Home Racing Sheet What a Week

What a Week

by Doug Hansen
Racing Sheet Image - Anacortes Race Week
Photo by Jan Anderson

Anacortes Race Week is a cornerstone of the Salish Sea sailboat racing calendar with a four-decade-long legacy. The weeklong regatta attracts sailors from Puget Sound, British Columbia, and beyond, bringing out the best racers, organizers, and race management that our corner of the world has to offer.

Race Week, as it is commonly known amongst sailors, welcomes a variety of racing classes, including handicap-corrected time fleets, One Design racing, and a low-key cruising class. The regatta typically includes multiple daily races on temporary windward and leeward courses, allowing sailors to showcase their skills and compete. This is the third year for Race Week in Anacortes, having been held previously in Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island since 1983. Even though this is the 40th anniversary of the event, it is always growing, developing, and adapting to the participants’ needs.

This year’s event had its fair share of successes and challenges on the water. The racing area is in a seemingly random and turbulent vortex of current swirls where tidal streams appear and disappear in minutes. This leaves some racers smiling at first, only to completely shift moods on the next lap as the same boats get spit out the back. The wind conditions are also mixed, with steady, strong winds on some days followed by tricky, shifty conditions on the next. It truly does test racers in a complete range of conditions.

On Monday, racers hit the ground running, knocking off a string of races in a steady breeze that reached into the mid-teens. This was followed by a strategic drifting competition on Tuesday in what was to be a single, light air race before the fleet went in for the day. On Wednesday, it initially appeared that things would mirror Tuesday’s light conditions. But instead, Race Officer Charlie Rathkopf jumped on the radio with the Coast Guard and got permission to relocate the racecourse to Guemes Channel, normally off-limits due to the commercial traffic that uses it. Amidst the anchored tankers waiting for a berth at the refinery, racing began in a steady breeze and made for a picture-perfect afternoon on the water.

The wind on Thursday was nonexistent in the morning, but slowly filled in from a familiar direction and gave the fleet a wonderful afternoon of racing with some very strategic moments as the breeze built and the current swirled through the racecourse. Fleets got two races in before the wind died off shortly before 3 p.m., sending folks in with plenty of time to put their boats away before the party started.

Friday again was light with the strongest currents of the week, a challenge for some boats to even leave the marina in the morning with such shallow water. After briefly exploring the normal racing area the fleet sailed the day before, the race committee shifted back to Guemes Channel but was met with over three knots of current with a slow-building westerly breeze. With no wind anywhere else in the area, they worked to get a racecourse set, and the call came over the radio that they would attempt to start under the provision that if races became unrealistic or unfair due to the current, they would call them off. The first two fleets started, short-tacking the shoreline with only inches under the keels to stay out of the current. Unfortunately, the smaller and slower boats could not make way against the current when it was time for them to start. The decision was made to send the remaining fleets into the dock and shorten the course for the boats still racing.

Race Week has a reputation for being a top-level racing event and a top-level party. After having limited social events for the past two renditions, the legendary rum tent was back this year and did not disappoint. A different band played every night, from the twangy tunes of Race Week legends Gertrude’s Hearse, who reunited for one night only to play the event, to an ABBA cover band that had the crustiest old sailors singing along. In addition to the official events, the town of Anacortes has a lively social atmosphere with plenty of activities for racers and supporters alike.

It’s safe to say Anacortes Race Week has cemented itself as a bucket list sailing event combining competitive racing, stunning natural beauty, and legendary shoreside activities. It allows sailors of all skill levels to unite, enjoy the sport they love, and create lasting memories on and off the water.  Next year’s event is set for June 24-28 and is already stacking up to be a banner year, with some of the region’s top crews putting it on their calendar.

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