Every sailboat that enters this year’s Black Press Van Isle 360 yacht race has to undergo a comprehensive, pre-race safety check.
And volunteers with the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue Station 27 – Nanaimo are charged with carrying out this task.
“Some of it’s safety, some of it’s what to do if you run into a situation,” said Gordie Robinson, station administrator. “We’ve done it every time it runs.”
Marine search and rescue volunteers are a perfect fit for this job because members already do voluntary safety checks as part of the public awareness part of the organization, Robinson added.
The long list of required equipment includes a first aid kit; working compass; radios that operate on marine safety frequencies; heavy cutters to cut stainless steel lines, in case any part of the sail breaks and needs to be cut away; an electric positioning monitor, which starts transmitting on an emergency frequency if the boat flips over; and emergency steerage equipment such as paddles in case the tiller or rudder breaks.
Robinson said if a sailboat does not meet all of the criteria, volunteers report this to the race committee and it is the committee’s job to enforce the rules.
Having the equipment on board that will enable sailors to fix something that breaks is important because sailboats are often spread out during the race and can lose sight of land.
“When you’re out there in the race, you’re on your own,” said Robinson.
There are many things that can happen during the two-week race, which is sailed in 10 legs and covers some of the most challenging waters on the planet, said Sylvia Motley, co-race director.
Two years ago, an encounter with a whale left one boat rudderless, the majority of participants battled sea sickness on the west side of the Island where large waves and strong winds can make for ugly conditions, and there are the tides, currents, reefs and debris in the water to think about as well, she said.
That’s why organizers not only place a high value on the pre-race safety checks, but also this year, for the first time, one of the requirements is to have two people on each boat at all times who have taken the safety at sea course, said Motley.
Besides the safety checks, she said the committee relies on volunteer search and rescue groups around the Island to help in emergency situations and other situations – in Ucluelet, volunteers helped guide sailboats into the harbour.
“Just for the [sailors] to know they’re available to help is an enormous relief for them,” she said.