Race Week turns silver

Sailors and those dreamers who would like someday to be at the helm of a wind-powered vessel, get ready.

The 25th annual Whidbey Island Race Week kicks off Sunday, July 22.

Vessels ranging in size from 22 to over 50-feet in length congregate at the Oak Harbor Marina prior to the races in Penn Cove and Saratoga Passage for the annual event that brings together amateur sailboat racers from around the Pacific Northwest, Canada and more distant points for six days and nights of fun and frolic.

Race organizers expect this year’s 25th silver anniversary of the event to be a memorable experience for everyone.

“The boats will be arriving Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” Dave French, president of the Oak Harbor Youth Sailing Association, said. “This event is one of the five biggest regattas on the West Coast and we expect 100 boats or more this year. Whidbey Island Race Week is a big deal in the sailing world.”

Sailing magazine calls Whidbey Island’s Race Week, “one of the top regattas in the country.”

Harbormaster Mark Funk said things are going well so far and there are numerous Washington boats entered in the race along with several from Canada. This is Funk’s first Race Week and he’s looking forward to seeing the boats arrive. “The one coming the furthest distance is from Kansas City, Missouri,” he said.

Funk said as of Thursday, there were 94 boats registered.

“Last year we had 99 boats and we always have a few late entries, so I expect we will equal last year’s total and maybe exceed it,” he said. “In addition to the racers, we also have about 30 tender boats, the hotel boats.”

The week begins Sunday evening with a welcome party for registered racers and crews at the Oak Harbor Yacht Club, and the racing commences at noon on Monday.

“The people from the Whidbey Island Naval Sailing Association, WINSA, are providing the welcome wagon for the racers,” Funk said.

From 9 to 11 a.m. each day, race week participants with identifications may take part in shore-side activities such as volleyball, sailing clinics and product demonstrations before the start of the races.

Two races are held each day.

“Practice sessions have already begun and I know of three local sailors who will be in the competition,” French said. “I know Byron Skubi, Jim McAlpine and Carl Freund will have their boats entered. I’m sure there are some others, but I can’t think of their names. Byron has his boat out getting the bottom redone and making preparations for the races.”

Making his third trip to Race Week, Mitch Etherton sailed his 35-foot yacht Gunsmoke from Ballard for the event.

“Gunsmoke is a one-design 35 and depending on who you talk to, there were only 46 or 48 of them made,” Etherton said. “Only seven of them are here in the Northwest and five of them will be here for Race Week.”

Accompanied by his 7-year-old Brussels Griffon, Harley, who he described as a “awesome boat dog but I don’t take him racing,” Etherton said Race Week this year is the anniversary for his boat.

“I had it three weeks when I raced here last year,” he said.

Etherton said he didn’t do so well racing last year but expects better results this time around.

“Whidbey Island Race Week is the best,” he said.

Aboard the U.S. 25-foot yacht Little Blackie, Tom Black from Coupeville is making his first appearance at Race Week as the skipper of a racing boat.

“I’ve been involved in crewing for four or five years, but this will be the first time I’ve taken a boat out in the race,” he said.

Black said he will be accompanied by his daughter, Brittany, and her friend, Jeff.

“We’ll be taking Little Blackie out Monday morning and hopefully this weather will have passed by then,” he said. “There is going to be a lot of boats out there in 10 different classes and I’m going to just try to stay out of everybody’s way and not cause a crisis.”

Black said Race Week is really an adult getaway, although there will be come competitive sailing.

“It’s an incredible week,” he said.

There are several places for spectators to view the races including Penn Cove Road, the Coupeville pier and Long Point.

Island Transit has bussing running between Oak Harbor and Coupeville, and riders can get off at the Coupeville library and walk down to the pier to view the boats as they sail past.

In the evening, racers and fans are invited to attend many nightly parties that are also a big part of Race Week.

Bob Ross, race coordinator, said Race Week on Whidbey Island has been nicknamed “Adult Summer Camp.”

“It’s one of the best things going for the sailing community,” he said.

The public will have the opportunity view the yachts and meet the skippers and crew members at the Oak Harbor Marina before and after the races.

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