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Let's start racking

For the past 20 years, downtown merchants have wished more Whidbey Island Race Week participants would make their way from the marina to local shops and restaurants.

This year there is no such worry. Many of the Race Week participants will be camping right downtown on Bayshore Drive, next to Mi Pueblo restaurant.

It’s a new camping site, arranged by the city after the Navy closed the traditional area on the Seaplane Base due to post Sept. 11 security rules.

Campers started rolling in their RV’s on Thursday. More followed Friday, and by the end of this weekend there will be a small village of people camping downtown.

Dave Morey, one of the first campers to arrive on Thursday, was soaking up some sun with his family and friends next to two big RV’s. The group was from Sumner, south of Seattle, and found the new site to their liking.

“We wanted a good spot,” Morey said, explaining the group’s early arrival. He’ll bring the boat, named “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” on Saturday.

Fellow camper Chris Babcock gave a thumbs-up to Thursday’s sunny, breezy conditions. “This would be awesome, the wind and the weather,” if it holds up during next week’s races, she said.

The new camping location affords a fine water view across the avenue, and Morey said the campers are sure to enjoy the downtown site. “Everyone will be together in one area,” he said. “With the shops and restaurants.”

Those are soothing thoughts to people like Priscilla Heistad, manager of Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce. “I think our restaurants will see a lot of business,” she said, adding that she expects around 300 people to be camping downtown in RV’s or tents.

Race Week annually attracts 150 boats, each with a crew plus family members and friends. Some stay on their boats or in motels, but many others enjoy the communal camping experience offered by Race Week organizers.

“They’re people who want to party,” Heidecker said, predicting a booming business for restaurants, bars and grocery stores.

Down at the marina, Harbormaster Dave Williams was busy late this week preparing for his guest boats to arrive. Most of the planning was finished, but he still had to write the names of boats on the dock with thick Magic Markers. “We’re finalizing the moorage plan,” he said. “Where do you put 150 boats?”

The marina has 52 visitors’ slips plus 800-feet of linear moorage. There are also 352 permanent slips, some of whose tenants help out during Race Week. “They plan trips away,” Williams says, which makes more room for the visitors.

Only two boats arrived early Thursday. Williams expected two more that night, a few on Friday, but the bulk of them on Saturday and Sunday. They will all be in before the skippers’ meeting at 5 p.m. Sunday.

Williams was working in the sunshine, and he hoped that it would hang around for Race Week. But sun wasn’t his top priority. “We hope for good weather but more than that we hope for wind,” he said. “I hope we didn’t waste it all this week.”

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