Former Team U.S.A. Olympic gold medallist Jonathan McKee is entering his second Van Isle 360 race aboard Dark Star

Former Team U.S.A. Olympic gold medallist Jonathan McKee is entering his second Van Isle 360 race aboard Dark Star

Gold medallist aims for podium finish

NANAIMO – Black Press Van Isle 360 sets sail from Nanaimo harbour Saturday (June 8).

The Van Isle 360 always attracts extremely skilled skippers – sometimes it even attracts Olympic gold medallists.

Jonathan McKee, who won gold for Team U.S.A. in the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, is entering this year’s Black Press Van Isle 360 yacht race around Vancouver Island.

So does that gold-medal sheen make him a favourite in this month’s race?

“Yes and no,” McKee said. “It’s a different style of race – all the boats are different and there’s a handicap system. There’s a lot more variables than there is in an Olympic type of race.

“I have a lot of respect for the other competitors, as well – there’s a lot of experience, a lot of well-sailed boats out there.”

McKee is entering his second-straight Van Isle 360 on Dark Star, his 44-foot custom sailboat. Most of his crew from 2011 returns for another go, as they enjoyed the experience the first time around. McKee said he always liked the concept of the 580-nautical-mile race around the Island.

“I do a lot of grand prix racing … this is a little more relaxed atmosphere. It’s a race, but it’s also kind of a rally,” he said. “It’s not that it’s not competitive, but people are also there because they want to enjoy good company and sail their boat in a beautiful part of the world.”

McKee’s home port is Seattle, but he’s getting to know the waters around Vancouver Island by now. He said the first part of the race is particularly scenic and interesting tactically, then comes the off-shore ocean adventure of the second week. The final leg – the return to Nanaimo – is among the most challenging parts of the race.

“You have to choose your route among a number of options which are usually not that obvious,” he said. “That’s a really tricky one.”

With some Van Isle experience, an Olympic-calibre skipper and a seaworthy sailboat, McKee’s team could be in the mix for a podium finish this month.

“I expect we’ll probably win a couple legs, and who knows? If things go well maybe we have a chance to win our division,” he said. “Really, while we want to be competitive, we mostly just want to have a good sailing experience.”