Sail boats compete in the Whidbey Island Race Week regatta.
                                Photo by Emily Gilbert / Whidbey News Group

Sail boats compete in the Whidbey Island Race Week regatta. Photo by Emily Gilbert / Whidbey News Group

Race Week event numbers down

Brightly-colored spinnakers covered Penn Cove this weekend as 68 boats competed during Whidbey Island Race Week.

Many of the boats were returning members of the race from years prior. For them, the week is a summer tradition in a beautiful place that’s unique.

Even members of race committee come back year after year. Charley Rathkopf, the primary race officer, said he’s been coming to the race for 20 years.

“It’s just kind of a summer tradition — both my kids have been coming here since they were born. It’s like the summer vacation in the old days when everyone would go up to the Poconos,” he said, comparing Whidbey’s annual sailboat race to the popular Pennsylvania vacation spot.

“We meet the same families every year, and it’s like hanging with old friends.”

Rathkopf oversees weeknight races for Corinthian Yacht Club in Seattle, and he first got involved with Whidbey Island Race Week as a volunteer. He met Stan Butchart, who said he’s been involved with the race for “forever and a day.”

Butchart does the flags during the starts, and his wife Joyce and her sister Lorraine Carter record finishes.

“And they manage it with an iron fist,” Rathkopf added about the sisters.

Craig Cooley, a member of the Oak Harbor Yacht Club, lets the race use his boat to record finishes. Unlike years prior, recording Thursday’s finishes went pretty smoothly since the wind was soft and current was strong. The sisters recalled a time last year when about 60 boats finished in two minutes.

“We were about ready to quit after that,” they each said with a laugh.

Cooley said he remembers when twice as many boats as this year’s turnout used to be the norm. “It was like fish soup.”

He said he thinks the economic downturn in 2008 was the start of the decline in racing.

“Sailboat racing is exorbitantly more expensive than it was 30 years ago even with inflation,” he said.

Cooley said he thought the big change in cutting down the race to four days instead of five was good but the race is still a huge time commitment for racers.

“I think it’s a good idea but I don’t see where it’s going to make a big difference though. [The racers] gain one day at work [and] I don’t know if that’s worth it,” Cooley said. He used to race and said that the amount of time it takes for others to bring a boat up to Whidbey Island, as many of the racers are based in Seattle, was just too much for some people to keep coming.

However, Schelleen Rathkopf, the main organizer of the race, said she thinks more people will come to the race in the future. The schedule change was made to encourage sailors to keep coming to the race as a summer tradition and to encourage new sailors to try racing as well, which she said has already been shown.

Out of the 68 boats this year, “19 are brand new boats making their debut at race week due in large part to the shift to a four-day, Thursday-Sunday format,” she said.

Although the race can be hard to stay involved with, sailors are rewarded with the spectacular views surrounding the island.

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