Lifestyle

Wind Walkers | Oak Harbor sailors set sail for Race Week

If you ask any Whidbey Island sailor the best time of the year to hit the water they'd say "any." But if you ask Oak Harbor sailors Byron Skubi and Carl Freund, they'll immediately respond "Race Week."

These local sailors are among the hundreds of crew, from near and far, that flock to Oak Harbor each July for the annual sailing regatta in Saratoga Passage. This year's July 20-25 event has already lured close to 100 boats to register, with only more expected to sign on by race week.

"Hopefully everyone's ready for us and the grocery stores are stocked up," Skubi said.

While there's no lure of prize money and the trophies they win will only collect dust, there's a higher power that calls hundreds of sailors back to Oak Harbor each year.

They have salt water in their veins and a steady wind pumping through their hearts. Spinnakers drift through their daydreams and they can tie bow lines in their sleep. They love the sport — and they want bragging rights.

"Some moments there can be a lot of wind to try and get control over," Skubi said. "At others you're completely without and doing everything you can to find wind."

The Oak Harbor regatta's beautiful surroundings and lack of major ship traffic other than the Race Week boats give the event big draw, Skubi said.

Whidbey Island Race Week, this year managed by Clear Ahead Marine Productions, is five days of sailing that offer a five-pack variety of winds, scenic courses, plenty of fun on shore, and great sightseeing opportunities for non-seafarers.

"It's an amazing sight to have that many boats on the water at once," Freund said.

Pick a place on the Oak Harbor waterfront and you'll have a vantage point of the boats out vying for wind. Key lookouts are also at the Coupeville Wharf, Monroe Landing and Snakelum Point.

The Oak Harbor Marina docks will be packed daily. Sailing crew will saturate the marina area and will mingle merrily into town. They'll fill rooms at local lodging, seats at Oak Harbor restaurants, shop at downtown merchants and give the city an economic boost with their tourist dollars.

You'll be able to spot the sailors in town. Comraderie is right on their sleeve as they don their crew shirts bearing fun sayings, tongue-in-cheek phrases, and salty humor. The perpetual tan and wind-blown hair is also a clue.

For sailing veterans like Skubi and Freund, they get a charge from seeing Oak Harbor filled with sailing enthusiasm.

"I've always been passionate about it," Skubi said. "It's a lot more fun for me than playing golf."

Having three decades in the sport, he tries to read as much as he can so he can teach others to love this "clean, social sport."

Among this year's Race Week crew aboard his boat "Skookumchuck" are Oak Harbor City Councilmembers Rick Almberg and Beth Munns.

"No one comes on my boat that can't tie a bowline," he says with a laugh, adding, "Just don't drop the wench handles overboard and you'll be OK."

Freund also likes to help perpetuate enthusiasm for the sport. Aside from himself and his wife, Carrie, all of the crew on his boat "Veloce" are young 20- and 30-somethings who started with the local youth sailing program in their teens.

While neither Skubi or Freund need crew, they encourage those seeking sailing adventure to stop by the marina announcement boards or the Race Week Web site to see if crew is needed on other boats.

"It's an unforgettable time," Fruend said.

Other local sailors who've challenged the out of towners in past Race Weeks include Ted Clifton on his boat "Lissa," Bob Miles and his boat "Slingshot," Jim McAlpine and his boat "Lucky Jim," Dave French and "Grins." Expect some of them to make a return appearance this year to represent their fair city.

One of the newer sailors to the sport is Joe Flowers, who will crew on good friend Scott Ellis's boat "Shenanigans."

"There's the peaceful challenge of making the boat go where you want to when the wind is calm, and then there's the amazingly frantic pace you have to hit to run with the wind," he said. "There's nothing like it. You've got to love it."

For information about Whidbey Island Race Week, visit www.whidbeyislandraceweek.com.

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