Parents send eager-eyed children off to summer camp every year. But what happens when we get “too old” for camp? In 1983, a group of Northwest sailors decided that enough was enough and, over the decades, Whidbey Island Race Week has become a cornerstone of the Pacific Northwest sailing scene. This year, the rum tent was set up on the Oak Harbor Yacht Club lawn and Tesla motors was on hand with their newest offerings. Fisheries Supply had their booth decked out with all the last minute and replacement gear the fleet would need, and Ullman sails sent out Chuck Skews from San Diego to keep everyone’s sails in order. The Ullman Sails’ crew was also out on the water each day on a chase boat keeping tabs on the racing and offering advice and coaching to anyone who asked. The management has put both feet forward in making Race Week a family destination and the sold-out Brenda Van Fossen, MD Kids Camp is a clear indicator of their efforts. Nine classes were lined up and principal race officer Charley Rathkopf, now in his twelfth year as race officer, was running the show
on the water July 11-15. Now in its 34th year and with owner Schelleen Rathkopf settling into her second year in the role, the event continues to be the centerpiece of many sailing programs’ racing season.
Monday morning came and eager boats were out early to make the most of a quick practice session before the first warning. After a short postponement, the course was set for a light easterly and boats began to dial up for the starting sequence. As the first few fleets worked their ways upwind, the light easterly was overpowered by the traditional westerly afternoon thermals. The race committee flew the November flag to cancel the race and began resetting a new course to send fleets to the west into Penn Cove. As the breeze settled in, all fleets were able to get off one race. The swirling wind deep in Penn Cove kept everyone on their toes and allowed for big moves to be made by playing current rivers and staying “in phase” with the shifting wind.
Tuesday began much the same as Monday with a postponement and many boats heading to the dock at Coupeville for lunch and ice cream. A westerly began to settle down at 1330 hours deep in the bay and worked its way towards the waiting sailors. All fleets were sent on a seven-leg endeavor using every buoy that the race committee had at its disposal. The “Z” course challenged crews by involving a tight reaching leg that took boats laterally across the race course. Crisp boat handling was key to staying in the game and many boats learned that while you normally can’t win a race on a reaching leg, you can certainly lose. The second race for the day was a simple lap and a half finishing downwind as the fleet headed out of the bay and back towards Oak Harbor.
Wednesday brought with it the picturesque conditions that keep sailors coming back to Whidbey Island year after year. With heavier air forecasted for the afternoon, sailors prepared for some heavy hitting wind, but as the day wore on there was none to be found. Strong current made for tough decisions at the start and the corners, allowing for several boats to pull some astonishing moves, such as James Geros’ J/105 Last Tango pulling a port tack start on the super competitive, 13-boat One Design fleet. Three races rounded out the day and allowed several frontrunners to establish strong leads while other fleets found themselves even closer than they began.
Thursday morning came, and the race committee made the call to send the fleet on a distance race up and down Saratoga Passage. With the wind seemingly established, the course took fleets up Penn Cove toward a buoy set off the Coupeville dock, then back downwind to a right turn and headed south to nearly the end of Saratoga passage, and back upwind to finish. On Charlie Macaulay’s Farr 39 Absolutely, the crew claimed to have used every sail they had on the boat trying to make the most out of the fickle conditions. A game of leapfrog ensued as boats worked their ways north again toward the finish. There were instances when boats only feet apart sailed fully powered up in breeze to leave their neighbors behind. As the long distance race counted for double points, it was quite the shake-up in the overall standings in many of the fleets. Onshore crews continued to compete, this time in the now-traditional Crab Cake Cook-Off. The crew of Gadzooks won for the second year in a row.
The final day of race week began with the familiar sight of sunburnt sailors lounging about and the postponement flag flying over the committee boat. A strong flooding tide made playing the shorelines key as the affectionately named “toilet bowl” current swirl of Penn Cove took over. Hoping to complete a one and a half lap course and sail into the marina one last time, the ambitious course was finally shortened at the last turning mark. The regatta came to a close with fleets heading back to Oak Harbor Yacht Club for the final tally of results and the awards presentation.
Many sailors are already marking their calendars for another great week of sunshine and some of the best racing on the West Coast next year. Focus for the racing fleet now turns towards finishing out the summer weeknight racing series and the fast approaching fall regattas. For now, we soak up what sun we can during the long, summer-camp like days we have.
Photos by Jan Anderson.