The pair from Orcas Island — who race locally on their J/111 Raku and J/70 Mossy — applied, were selected, and are presently in Italy to represent the U.S. in the Mixed Doubles Offshore World Championship, which takes place this month.

Orcas Island Yacht Club (OIYC) might not seem like much from the outside. There’s no grand bar or restaurant-style dining space, no trophy case or fancy soap in the bathrooms (aside from what the folks on the reciprocal moorage level behind) — but this tiny club is experiencing what was recently dubbed a “sailing renaissance”.

On a Saturday night in late August, the sailing community gathered around the OIYC picnic shelter to support two of the leaders behind this renaissance, Chris and Justin Wolfe, as they prepared to represent the United States at the 2021 Mixed Offshore Doubles World Championship in Italy. The couple began their doublehanded sailing career 20 years ago in Seattle when Justin Wolfe was looking for a crew for the local Thursday night Jack and Jill races. As he puts it, Chris was “the best Jill around”. 

When sailing doublehanded, Chris and Justin stay busy with lots of jobs on the boat. Photo by Ryan Carson.

Their first vacation together was a cruise through the San Juan Islands; and after years of keeping their J/120 in West Sound, they bought a business and became full-time residents and members of the Northwest racing scene in 2017. In the past few years, their list of sailing accomplishments has grown. 

They founded the Pacific Northwest Shorthanded Sailing Society and have proven together that doublehanded sailing on larger boats can be done safely, skillfully, and successfully. This spring they won the PNW Offshore up the Washington Coast in their J/111 Raku and have been successfully campaigning their J/70 Mossy with the rest of the “J/Pod” crew in West Sound. 

When asked what it was about doublehanding that was attractive to them, several things made the list. There’s no last-minute scramble for crew and you’re always busy with jobs and responsibilities of significant importance to the boat and the race. As Chris put it, “Nobody becomes a professional Cunningham trimmer.” Is it difficult to sail with one’s spouse? They both scoffed and said it was a strength. One advantage they have compared to other crews is that they are always together. “We can talk about race details while out walking the dog or before falling asleep at night,” said Chris. After crossing the Atlantic together and racing to Hawaii from the West Coast twice, they’ve developed a process for thinking through decisions quickly and learning not to second guess. 

Sailing as a married couple is an asset for these two. Photo by Ryan Carson.

The Mixed Offshore Doubles World Championship was put off due to COVID in 2020 and changed to an application process rather than race-to-qualify style for 2021, but the Wolfes have been preparing and trying to qualify since 2019. Through coaching with Northwest talents like Jonathan McKee and Ron Rosenberg, along with their already impressive race portfolio, the Wolfes were selected to represent the United States in a series of races totaling over 750 miles of offshore sailing. 

The Beneteau Figaro 3, Fenaio, will carry the Wolfes throughout the championship.

Much of the success of their application they attributed to the J/Pod Team on Orcas. As a part of the J/70 one-design world, Orcas Island is home to more than 10 J/70’s. Coach Ron Rosenberg and the Wolfes have been among the founding members of this group. The J/70s are now the region’s fastest growing one-design fleet. The J/Pod practices year-round in West Sound and the sailors are a force to be reckoned with on the race course. 

Through all of their racing success, the Wolfes have continued to give back to their community and help grow the next generation of sailors on the island. As a send-off for their trip to Italy, the OIYC faithful gathered what they had and threw a party to help their local heroes pay for the trip ahead. Lacking any Italian-specific decorations, the picnic shelter was dressed in the red and green garlands from the Valentine and St. Patrick’s day decor, and a lasagna dinner was served. 

Like the yacht club from which they hail, the Wolfes aren’t big on pageantry; but their focus on community, good racing, and giving back more than makes up for it. In the past year, Chris helped the Sail Orcas program as a board member and volunteer through grant writing, planning, and helping to teach a weekly women’s learn-to-sail program. At the event held in their honor, the two thanked the community and used the moment as a chance to keep helping the Sail Orcas program fundraise as well. 

The dynamic duo on the water in Italy.

You’d be hard-pressed to find two better sportspeople, sailors, or community members than Chris and Justin Wolfe… Follow their footsteps by dreaming big dreams, working hard, sailing well, and finding ways you can give back to the sailing community in your neck of the woods. 

To support these two, you can follow their journey on their Facebook page, Raku Racing, at the Nastro Rosa Tour website, and via this live tracker.

Photo courtesy of Nastro Rosa Tour.

Title background photo courtesy of Ryan Carson.