by Julia Soes
Special to the Sounder
Compared to neighboring yacht clubs, Orcas Island’s yacht club 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 Orcas Island Yacht Club picnic shelter to support two of the leaders behind this renaissance, Chris and Justin Wolfe, as they prepared to represent the US at the 2021 Mixed Offshore Doubles World Championship in Italy. The Wolfes began their double-handed sailing career 20 years ago in Seattle when Justin was looking for a crew for the local Thursday night Jack and Jill races. As he puts it, Chris was “the best Jill around.”
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 proved together that double-handed 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 double handing that was attractive to them, several things made the list. There’s no last-minute scramble for crew and you’re always busy. As Chris put it “nobody becomes a professional cunningham trimmer,” there’s always a job. When followed up with asking if sailing with your spouse is difficult, they both scoffed and said it was a strength.
The 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 sailing from Hawaii to the mainland twice, they’ve developed a process for thinking through decisions quickly and learning not to second guess.
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 John McKey and Ron Rosenberg, along with their already impressive race portfolio, the Wolfe’s were selected to represent the United States in a series of races totaling over 750 miles of offshore sailing.
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 over 10 J/70’s. Coach Ron Rosenberg and the Wolfe’s have been among the founding members of this organization. This group of boats has taken the Northwest by storm and is part of the fastest-growing one-design fleet. The J/Pod practices year-round in West Sound and their sailors are a force to be reckoned with on the racecourse.
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. To help send them off to Italy, the OIYC 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 lasagne dinner was served.
Like the yacht club they hail from, 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.
You’d be hard-pressed to find two better sportsmen, sailors, or community members than Chris and Justin Wolfe.
To support these two you can follow their journey on social media via Orcas Island Yacht Club, Raku Racing, Sail Orcas, Nastro Rosa Tour, and follow their mold by finding ways you can give back to the sailing community in your neck of the woods.