Change is in the air for the local sailing mainstay, Whidbey Island Race Week. The 37th edition of the event this year will feature all the usual races, kid’s camp, and nightly parties with live music. In most ways, the five-day sailing event will be the same one local sailors have been looking forward to since the ‘80s. Unfortunately, this will also be the last Race Week held at Oak Harbor, at least for the foreseeable future.
Current race owner and producer Schelleen Rathkopf stated in a press release the decision was based, among other reasons, that the only lift in Oak Harbor Marina has been broken for two years with no plans to repair or replace it anytime soon. Additionally, the channel that leads to the marina needs dredging; large vessels often wish to attend the events but cannot reach the marina.
Rathkopf also noted that the race organizers wanted to grow in order to offer the best race experience on the West Coast and attract sailors from all over the U.S. and Canada. To do that, the event must take place in a location with deep water and a full-service marina. “Unfortunately, that is not in Oak Harbor” said Rathkopf. “The marina is owned by a tenant association (not the City of Oak Harbor) and the costs for the needed repairs and dredging is just too cost prohibitive.”
The City of Oak Harbor recently hired Blaine Oborn as the new City Administrator and Oborn is working closely with Oak Harbor Harbormaster Chris Sublet to explore future upgrades to the marina, possibly funded with grants. However, long-term planning wouldn’t begin until 2024, meaning Oak Harbor won’t be suitable for quite some time.
Starting in 2020, Race Week will be held in a new location to be announced soon. To appeal to PHRF and OD fleets from both the U.S. and Canada, the new location may be farther north than Oak Harbor, Rathkopf said. The new location will provide deep water, efficient services, reliable winds, and scenic locations for racers and hopefully, be better suited for a growing event.
“We are all going to miss Whidbey Island. My hope is that you will recognize that a change was necessary and that you approach a new venue with an open mind. I will do everything I can to make the transition as swift and enticing as possible,” said Rathkopf.
In the meantime, Rathkopf is asking that racers share a special memory or favorite picture with her at firstname.lastname@example.org to be compiled into a commemorative book and shared at this year’s awards ceremony. Participants of Race Week should stay tuned for any further developments and the announcement of the new race location, maybe as early as this spring.