by Julia Soes
Those who think that watching sailboat racing is boring haven’t been at a high school regatta when the wind is up. As a coach, few things register panic like the sound of a crowd looking out at the water and going “Ohhhh, ouch, aaah!” while your team is out racing. After a challenging season for the Orcas Sailing Team, they were ready for the blustery conditions they faced at the Seafarers Regatta, and didn’t add to the crowd’s excitement as boats capsized and dismasted around them.
The Orcas Sailing Team is currently the youngest team in the Northwest in terms of average sailor age, but that doesn’t deter them from racing against the older and bigger teams. While the typical high school sailing team might have around 16 to 18 kids with an even split between 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders with one or two middle schoolers, Orcas currently has about 14 kids and four are in high school.
With a proud history of past Orcas teams going to Nationals under the coaching of Burke Thomas and Hannah Tuscon-Turner, the team has some big shoes to fill. It’s a history that motivates, rather than intimidates, the young sailors. As sophomore Moose Kinsey put it: “I want my banner, too” (referencing the 2011 and 2017 nationals banners that hang on the walls of the high school gym).
Over the season, the team raced in Seattle, Oak Harbor, and Anacortes, and have their last regatta in Bellingham on the 14th and 15th of May. Each event has held a new set of challenges that taught the sailors more about reading the wind and water, handling their boats, and working with their teammates. As they get ready to wind down the Spring racing season, the summer events are stacking up.
Some of the team members will be working as assistant and junior instructors for the Sail Orcas summer classes this year between their busy summer race circuit schedule. The Northwest Youth Racing Circuit has events everywhere from the Columbia River Gorge in Hood River, to right here on Orcas. Sail Orcas and the Orcas Island Yacht Club are getting ready to host their first big youth sailing event since 2019.
The Ray Jarecki Youth Regatta is the biggest event that Sail Orcas puts on and is named after one of the founders of youth summer sailing lessons on Orcas Island. As the Vice Commodore of the OIYC in 1996 Ray took it upon himself to push the club to start a Junior Sailing program. It has been a very successful program with many hundreds of Island children going through the summer sailing lessons over the years. Ray managed its operation with the help of Yacht Club volunteers for the next 11 years, giving generously of his time and money.
With Ray’s guidance, the Yacht Club’s Junior Sailing Program was merged with the Sail Orcas group in 2007 in order to leverage the common goals of the two groups. Ray’s wife Dianne served on the Sail Orcas board until this year.
The race team and youth sailing program have continued to grow and are looking to continue expanding from the summer and fall season with more opportunities for middle school sailors coming next year. As the season winds down and the competitive events are wrapping up, the sailors will get to celebrate with a camp and sail to another nearby island. Having a high school sailing team is a unique opportunity that not many communities can offer, so making sure that kids get to utilize their skills on the water to explore and appreciate their home is something the program wants to emphasize.