“Well, it’s not far down to paradise
At least it’s not for me
And if the wind is right you can sail away
And find tranquillity
Oh, the canvas can do miracles
Just you wait and see.”
These are the opening words of “Sailing” by Christopher Cross. Although the song was a hit 35 years ago, the feelings he expressed about skimming across the water can be found today through programs offered by the Oak Harbor Yacht Club. The club sponsors classes each year to teach people how to sail and offers a racing program to test those newfound skills.
“North Whidbey Island is blessed with amazing scenery and sailing conditions,” sailfleet captain Shannon Buys said. “Snow-covered mountain peaks and majestic evergreen trees are the backdrop for our sailing stage. We race primarily in Penn Cove, which is a world-class sailing venue. The summer months bring reliable westerly winds that sweep in from the Strait of Juan De Fuca.
“The picturesque shores of Penn Cove form a beautiful natural sailing amphitheater that also protect the water, keeping the waves from getting too big.” Buys noted that sailboat racing is not just a sport for the rich. With the advent of fiberglass in the ’70s, sailboats are now mass-produced, bringing down the price and flooding the market with used boats. “Because fiberglass turned out to be such a durable material, most of these ‘classic plastic’ sailboats are still around and can be had for cheap,” Buys said.
One such classic is the versatile San Juan 24, a popular boat in Oak Harbor.
“This 24-foot sailboat can be used for racing or cruising the San Juan Islands,” Buys said. “Like many similar sailboats of this vintage, the San Juan 24 can often be had for less than $3,000. Because we race under a handicap rating system, older, slower boats have the same opportunity to win races as the newer, faster boats.”
The Oak Harbor Yacht Club sponsors a friendly racing program Thursday nights March through October.
“If the sailboats gliding along the water have ever captured your imagination, consider taking some sailing lessons, picking up an old sailboat and getting a crew of friends together to launch your own yacht racing campaign,” Buys said.
For those who don’t own a boat and want to check out the racing scene, there are usually opportunities to crew on one of the competing boats.
“Generally, no experience is necessary,” Buys said. “Just show up at the dock and ask around among the sailors preparing their boats.”
For newbies who want to race, the club offers a “Windseeker Fleet,” which starts behind the regular racers and follows them around the course, allowing the new sailors to watch and learn.
There are always experienced sailors around, according to Buys, who are happy to explain the basic rules of racing, give advice and offer tips.
For those interested in learning about the sailing program, there is a sailfleet meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, at the lower level of the Oak Harbor Yacht Club.
For more information, contact Buys at 360-201-2967 or Dave Steckman at 360-632-1909.