Amazing Grace skipper Tim Rann navigates choppy seas. Rann

Amazing Grace skipper Tim Rann navigates choppy seas. Rann

Van Isle skippers talk strategy

Forty-one sailboats, said skipper Bill Jones of Ion, don’t actually fit in Nanaimo Harbour.

So it’s going to make for some cramped quarters Saturday morning (June 4) as 41 yachts make their way from Nanaimo to French Creek on the first leg of the Telus Van Isle 360.

Coming up with a start-line strategy is one thing, said skipper Francis Walsh of Cu Na Mara. Executing it is another.

“There’s only X amount of room for any boats to exercise their strategy,” Walsh said. “Hopefully a hole will open up and we’ll squeeze through.”

Walsh crewed on his friend Keith Climenhaga’s sailboat Dilligaf the last two runnings of the Van Isle 360, and thinks his local knowledge of the harbour can be a benefit.

“We’ve done well on the first leg and the last leg,” said Walsh. “So we’re relatively confident in 100 of the 600 [nautical miles]. It’s just figuring out the other 500.”

The race is a two-week trip, consisting of 10 legs. The fleet is made up of sailboats of all sizes, shapes and abilities.

Walsh notes that there are nine yachts in his division that have nearly identical ratings, virtually eliminating handicaps. It should make for good, close competition, but it also makes it harder to find that edge.

Some new sails, Walsh said, have improved the performance of his C&C 115 in light winds. He’s hoping for moderate winds most of the course.

“Ten to 15 [knots], everyone’s going to be happy and we’ll have a great race that won’t be decided on flukiness,” he said.

Tim Rann on Amazing Grace said his C&C 45 likes windward conditions in heavier weather. The yacht was custom built for international competition in the ’80s and has been thoroughly restored.

“The boat’s the strongest part of it, we’re the weakest,” he joked, but it isn’t really true – Rann has made three trans-Atlantic crossings and he has crew members with Pacific crossings to their credit.

Rann sees two other boats in the fleet that are similar to Grace.

“We’re going to be almost boat-for-boat going around,” he said. “It’s going to be fun.”

Concentration, he said, is the best way to gain a competitive advantage.

“Just being totally focused and keeping the crew focused,” he said. “And a little luck.”

That concentration and good fortune will have to start Saturday morning, Rann said. He plans to get his crew on board early and try to get everyone prepared while keeping them relaxed.

“Everyone has to be right on the ball because that’s a very crowded start line,” he said.

Jones has the experience of four other Van Isle races, but he plans to throw a lot of his past strategies out the window. Secret routes he tested in 2009 might not have been shortcuts after all.

“Apparently last time those tricks didn’t work very well, so I think we’ll probably go for direct lines,” he said.

This time, the skipper said he takes better equipment, a more experienced crew and a more competitive mindset onto his Beneteau 43.

But no matter how much time skippers spend poring over maps and charts and developing strategy, the waves and the wind and the weather have the final say.

“It’s a dice game,” Jones said. “You just do the best you can. You go north and keep Vancouver Island to your left-hand side and keep going till you get back to Nanaimo.”

BOATING BANTER … For a related article, please click here … To follow the progress of Cu Na Mara, Amazing Grace and Ion, visit The website features satellite tracking of all the boats, plus links to race blogs.