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Smooth sailing: Whidbey Island Race week doesn’t disappoint

Sunshine, Mardi Gras-style beads, beer, food and friendship: If there’s something missing from the 28th annual Race Week, it’s pretty hard to pinpoint.

Well, one member of the “Cool Beans” sailboat all-female crew noted, “No pole dances yet.”

Oh, and Monday, one minor detail was missing – the wind. That morning, just under 90 sailboats took to Penn Cove for the first official race. Though it was scheduled for noon, it ended up starting around 3 p.m. when an easterly wind swept across the water.

According to Gary Stuntz, the owner of Race Week, only one race in the event’s history has been completed with an easterly wind.

“This is really rare,” he said.

On Monday, the race was abandoned after a few hours with only two classes finishing.

The boats were slowed by the wind’s poor showing. Stuntz said usually during a race the wind speed is between 10 and 15 knots. On Monday, it was about 5.

Stuntz said the difference in watching a race at 5 knots and one at 15 is like comparing go karts to NASCAR.

But the lack of wind didn’t stop participants from enjoying themselves. Most puttered around in their boats during the early afternoon drinking, joking and reminiscing. Even the younger crowd seemed to be having fun.

Sixteen-year-old Oak Harbor resident Jessica Fain is attending her third Race Week this year. Fain has been sailing since she was 11 and now teaches lessons for the Oak Harbor Youth Sailing Program.

Ask Fain what the best part of Race Week is and she’ll tell you with a smile, “Winning.”

“I know it’s really bad, but I love to win,” she said.

And, despite the friendly atmosphere, it seems most of the participants share Fain’s thought. Once the races start, they don’t take the competition lightly. When the horn of the starting boats sounds, so does the concentration and the trash talk.

Participants in the weekend’s inaugural DWI races (Dinghy Whidbey Island) were luckier with their weather. Though the breeze was a bit lighter on Saturday, event coordinators were able to set up between four and six races Sunday.

And, of course, no matter what the weather is doing, Race Week parties are still going strong. Stuntz said the opening party on Sunday was a success.

“We drank an appropriate amount of rum,” he said laughing. And Stuntz would know. He’s been to 27 of the last 28 Race Weeks and even quit two jobs to ensure he wouldn’t miss out on the event in years past. Plus, this is his third year running the show.

It’s clear Stuntz is taking Race Week parties seriously. He said he spent about 2,700 hours prepping for the week’s events and, for the first time ever, Stuntz said the festivities are going green by recycling party cans and bottles.

Stuntz purchased 3,400 cans of soda for the event and about 29,000 plastic cups and is glad to be able to dispose of them more responsibly.

Stuntz had the city bring in additional recycling bins to the site and was able to reduce the usual 50 bags of party night trash to 12.

“When you start thinking about the numbers, it’s like dang,” he said. “It’s nice to go green.”

Overall, Stuntz is pleased with how the week is progressing and is glad to be a part of the tradition. He said his favorite part of the event is the camaraderie of getting together for another year and seeing the smiles on everybody’s faces.

“I’m putting on an event for 1,000 people to have a great vacation,” he said.

To keep up with racing results see www.whidbeyislandraceweek.com.

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