORA stages its monthly member meetings (from September through May), roughly 150 people show up each time, says Weichsel. “At any given meeting, at least two-thirds of those people are non-boat owners. They’re there because they enjoy the sport and want to keep learning about it. They want to be in the meetings and share the camaraderie, and that’s exactly what we want to foster. If you go to the meetings and you look around, you’ll see people from all kinds of backgrounds. We get on the same boat, and we all have a passion for the sport, and it works.” When it comes to associate membership, Weichsel knows what he’s talking about. About three years ago, he donated his Cal 34 to the South Carolina Maritime Foundation and began crewing on board a friend’s Sabre 362. “You’ll usually find me on the bow,” he explains. “But for anyone who wants to sail, this is one of the best deals around. An associate membership is $35 a year, and for that