The yacht that makes it around Vancouver Island fastest can claim victory in the Van Isle 360.
But the crew that takes the longest is a winner too – it just means those sailors get to spend even more time on one of the most spectacular race courses anywhere.
“The scenery makes you believe in all the slogans about Best Place on Earth,” said Francis Walsh, skipper of Cu Na Mara.
Walsh and Bill Jones of Ion are the two Nanaimo Yacht Club entries in this year’s race. The other local skipper is Tim Rann on Amazing Grace, sailing out of Nanoose Bay’s Schooner Cove.
All told, 41 sailboats will crowd the Nanaimo Harbour this morning (June 4) to begin the first leg of a 10-leg, two-week, 580-nautical mile odyssey around the Island.
It’s a challenge that keeps sailors coming back for every running of the biennial race.
Jones, for instance, is setting out on his fifth Van Isle 360 today, his third as skipper. Walsh and Rann are taking on the skipper’s role for the first time, but both have crewed in past races.
“It’s the best race, I think, there is,” Walsh said.
He says that because of experiences such as the ninth leg of the 2009 race, when he crewed on his friend’s boat Dilligaf as it made its way through a pod of orcas in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
He says it because of stretches like the seventh leg, when Dilligaf rounded Cape Scott on the northern tip of the Island.
“If you want to talk to God, it’s a direct call from here,” another sailor remarked to Walsh.
The course is beautiful, but it is also powerful.
The sailors know the quickest route to Cape Scott means crossing the treacherous Nahwitti Bar north of Port Hardy. The high seas on the west coast of the Island, said Rann, are most daunting. There are ocean swells and unpredictable weather with which to contend.
“For some of [the crew] it will be the first time out of sight of land,” Rann said. “And then I just remind them that the land is only a mile away – straight down.”
That sort of reminder will help ensure the utmost concentration.
There is no time for distractions, until the leg is finished, and it is time for distractions.
“The camaraderie on the race is fabulous …” Walsh said. “In spite of the competitiveness, everyone’s just really good to each other, so you couldn’t ask for a better combination.”
The Telus Van Isle 360 international yacht race begins at 10:30 a.m. today (June 4) in Nanaimo Harbour. Cameron Island’s visiting vessel pier is a prime viewing location. The fleet returns to Nanaimo on June 18.