Race Week in Anacortes — the skies are so blue, the boat racing is fun and competitive, and the parties returned to their previous glory.

In year three, Anacortes Race Week really hit its stride and felt like home. For me, Anacortes actually is home. Still, there’s something magical about that many boats on the water, sailors on the dock, and friends at the party that makes it a different sort of home sweet home. At Anacortes Race Week, you are suddenly transported to a whole other world where life is pretty simple and everybody is really excited about sailing.

Speaking of coming home, it was a beautiful thing to have Charley Rathkopf back at the helm of race operations as the PRO again. Event Producer, Schelleen Rathkopf, ran the shoreside operations. With Charley and Schelleen came a whole slew of family and friends that know how to run a regatta and have fun doing it, many of whom were familiar to veteran Race Week sailors. It felt like all was right again in the world of Race Week.

Class winner, Beneteau 36.7 Vitesse enjoys a run in solid breeze. Photo by Jan Anderson.

This year, old traditions were revitalized and new traditions were created. Ashore, the Anacortes Depot provided a great venue for the long-awaited return of Race Week’s famous post-race parties after a years-long hiatus. The Depot is just minutes away from the dock and has an indoor/outdoor location, with no actual dust — if you know, you know. It was wonderful to have the parties again to catch up with fellow racers, have dinner and drinks, dance, and celebrate the day. 

On the water, the race courses were varied, the location was occasionally creative, and the sometimes-light conditions cooperated for several classes to have at least one race scored each day (for the others, races were scored on four-out-of-five days). It was not your average race week on the water, and in the very best way. 

On Monday we had pretty ideal sailing conditions by any standard. There was warm sun and a 10-15 knot westerly that held all day. Fleets settled into a good rhythm with two fairly long races with multiple laps. There was a leisurely lunch break in the middle, because even little boats need breaks sometimes. 

The author was sailing in a competitive fleet of eight J/70s. Photo by Jan Anderson.

I’ve always said that nobody really needs a #2 jib. This year, I was sailing on a J/70 that has only one sail configuration, but in my brain I was thanking my lucky stars that I wasn’t swapping a #1 for a #3 and back all day. Monday was #2 conditions, but only if you have one! We returned back to the dock at a civilized hour, with plenty of time for some of the crews to change into their cowboy-themed party attire. 

On Tuesday, the wind mostly forgot to show up for the party. Charley got one race off in light and fluky winds and a fair amount of current. He warned us that the finish was going to be shortened, but it still managed to confuse some of us as we tried to figure out whether he meant the leeward gate (where YC5 was) or at the start pin (where a chase boat was). We kept rounding things until we got our whistle! 

Tuesday’s shortened light-air race was sailed northeast of Guemes Island. On the way in from the race course, there was a steady 10-15 knot breeze in Fidalgo Bay that was reported to have been there all day. So, could we race in the bay? 

That night, Gertrude’s Hearse put the band back together just for Race Week. Local sailors and music buddies, they rolled out all of the best original songs that we know and love. They called up friends and family to the stage. It was a fantastic show.

Wednesday is usually the day that you start to feel tired when you wake up, and think, “Three more days? I can do this!” 

Great sailors and humans. The mostly-family crew on the Dash 34 Mad Dash went on to the overall win for Race Week 2023. Photo by Jan Anderson

There was a good breeze blowing at the marina. Since our J/70 has an electric motor with a very short-distance charge capacity, our dock neighbors on the Dash 34, Mad Dash — a great group of sailors and human beings — towed us to and from the racing area. That morning, we passed through good breeze to the race area that was completely flat. Déjà vu. Charley’s voice comes on the radio: “Follow us!” The race committee was heading back our direction and set their anchor in the Fidalgo Bay. ‘Uh… Mad Dash… help!’ And tow us they did!

Fidalgo Bay is in a unique spot surrounded by three active tidal channels and close proximity to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. There was great breeze, but also some crazy current. It was just like sailing on a river, except that after a while the river went the other way. The race committee got off three races in lovely-but-occasionally-challenging conditions. For the most part, you wanted to pick a shore to duck out of the current. You could tuck up under Cap Sante on the left side of the course, but ultimately the upwind mark was on the right side of the course and you could bang that corner too. It wasn’t easy to go up the middle, except when that tanker anchored in the middle of the bay started turning sideways to the breeze — if a giant tanker is sideways to a 15 knot breeze, something is afoot. 

In the final race, the last leeward mark was deep in the bay near Hat Island and the La Conner Channel. That was maybe a tad too far because the wind shut off right there. With a little patience and grit on our part, we were able to recover from some prior poor decisions to sail around that parking lot and catch a few boats. 

Jibe Ho! J/109 Spyhop jibes onto starboard. Photo by Jan Anderson.

