By Meg Olson
Race Week has committed to making Point Roberts its new home in 2020, but it might be the first and last year the Point will host the event if the lack of a dock at the Lighthouse Marine Park boat launch can’t be addressed.
“A boat ramp needs a dock like Santa needs a sleigh,” said Schelleen Rathkopf, owner of Whidbey Island Race Week which, after 37 years in Oak Harbor announced this year it will move here in 2020 and become Point Roberts Race Week. “We chose Point Roberts specifically so we can run two circles: a big boat and a dinghy class. When we made the decision to come to Point Roberts the dock was there and it’s still there in satellite images. Without it, we can’t provide a dinghy racing experience as part of our event.” She added their kids sailing camp would also not be possible without the dock.
While bigger boats, 40 feet and over, will travel by water to the event, smaller boats will arrive by trailer and need to be put into the water at a boat ramp. Smaller boats need to set up their rigging on land and then launch, making the lifts at the marina unfeasible.
Rathkopf said she has not been able to get county parks director Michael McFarlane to understand that launching small boats from a ramp without a dock to board the boat is unsafe and unfeasible. “The decision to remove the structure and repurpose elsewhere within the park system was not made lightly,” he wrote in an August 27 email. “It clearly was not practical or cost effective to continue to repair and maintain it at that location.” He did offer to make sure the ramp itself was clear during the 2020 Race Week event and has agreed to meet with Rathkopf to discuss the possibility of a temporary dock for the event.
“If you’ve never put a small boat in the water from a trailer, you don’t know how ludicrous and dangerous it is to try,” Rathkopf said. “It’s irresponsible of the county to have a boat launch without a dock.”
A Corsair fleet of over 40 boats was considering Point Roberts for their North American championship regatta, but not with a boat launch without a dock. The same applies to a large Hobie Cat fleet that was scheduled to participate.
Rathkopf said the 2019 Whidbey Race Week event had 600-800 participants not including spectators. Lodging in both Oak Harbor and Coupeville as well as nearby campgrounds were booked months if not a year in advance.
The move to Point Roberts was being made to expand the event and the number of participants, Rathkopf said. “We would have to seriously reevaluate after year one if we can’t expand,” she said. She will be taking her concerns to the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee in hopes that they can join her in renewed efforts to lobby the county to put a dock back in for at least a portion of the boating season.