Whidbey Race Week gone after 2019

Whidbey Island Race Week will sail away to a new home after this year’s regatta.

Race owner Schelleen Rathkopf announced Thursday that the well-known and well-regarded regatta is moving north to Point Roberts in 2020. It will be renamed Point Roberts Race Week. After 37 years, the final Whidbey Island Race Week is slated for July 23-27.

Oak Harbor Mayor Bob Severns said his he hates to see the regatta leave, but he’s optimistic about the future.

“We’ll miss them. We want them back,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll convince them to come back very soon.”

In explaining the move, Rathkopf cited issues with the Oak Harbor Marina, which was the home base for the sailboats. She pointed to the defunct boat lift and the shallowness of the channel that leads to the marina, which prevents larger boats from attending, according to Northwest Yachting.

“Point Roberts has everything we need to host a world-class destination regatta,” she said in a statement. “It has an exceptional race area for both big boats and dinghies, a deep-water full-service marina and a comfortable Pacific Northwest summertime vibe. It’s the perfect venue for Race Week’s new home.”

Rathkopf and her husband Charley have been involved in the week-long race since 1997. They purchased the event about four years ago. They made popular changes, including cutting the regatta from five to four days and adding a youth sailing circle and kids camp.

Still, they couldn’t stem the trend of declining participation. Last summer 68 boats raced, about half the number that took part in Race Week’s heyday.

“I think it’s going to be a huge loss for Oak Harbor,” said Whidbey resident Byron Skubi, a member of the Race Week advisory board. “I don’t think people realize what summer will be like without all the sailboats.”

Skubi said he understands Rathkopf’s decision to move the race, though he’s disappointed. With a channel that needs dredging and a condemned boat hoist, the regatta was largely limited to medium-sized boats, he said.

Severns said officials investigated fixing the boat lift but found the price tag of hundreds of thousands of dollars to be cost prohibitive. The marina is run as an enterprise fund, which means it doesn’t receive tax dollars but runs on fees paid by tenants.

Since the tenants don’t use the boat hoist, it wouldn’t make sense for them to fund it, Skubi said.

Rather than fixing it, Severns said, a better option would be to purchase a mobile hoist on a trailer.

He said the city is working on a couple things with the state Department of Natural Resources that might help the marina, including a new tideland lease. A decrease in the lease could free up significant funding at the marina.

Point Roberts Race Week is slated for July 13-17, 2020.

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