Wednesday night was the Pink Boat Regatta Party on shore. As I always say, everyone looks good in pink, and everyone looks good supporting a regatta that benefits the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. It was a sea of pink. 

After the official party, there was the first annual semi-official campfire night with huge fire pit made where people sang along with guitars around the fire. Next year, when camping is back, the plan is to have the campfire in the campground and show everyone’s sailing movies for a big official Film Fest Campfire evening.

Thursday is definitely the morning you wake up tired and wonder how you’re going to make it through the next two days, while also starting to get a little sad that your week of fun is about to end. 

That morning, we headed out to our normal race area to the north. The westerly breeze filled in early and stayed all day, albeit slightly less wind at 5-10 knots. We raced in deeper toward the shore of Guemes Island, and marks were tucked around the smaller islands of Jack and Vendor. There were some wild oscillations near the islands and I’m sure some crews had it figured out, even if it wasn’t us. At one memorable moment, the J/70 next to us was discussing the next shift loudly enough for some education. A right shift, we’ll tack on that, too! Maybe they were encouraging us to get out of the way, but it worked out for both of us on that one. What a fun day on the water with plenty of geometry to think about. 

Thursday night featured the ABBA cover band Abbagraphs — so much silliness, and a whole lotta dancing queens. Many of the crews went out for crew dinner and the town was hopping. Typical shenanigans ensued on the dock after the sun went down. Tradition! If you’re lucky, when you arrive at your boat on Friday morning, you have a new silly name written in electrical tape. If you’re fun, you keep it there all day and race with it. This year, the RC boats also got pranked all week. Silly kids, bless their hearts. There’s a next generation for sure.

The Race Week electrical tape re-naming tradition lives on! The 1D35 formerly known as Shrek became “Donkeh”. Photo by Jan Anderson.

Friday once again brought the fleet through breeze in the bay to a big hole with around the corner. Charley came on the radio feeling a bit tenuous, but wanting to go back to the bay. Big wind! But also a huge tide exchange. 

They set up in Guemes Channel, rather than deeper in Fidalgo Bay and the flood tide was roaring. Starboard tack was favored because you could make slow and steady progress to actually cross the starting line. Boats were powered up, but not going anywhere. You had to tack over to port to eventually get out of that river. Our start was at the end of the sequence, and we witnessed a lot of gamblers out there! Gotta know when to hold ‘em. If you got greedy and tacked too soon, you got shot right back through the start line backwards. 

Great racing in the J/105 fleet, but they were the fleet whose start had to be abandoned in the crazy Guemes Channel current on Friday. Photo by Jan Anderson.

The big boats had enough momentum to get started, and the kinda-big PHRF boats did alright too, but the J/105s were just light enough to lose momentum on the tack and several got stuck unable to cross the line. Charley had said from the beginning that if it wasn’t fair racing, we’d at least know that we tried. We never got a chance to test our theories, and we were ok with that. The first two classes were able to finish and the rest of us were graciously sent in early for some extra time to put away boats and socialize. 

The overall awards ceremony was on the party barges at the dock. One design winners for the week included Moose Unknown in the J/105 fleet, Distraction in the Melges 24 fleet, Underdog in the J/80s, and Taz grabbed the top of the J/70s. 

One class was scored both ORC and PHRF for (mostly) the same group of boats. In a lesson that demonstrates that ORC and PHRF are not the same rating systems. Class ORC-1 had this podium after the handicaps were applied: 1D35 Shrek in first, J/111 65 Red Roses second, and Club Swan 42 Free Bowl of Soup in third; but in class PHRF-1 it went: 65 Red Roses, Shrek, and Farr 30 Nefarious. So interesting! 

In PHRF-2 it was the Beneteau First 36.7 Vitesse for the victory, and in PHRF-8 it was Hanse 455 Bribery. Mad Dash won PHRF-5 and was named the overall winner of Anacortes Race Week 2023 — their third time earning that honor. They also won the party with matching theme gear for every party, and they won the best dock neighbors award which, in true form, they shared with us. 

New this year was Race Week Film Festival, and the Mad Dashers came in 3rd with their yearly Race Week recap videos. It was Cherokee Vic-Maui 1976 (presented by Peter Stewart on Shrek) in second place. This was a full length feature, and well worth watching every second, but Peter was more than happy to take you straight to the best parts. First in Film Fest went to the crew of Goes to 11, with a reminder that the South Sound Series can get a bit sketchy. Well done!

Anacortes Race Week 2023 was good fun and great sailing. Everyone pulled out all the stops to make the very most of it. Are you already thinking about next year? Jump in! Same place, same time, June 24-28, 2024 in Anacortes, Washington.

Photos, including title background photo, by Jan Anderson.