Whidbey Race Week gets new owners for 2015

Whidbey Island Race Week draws sailboats from far and wide for a week of racing. - File photo 2013
Whidbey Island Race Week draws sailboats from far and wide for a week of racing.
— image credit: File photo 2013

The nationally recognized sailboat regatta held out of Oak Harbor each July will have new owners next year.

Charley and Schelleen Rathkopf of Seattle announced last week that they are purchasing Whidbey Island Race Week from Gary Stuntz of Clear Ahead Marine Production after the event this summer.

For racers and residents, the change in ownership may mean a greater emphasis on family-friendly activities, most notably  a sailing camp for kids to coincide with the race, according to Charley and Schelleen Rathkopf.

Schelleen said many sailboat racers in the region would like to participate, but it means being away from their families for five days. But with a sort of “summer camp” for young sailors, they could become an event for the entire family.

“I do believe it can happen,” she said, “and it will definitely bring a new group of racers to the area.”

Her husband agreed.

“Making it more family friendly is going to help perpetuate the sport,” Charley said, noting that sailboat owners tend to be graying nowadays.

Stuntz, an Oak Harbor resident, said he decided to sell the event after seven years so he could have more time on the water — and race in Race Week again. He said running and promoting the weeklong sailboat-racing event is a year-round job.

Plus, he wanted to make sure the regatta continued with owners who have a lot of positive energy.

Charley and Schelleen Rathkopf fit that bill. They both said that their individual experiences and backgrounds make them ideal partners for owning a regatta.

As members of the race committee, they have been running the race side of Whidbey Island Race Week for 11 years, Charley said.

And they both have love sailing.

Charley knows the “water side.” Growing up in Florida, he has been sailing and racing most of his life and has been running races on Puget Sound since 2000. He is a “certified regional race officer” and has been running the Race Week regatta as primary race officer since 1994. He was mark boat operator and deputy race officer for four years before that.

Schelleen has 20 years of professional marketing and promotion experience; she worked as promotions director at Seattle Magazine and was sponsorship coordinator at KING Broadcasting. She served as sponsorship coordinator for the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition on Mount Everest in 1999.

“I’ve run a lot of events in my life,” she said.

Charley said his wife’s background makes her the perfect person to handle the “shore side” of the event, which is everything besides the races themselves.

As Stuntz notes, it takes a lot of promotion and marketing work to make it successful.

Charley said he and his wife considered purchasing Race Week when it was up for sale seven years ago, but they had just started a family. Schelleen has been a stay-at-home mom, but now she has some time to dedicate to the endeavor as their two children are in school.

Race Week is still one of the largest regattas in the Pacific Northwest and the largest weeklong sailboat racing event in the region. The number of boats has declined in recent years, as they have in regattas across the nation, Charley said.

At one time, as many as 150 boats were involved, but the boat count has been in the 80s in the last couple of years.

Their goal, the Rathkopfs say, is to return the regatta to its glory days.


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