As Whidbey Island Race Week approaches middle age, it’s children who are on the minds of many competitors as they look to the future of sailboat racing.
The regatta, based out of Oak Harbor Yacht Club, kicks off its 35th anniversary on Sunday night with an opening party.
For the third year in a row, a daytime Kids Camp is included in Race Week’s activities. The goal is to develop the next generation of sailors, explained organizer Schelleen Rathkopf.
Many of the 20 youths, ages 5-13, are return campers, she said.
While their parents are out on the water racing, Rathkopf said the children will explore Whidbey Island and learn how to sail small dinghies at Oak Harbor Marina.
“They spend part of every day at a sailing clinic, three hours a day,” said Rathkopf, who, with her former Charley, husband, took over the ownership and organization of the regatta that’s long been a mixture of serious and silly, wind and water, jibs and jazz.
Race Week attracts sailors from throughout the Pacific Northwest, both for the scenery and dependable winds; 63 boats are registered to race this year.
“We draw boats from all over the region,” Rathkopf said. “Racers know they can rely on the consistent breeze of Penn Cove.”
Races are scheduled from noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, making for some excellent photo opportunities, but weather conditions can alter those plans.
Best views of the races for landlubbers are from Coupeville Wharf and along most of Penn Cove, organizers said.
Depending on wind, boats may also be skimming along Saratoga Passage.
The boats range in length from 24 feet to 40 feet. Some races feature sailboats of the same size and design, while others feature a variety of boats.
Race Week is primarily sponsored by Fisheries Supply with support from other local businesses, as well as the City of Oak Harbor and Oak Harbor Yacht Club.
Events are held nightly at the yacht club.
Camp children will also learn the ropes and sails of Suva, an historic 68-foot schooner owned by a nonprofit group.
From noon to 4 p.m. Monday, Suva hosts “Race Week Youth Sailing,” leaving from its Coupeville Wharf dock.
“There’s no better way to experience Race Week than aboard Suva,” said Missy Villapudua, a board member with Coupeville Maritime Heritage Foun-dation, which will be offering daily chartered sailing excursions.
The foundation is devoting crew and charter time to the youth sail to help spark interest in youngsters who may one day be steering SUVA, said boat’s Capt. Mark Saia.