Sailboats congregate at the start line in Nanaimo Harbour in the minutes leading up to the last Van Isle 360 yacht race in 2013.

Sailboats congregate at the start line in Nanaimo Harbour in the minutes leading up to the last Van Isle 360 yacht race in 2013.

Van Isle 360 yacht race setting sail

The Van Isle 360 yacht race begins Saturday (June 6) in Nanaimo Harbour.

The fleet is going to fill the harbour to bursting this weekend.

The Van Isle 360 yacht race begins Saturday (June 6) in Nanaimo Harbour, and 51 vessels are all going to disembark that day and try for a fast start up the coast.

There are so many entries this year, said race director Jeff Motley, that the boats will start in two batches, 10 minutes apart. The start is still going to be wild.

“It looks like a giant melee. Lots of yelling and screaming,” Motley said.

The start line is situated between a pier and a reef, leaving no room for error.

“It’s what we call hard-ended start lines, so there isn’t room to bail out,” Motley said. “If you overshoot the start line on one end or the other, you’re going to run into something that’s going to put your boat out of the race.”

The yachts will circumnavigate Vancouver Island in stages, returning to Nanaimo in two weeks’ time. It’s a singular challenge in sailing.

“You just can’t do this race anywhere else in the world,” said Motley. “Obviously the spectacular scenery that we have here is one thing, but the sailing conditions themselves are definitely some of the most challenging on the planet.”

Upon leaving Nanaimo, the boats head north for Comox, though the narrow Johnstone Strait and past the Nawhitti Bar.

“And then everybody’s looking forward to … heading out into the open Pacific for what they hope is the big sleigh ride down the west coast of the Island,” said the race director.

The first leg of the race begins Saturday at 10:30 a.m. For the best views of the action, spectators can watch from the Visiting Vessel Pier.

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