For these local business people, getting away from the Rat Race means entering a different kind of race altogether — the Bellingham Yacht Club’s Wednesday night regattas.
The sound of wind blowing through the sails, a fresh breeze on his face and the joy of pushing a sailboat through its paces are just a few of the reasons Dr. Peter Ambrose enjoys the Bellingham Yacht Club’s Wednesday night regattas.
“No matter how hard work is during the day, after a regatta you feel like you’ve had a great day,” Ambrose said. “It’s like having another weekend day during the week.”
Ambrose, a fulltime emergency room doctor until 1999, has been racing his boat on Wednesdays since 1976. He is currently the director of Whatcom Occupational Health, a facility that deals with job injuries, toxic exposure, disabilities and other occupation- related health issues.
With such a stressful work environment, Ambrose uses the regattas as a way to wind down and take his mind off the hectic workload and demanding days at the office.
“You can’t continue thinking about work once you’re sailing,” he said. “There is so much to do once you get on the boat, you have to concentrate specifically on that.”
Even as an ER doctor, Ambrose enjoyed the regattas so much that he would maneuver his schedule so he could race every Wednesday night. Sometimes he would even have somebody cover his shift just so he could race, then return to the ER to finish his day.
“Working in the ER was difficult because it was 12-hour shifts, from seven to seven. Being able to race really helped out a lot. I would always try to work it into my schedule, I liked it so much that I never wanted to miss it,” he said.
The regattas, put on by the Bellingham Yacht Club since 1974, run from the first Wednesday after daylight savings time begins to the last Wednesday before daylight savings ends. Tuesday nights are for dinghies, Wednesdays are for experienced sailors in larger sailboats such as Ambrose’s, and Thursdays are for novices, long-distance racing and junior sailing.
For the Wednesday night regattas, the boats are broken into four categories based on certain measurements such as length, height, weight and sail length. The categories are ‘PHRF1′ (Performance Handicap Racing Fleet) for smaller, faster sailboats, ‘PHRF2′ for larger, slower sailboats, ‘Cruising’ for the slowest boats, and ‘Etchells’ for the Etchell racing sailboats.
Ambrose, a competitive and experienced racer, competes in the Etchell category with his boat Attitude. The 30-foot-boat holds a crew of three and is one of 10 in Bellingham.
“There are other boats out there with a lot more creature comforts,” he said. “Ours is more of a bare-boned racing boat.”
Even though Etchells lack in accessories, a brand-new one costs around $60,000 and is a boat built strictly for speed. For the Wednesday night races, the Etchell class has no handicap because all the boats are similar in weight, size and sail length. Ambrose and his two-man crew only race against the nine other Etchells in Bellingham. The crew of three also has raced in Seattle, San Francisco, and, in 2002, Ambrose competed at the World Etchell Championships in Auckland, New Zealand, against the likes of America’s Cup skipper Dennis Conner.
“We are pretty competitive,” he said. “All three people in the crew have to be advanced sailors because it stretches everybody to the max, but it’s really all about having fun.”
Ambrose said that the actual racing is only half of the fun.
“After the race is over, everybody goes into the Yacht Club and eats dinner and has a beer. Everybody who participates enjoys Wednesday nights tremendously,” he said. “Sometimes it’s the best day of the week for me. I feel like I’ve cheated the usual rat race.”
Dr. Eric Yaremko said he feels the same way. After long days at the office, Wednesday nights are a way for him to relax.
“I like being on the water and I like the excitement and distraction of racing the sailboat,” he said. “I’m not the kind of person who likes to go sit on a beach for relaxation, I like to blow off steam by doing things that are adventurous. I need things that take my mind off the office. Sailing does that for me. It’s a good distraction, especially because I love the water.”
A sailor since high school, Yaremko began the Wednesday night regattas eight years ago with the semi-inherited 23-foot boat from his childhood. Within two years he bought his current boat, a 30-foot S2. He races in the PHRF2 with between six and 14 other boats. Unlike Ambrose’s team of three, Yaremko’s boat, Flying Circus, requires between seven and eight people to run efficiently for the races.
“Racing this boat is kind of like running your own soccer team. You need people with experience and knowledge, but trying to get them to show up week after week for years is impossible,” Yeremko said. “In the last six years I think the boat has been through about 30 people.”
Although it can be exasperating, finding a crew is all just a part of the process.
“Always trying to get people can be frustrating, but I’ve also met a lot of good people in the process,” he said. “The races have definitely been a nice vehicle to meet new friends who enjoy doing the same thing that I do.”
Like Ambrose, Yaremko has to go out of his way to make the races happen. He said that he runs out of his office at 5 p.m. to make it to the marina by 5:15 p.m. He and his crew get the boat into the water and begin the race at 5:30 p.m..
“It takes a lot of effort to make it all happen,” he said. “Finding time and a crew, all the upkeep and expenses, there is a lot associated with owning a boat. I definitely go out of my way to make it happen.”
Even with all the work, Yaremko said it was all worth it at the end of the day.
“It’s expensive to keep a boat. A friend and I were looking at the budgetary expenses of owning the boat and trying to figure out if it was worth it. He said to me ‘Yeah, it’s expensive, but how expensive is a psychiatrist if you don’t keep it?’ It’s my recreation and a way to relax and have a little excitement.”
Although Yaremko and Ambrose don’t compete against one another, they do get the same intensity, relaxation and fun out of the races. With the Wednesday night regattas, both men have found friendship, competition and a way to take their minds off stressful and intense jobs.
“It’s the best day of the week,” Ambrose said. “There is really nothing else like it.”