Sailing club helps bring national race to Oak Harbor

These Vikings don’t plunder, but they do sail.

A group of Whidbey sailors  -- the Oak Harbor Vikings -- was instrumental in bringing the San Juan 24 North American Champion race to Oak Harbor this weekend.

The Oak Harbor Yacht Club is hosting the national competition which will include a series of races Saturday and Sunday beginning at 11 a.m. About 15 boats, including at least four from Oak Harbor, are expected to compete.

The winner earns the national championship.

In the past, the national title race for the San Juan 24 sailboats rotated among different sites throughout the country, including the Midwest and Texas, but has been centered out of Seattle the last few years as the class has started to decline, according to Viking Shannon Buys.

Three of the country’s largest SJ24 fleets are located in Seattle, Bellingham and Oak Harbor.

A regatta this fall in Bellingham drew a large crowd and the Seattle fleet decided it was best to move this year’s national race to a more central location to make it more inviting to all racers. Last year’s national race in Seattle attracted only six boats.

Buys, David Steckman and Michael Thomas founded the Oak Harbor Vikings, and the club now features more than a dozen boats and about 50 members.

Buys bought his boat about five years ago. He said one of his crew members decided to purchase his own SJ24, and from there the popularity of the boat in Oak Harbor grew. Soon followed the formation of the club.

He said, “It’s been neat watching the fleet grow.”

Over 1,000 San Juan 24s were built from 1972 to 1981 in Auburn. Since they were manufactured in Washington, most can be found in Puget Sound waters.

Buys said the age of the boats makes them popular with sailors because they are relatively cheap to buy and to rig for competition.

He said, “They are quick even in light air but can handle stormy weather.”

Buys added they are attractive to sailors because they are good for racing and also “roomy enough to take passengers on a cruise.”

The Vikings race each Wednesday in a local series. Buys said, “When all the boats are the same, it makes for good competition; no one has the advantage.”

The winds will determine the location of this weekend’s national series, but most likely the races will be near the entrance of Penn Cove. Again depending on the wind, Monroe Landing and the Coupeville dock may be good vantage points for spectators, Buys said.

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