In 1983, a lot of good things happened. Microsoft released Word, the Motorola Company unveiled the first mobile phone, and over 125 million of us watched the final episode of M*A*S*H. It was also the year when Yachting Magazine’s publisher and editor-in-chief, Edward D. Muhlfeld, cooked up a plan to add Whidbey Island to his consortium of Race Week events.

For many years, New York-based Yachting held the reigns as the nation’s premier Race Week event organizer. With Audi in tow as a title sponsor linked to Yachting’s display advertising bottom line, an expansive concept of “Race Weeks” was developed. Included in the mix of locations were Key West, Catalina, San Diego, Block Island, Solomon Island, and Whidbey Island. As a Yachting Race Week enterprise, the publication was able to tie-in national sponsors eager to spend marketing dollars such as IBM, Remy-Cointreau (Mount Gay Rum), and of course, Audi.

But in 1994, Yachting’s advertising dollars went from a torrent to a trickle and the magazine ended its Yachting Race Weeks program. It was presumed that without national sponsors, the regattas would go away (and some eventually did). But Whidbey Island Race Week continued, due in large part to Oak Harbor businessman, Stan Stanley.

Stan’s history with Whidbey Island Race Week went back to Day One. He, alongside Washington’s Governor John Spellman, Oak Harbor’s Mayor Alvin Koetje, and event co-chair Paul Thorlakson, originally worked with Yachting to bring Race Week to town. Endorsed by the Pacific International Yachting Association, conducted by Seattle Yacht Club, and co-hosted by Oak Harbor Yacht Club and the North Whidbey Chamber of Commerce, the coalition helped present the debut of Whidbey Island Race Week from July 10 to 15, 1983.

Stanley joined forces with marine industry giant Bob Ross (J Boat Dealer, Sail Northwest, and Seattle Sailing Club) and carried the Race Week torch forward with Northwest Marine Productions for 14 years. In 2008, Gary Stuntz took the helm with Clear Ahead Marine Productions. Despite a tanking economy, Stuntz kept the event afloat for the next seven years. Then it was my turn as the event producer in 2015, a position I’m passionate about to this day.

People on Race Boat

For nearly 4 decades, Race Week has called Whidbey Island home. And Yachting Magazine found their hidden gem in Oak Harbor and the piece de resistance, Penn Cove. Sailors have come from all over the region to race, party and play. It’s no surprise to anyone who has attended a Race Week that the event has been called, “Adult Summer Camp” for good reason. No where else can a sailor race all day, and later walk the docks, or enjoy post-race party theme nights such as Gilligan’s Island night with some of the best sailors in the region.

It is a fact that racing makes a person a better sailor. The reason for this, is that the sailors are set out on courses where they are rounding inflatable buoys which require quick thinking and synchronized teamwork, all the while dealing with wind shifts, sail changes, and lots of lines (the sailing term used to describe all the ropes and running rigging that you see on the deck of a sailboat). Many racers participate in their yacht club races, and come to Race Week with their “A” team, which if they’re successful, perform like a well-oiled machine after a week of racing.

Sailing Boats and Support Boat

The fleets generally break down into two categories: One Design and Handicap. One Design are boats that are exactly alike, and race only against each other. For example, there may be a fleet of Melges 24 or J105s comprised of 6-16 boats that make up a fleet, have their own start, and are only racing against each other. In One Design racing, if your boat crosses the finish line first – you win!

Handicap boats, on the other hand, are comprised of boats of all different types, and they are racing against other boats that are similar in size. Handicap boats are issued a rating for their boat type based on many factors including boat size and weight, and sail types and this rating is factored in once the boat’s finish time and course distance is known. In this type of racing, your boat may cross the finish line first, but once your rating is factored in with all the other boats racing in your fleet, the final finish order may actually be 5th or 6th place when your rating, start time, finish time, and course length is factored into the scoring.

Racers in our region receive boat ratings from entities such as Pacific Handicap Racing Fleet of the Northwest (PHRF NW), Pacific Handicap Racing Fleet of British Columbia (PHRF BC), or the Offshore Racing Congress (ORC). Each of these entities issue a ratings certificate, which must be current when racers participate in events such as Race Week.

Whidbey Island Race Week celebrated its last event in Oak Harbor with the conclusion of the 2019 event. From there, the plan was to move Race Week to Point Roberts, Washington, the small enclave near the Canadian border that requires two border crossings by land to get there. Due to the vulnerabilities of this location brought to light with COVID-19, Race Week will now call Anacortes, Washington home.

The event will be based out of the Cap Sante Marina in Anacortes, where the boats will be moored on “C” Dock, and Race Week HQ will operate from the Anacortes Yacht Club building. The Anacortes Yacht Club will also serve as the venue for the presentation of daily awards and the post-race happy hour. The race courses will be set up off the Northeast corner of Guemes Island, with some distance racing possibilities deeper into the San Juan Island archipelago.

Race Week will celebrate its first event in Anacortes June 21-25, 2021. To participate in Race Week, or to learn more about the race management team, sponsorship opportunities, or to make contact, visit RaceWeek.

By Schelleen Rathkopf
Schelleen Rathkopf has been producing Race Week since 2014. Prior to that time, she and her then husband, Charley Rathkopf served as the Principal Race Officer and official Scorekeeper on the Race Committee team. Schelleen and Charley have two children (ages 12 and 15) who have both grown up participating in every Race Week since their birth, either on the Race Committee boat, or in the popular Race Week Kids Camp program.

Photos By Jan Anderson