It was a windy, rainy afternoon Thursday, but sailboats with names like “Lemonade” and “Vertigo” braved the weather and left the Oak Harbor marina to participate in a race called the Frostbite Series. The Oak Harbor Yacht Club hosts the race every Thursday from March 16 to April 13.
Unfortunately, the weather canceled Thursday’s race, but the yacht club has several more weekly race series throughout the year. A full list can be found at ohyc.org/sail-fleet.
The club’s Vice Commodore Ryan Bradley said the term “yacht club” is often associated with people who own big boats and wear blue blazers and ascots. But for the Oak Harbor Yacht Club, he said, the stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth.
Bradley, along with the other board members of the private club, are trying to change this perception and get more people, especially young people, involved in the club. Even those who don’t own a boat or sail are welcome to join. Bradley said the organization, which has been open since 1983, lost a lot of membership due to the COVID-19 pandemic and is slowly recovering.
“We’re mainly a social club that has a boating problem,” Bradley said with a laugh.
The clubhouse has a bar and restaurant where club members socialize. There is a ballroom with waterfront views for events that is open to the public to book.
The club is working to introduce more programs and activities that give the community opportunities to get involved. People don’t have to be a member of the club to participate in sailing events.
The club’s largest event is the Whidbey Summer Classic Regatta in Penn Cove. This year, it takes place on July 28-30. Bradley said the event is going to be more organized and better than ever.
In addition to races, the club has a cruise fleet that takes organized trips to different locations in Puget Sound. The cruise fleet was originally why Bradley joined the club in 2012. He said he was too scared to sail through Deception Pass by himself. While traveling with the cruise fleet, however, other members of the club taught him how to safely sail through the narrow strait and gave him the confidence to make the journey.
Bradley has reached out to the other yacht clubs and boating groups in the Puget Sound region. The Anacortes, Orcas Island and Bellingham yacht clubs are participating in the summer regatta, as well as the Round Whidbey event, where boaters circumnavigate the island. This year, Round Whidbey is taking place on May 27-28.
The club also offers youth sailing classes and works closely together with Oak Harbor Youth and Oak Harbor High School’s Wildcat sailing team.
The Yacht Club has a total of six weekly races throughout the year. Most of the boats that race in the Frostbite Series are San Juan 24s. The fleet uses a handicap system to account for boats that may be slower than others.
Byron Skubi and Jane Mays skipper the committee boat which drops an orange ball into the water to mark the finish and start line of the race. On the outside of the committee boat, a sign is hung that has different letters to signify to the racers which route they must take. Skubi and Mays keep track of who wins each race. Sailors will have until April 13 to accumulate points to win the series.
On Thursday, sailor Brian Vick called the Frostbite Series “aptly named” because it’s always rainy and cold during this time of year. Nonetheless, he still enjoys helping his daughter Raven race her boat “Lemonade” along with her sister Willow.
Bradley said anyone can crew on a boat during a race like this and skippers would appreciate the help. Prior experience isn’t necessarily needed and it is a great opportunity to learn the basics of sailing.