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Sailors come back year after year for Race Week
The first racing day of Whidbey Island Race Week launched with little fanfare, but it ended Friday after a week of great racing despite wetter-than-normal conditions.
Monday, July 21, lacked the wind-power to make racing possible, but it didn’t stop the crews with approximately 80 sailboats enjoying the waters of Penn Cove and Oak Harbor Bay.
“Some days are like that,” said race organizer Gary Stuntz. “We’re looking forward to more breeze throughout the rest of the week.”
Even though no racing took place that day, people still gathered along the shores of Whidbey to watch the sailboats.
“I’m a little disappointed there isn’t more wind and that their really pretty, colorful sails aren’t all up, but you know, it’s really peaceful to watch them bob along, even though there’s no wind,” said part-time Coupeville resident Michele Buttelman.
While first two days of the had very little wind and there was record rainfall during the week, the rest of the regatta was marked by competitive racing as well as after-racing fun, Stuntz said.
Race Week is the only week-long sailboat racing event in the region, according to Stuntz.
The event was started 32 years ago. Stuntz has run it for seven years, but this is his final year as owner.
“It’s an event I love and care about and have a lot of passion for,” he said.
Stuntz said he’s been a participant for 31 out of the 32 years. When he was in charge, among his favorite event activities are the evening parties, which are held 6-8 p.m. throughout the week at the Oak Harbor Marina.
“I’m throwing a party for a few hundred friends,” he said. “Whether I know them or not, it’s just a great party.”
With live music and plenty of rum flowing, participants of Race Week flocked to the party after docking their boats for the evening.
“I love the event, and I love what it is, and I enjoy the camaraderie, and I just have passion,” Stuntz said. “I want to make sure that quality sailing is happening and enjoyable.”
Steve Duncan agreed.
“Everybody sort of helps each other. Everybody’s in it together, but it’s still competitive. It’s very civil,” said Duncan, a crewman on the sailboat “Usawi,” which competed in this year’s Race Week.
The crew of the Usawi, which usually numbers five people, had a sixth crew member in owner Robert Blaylock’s 8-year-old son, Clayton.
With the exception of Blaylock’s son, the entire crew has participated in the event for a number of years, Duncan said, but added this is only his second year crewing the Usawi.
This is Duncan’s 10th year participating in Race Week.
“It’s a great venue, it’s well organized, the town does a great job of welcoming everybody up here,” he said. “They’re really accommodating. It’s an easy place to get to, and it’s an easy place to be once you’re here.”
Duncan said he has raced sailboats for about 15 years and describes it as more “intense” than pleasure sailing.
“Just so many things appeal to you,” he said. “It’s athletic, it’s challenging, it’s competitive. You learn something new every time you go out.”
Paul Carter, a member of the crew on the sailboat “Shrek,” said his favorite part of Race Week is having the opportunity to race every day.
Carter said he has sailed for 40 years and “pretty much started out” racing.
The Shrek crew has participated in Race Week for 20-25 years, according to Carter.
“It’s a lot of fun to come up in the middle of summer,” Carter said. “Penn Cove is an awesome place to sail, and you get big groups of really good sailors up here, so it’s good, fun competition.”
Stuntz said that about 78 boats participated, with teams from two provinces in Canada, California, Montana, Idaho, Arizona, Michigan and, of course, Washington.
“They come from far and wide,” he said.
Even landlubbers look forward to Race Week each year.
“It’s a great event to watch from the beach,” Stuntz said. “Most days, we sail Penn Cove, and whether you watch from the Oak Harbor side on the beach or over at the Coupeville Dock, it’s a great place to watch.”
“It’s just an awesome experience,” Carter said. “Great fun.”