Whidbey sailors soak up some sun

Four members of the Wildcat Sailing team participated in the Rose Bowl Invitational Regatta.

A handful of Whidbey sailors got a healthy dose of vitamin D at a recent competition for high school teams held in Long Beach, Calif.

Four members of the Wildcat Sailing team – which consists of Oak Harbor and South Whidbey students – participated in the Rose Bowl Invitational Regatta Jan. 8-9.

The two-day event heralded the end of the fall season for the sailing team, which is currently on a hiatus until practices begin for the spring season.

Head Coach Shawn O’Connor said approximately 60 high school teams competed in the regatta, making its races some of the biggest his sailors have ever encountered. Normally accustomed to racing 18 to 24 other boats, Whidbey’s young skippers sailed in a fleet of 32 boats.

Oak Harbor High School seniors Ryan Metz and Emelia Boilek placed first in their final race, a first for any team in the Northwest district since 2018.

“Not only were we the only boat to win this year, we were the only boat in the district to win in four years,” Boilek said. “Our win was quite a big accomplishment. It was really awesome.”

She and Metz finished 15th overall out of 32 boats in the “A” division, which was second best in the region. The Northwest district sent nine teams to the Rose Bowl Invitational Regatta this year.

O’Connor said Boilek and Metz practiced “good risk management” during their races, knowing when to hold back and when to go for it.

Oak Harbor High School junior Shelby Lang and South Whidbey High School sophomore Colin Byler sailed their way to three top 15 finishes, placing 20th overall in the “B” division.

Wildcat Sailing achieved a 19th place overall finish in the silver fleet. O’Connor said the team might qualify next year to race in the gold fleet, which is usually reserved for the best teams.

With calm waves and minimal wind, sailing conditions were certainly different than in the blustery Pacific Northwest.

Boilek said she found launching off the beach to be a challenge. It was something she had never done before in a race setting. There were also different currents in the ocean to navigate.

She added that it was strange not knowing the schools or boats that were racing around them.

“Down in California, we came in blind,” she said. “We didn’t know who to watch, we didn’t know who would come out first.”

Nevertheless, the event was a chance to “roll with the punches” and to learn as much as possible.

“I think that our team has really developed a lot and I’m excited to see where that places us for spring season,” Boilek said.

Practices for the spring season will begin in mid-February. The team’s first regatta will be March 5-6 in Seattle.

Last year, Wildcat Sailing went further than it has ever gone before and placed sixth out of 12 teams at the district championships. O’Connor remains “cautiously optimistic” that his team could go even further this year and qualify for the national championships.