Racers line up at the starting buoy in Nanaimo Harbour for the Van Isle 360 in 2013. The yachting race returns this year with the new Gulf Islands Nanaimo Regatta added to the final leg.

Racers line up at the starting buoy in Nanaimo Harbour for the Van Isle 360 in 2013. The yachting race returns this year with the new Gulf Islands Nanaimo Regatta added to the final leg.

COASTAL LIVING: Yacht race returns to Island waters

NANAIMO – Van Isle 360 draws sailors from across the globe.

The first-ever GIN regatta will fire up during this year’s 10th Van Isle 360 International Yacht Race.

Vancouver Island’s marathon yachting race will mark its 10th edition with a record number of competitors and the inaugural Gulf Islands Nanaimo (GIN) Regatta, set to sail this June.

Van Isle 360 happens once every two years and has become “the race” to sail in on the west coast of North America, says owner Jeffrey Motley, who’ll see boats as far as California and New Mexico at this year’s event, including one once owned by American’s Cup competitor Dennis Conner.

The race got its start in 1999 with the Ambassador’s Edition, with 14 yachts looping the Island. Between June 6-20, there will be a record 52 boats and around 500 sailors participating in the 10-leg contest which starts and ends in Nanaimo.

Racers will make stops on the Island along the way spanning French Creek to Port Hardy, Ucluelet and Victoria.

“The race is just one of those amazing events that it’s on the bucket list of everybody,” said Motley, who attributes the success to host communities and volunteers.

The event kicks off in the Harbour City with an anticipated 1,000 people and a Salvation Army pancake breakfast at the M.E. Mills Landing pier. The public can see the racers off and follow their journey on Van Isle 360’s online race tracker (http://goo.gl/HnMZ9D).

It’s an “exceptionally challenging” competition, says Motley, who sees it test the preparation of boats and crew communications and relations. Racers go from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. day after day. “It’s a real marathon of competition,” he said, adding sailors also face currents along the inside passage and it’s not uncommon to have gale-force winds on the outside.

New to the event this year is the participation of the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, which will host sailors and launch the regatta for the first time this year.

More than 200 sailors are expected to make the dash from Victoria to Nanaimo in the inaugural GIN Regatta June 19-20.

Motley said the international race limits participants and it can be hard for some skippers to get a hall pass – this new event allows them to finish with the fleet.

GIN will happen every year, alternating as part of Van Isle 360 and a standalone race.

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