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Looking Ahead—Adventure Racing in the Pacific Northwest

by David Schmidt on 16 May 2011
Searching for the breeze while racing to Telegraph Cove in the 2007 Van Isle 360 David Schmidt
The spring is an exciting time to be a Pacific Northwest sailor. Unlike most of the rest of the country, our fleet races all winter, so come spring and fair weather, racing skills are sharp and confidence levels are high.

By July, the racing gear has been stripped and the cruising gear re-deployed, but, in the meantime, two of the most important races—the Swiftsure International Yacht Race and the TELUS Van Isle 360—offer adventure and great racing for those souls hearty enough stare down a bit of rain and cold graveyard watches.

The Swiftsure International Yacht Race, organized by the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, starts on May 28 and offers eight different courses, ranging from 17.8 to 138.7 miles, for boats of all sizes.

Racing starts just off of Victoria, B.C., and takes all sailors past Race Rocks, an eerie place marked with roiling currents that have spelled doom for countless seamen, and west down the Straight of Juan de Fuca (the start of last year’s Swiftsure was so unpleasant that it was affectionately re-dubbed the Straights of Wanna Pucka, in honor of the suffering souls aboard).

To the south is the Olympic Peninsula and the mighty Olympic Mountains, and to the north are the steep, lush foothills of Vancouver Island. Sweeping currents, frequent wind holes, insider knowledge and a role of the dice make tactics an adventure every year.

The TELUS Van Isle 360—held every other year—is one of the coolest sailboat races anywhere. As its name implies, the race circumnavigates Vancouver Island, beginning on June 4 and finishing on June 19. The course’s 537 miles are broken up into ten different stages that get progressively sportier as the fleets sails counterclockwise around the island, starting and ending in Nanaimo. In between, the fleet enjoys the relative protection of British Columbia before negotiating the Nahwitti Bar (another infamous ship graveyard) and the northwest corner of the island.

Things historically get bumpiest by the Brooks Peninsula, perhaps one third of the way down the island’s west coast, but, given the proximity to mountains and the exposure to the open Pacific, every leg has the potential for adventure.

Evenings are spent socializing with friends in sleepy fishing towns, savoring the massive trees, the tremendous tides (up to 16 knots), the rugged beaches and the wilderness-sailing nature of this amazing event. If racing alongside Orcas while watching bald eagles fish and the occasional grizzly bear stalking a lonesome, windswept beach is your idea of fun, the Van Isle 360 is impossible to beat.

As for the rest of the summer, our cruising isn’t so bad…it’s just that the iron jenny isn’t nearly as fun as to fly a full spinnaker down the Vancouver Island’s west coast…especially if it isn’t raining.
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