Nanaimo sailors prepare with months of planning

NANAIMO – Black Press Van Isle 360 includes skippers from the Hub City.

Months of planning, maybe even a year, have all culminated into this moment.

Crews have been training, logistics have been planned to a tee, equipment and gear have been checked, rechecked, and checked again. Whatever tiny details didn’t get scratched off the to-do list will never get done.

It’s race time, and the wind is blowing.

For Nanaimo skippers Keith Climenhaga and Francis Walsh, both veterans of the Black Press Van Isle 360, race day marks the transition from planning and organizing to doing what they love most: sailing.

“At that point, on the morning of the race, I’m looking forward to the challenge and the adventure that lays ahead,” said Climenhaga, who has completed the race five times. “Setting goals, figuring routes out every day, judging winds, tides and currents. I very much enjoy it.”

Climenhaga will skipper his 9.3-metre Ross 930 called Dilligaf, named in tribute to friends during his high school days.

The smallest boat in the 43-boat field, Dilligaf has experience on its side as this will be Climenhaga’s third time circumnavigating his vessel along the 580-nautical mile route (he has also crewed on other boats).

For Walsh, the sound of the starting horn on race day is not only a proud moment for him and his crew of six, but for the entire Nanaimo sailing community. Walsh has entered his 11.5-metre C&C 115 Cu Na Mara, Irish for Hound of the Sea, which he raced in the Van Isle 360 for the first time in 2011.

“The local sailing community has always thought very highly of this race,” he said. “It’s a challenging race and it’s designed to be challenging.”

Formerly known as the Cadillac Van Isle 360 International Yacht Race, the event has run every second year since 1999 when Nanaimo yachters Wayne Gorrie and Janine Bell organized the competition, attracting 14 boats.

In 2011, Vancouver-based Blast Performance acquired the rights to the race.

Once the boats begin their journeys, all of the preparation is swept away with each passing wave, and crews settle into a routine that will become the norm for the next two weeks. Seaside communities slip by, and each leg is completed with a meal, some cheer, and camaraderie.

The west side of the Island presents some of the greatest challenges. Wild weather – In 2011, crews were blasted with 100 km/h winds – whales migrating and, and added challenge for 2013, Japanese tsunami debris that has made its way to this side of the world.

For local sailors, the 580-nautical mile distance almost doubles that of the total distance of local races over the course of a year.

Those races allow sailors to make adjustments and try out different crew members before entering the Van Isle 360.

“Crew dynamics is important,” said Walsh. “There is never enough time to train together. It’s like putting together a dream team. You may have a lot of talented people, but getting those people to gel together is the trick.”

The last leg of the race, from Victoria to Nanaimo, is always the most intense. Boats fortunate enough to be in the top three are pushing to close the gap and gain a spot, while being careful not to let a podium finish slip away. Boats further behind are working diligently to find the best wind, and maybe take advantage of the tides and currents in an effort to catch the team ahead of them.

In one final mad dash, it’s all over.

“Because of the intensity of the last leg when crews hit the docks they sort of have that lost puppy look,” said Walsh. “It’s like ‘now what do we do?’ We all know it and expect it but it still comes as a bit of a shock.”

For both Climenhaga and Walsh, racing the Van Isle 360 is a way to measure their sailing ability, enjoy the challenge and meet new people.

Walsh said the more he races, the more the world of sailing opens up.

“I’ve learned there’s a lot to learn,” he said. “It’s like a marathon, whatever happens you’ve just got to keep going.”

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