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The ‘Holy Grail’ of West Coast sailing

Vern Burkhardt, chair of the Swiftsure International Yacht Race, chairs and competes in the 71st annual race.   - Arnold Lim/News staff
Vern Burkhardt, chair of the Swiftsure International Yacht Race, chairs and competes in the 71st annual race.
— image credit: Arnold Lim/News staff

Vern Burkhardt just can’t stay off the water, but he isn’t the only one.

Approximately 200 boats set sail May 24 to 26 for the 71st annual Swiftsure International Yacht Race where Burkhardt says the scenery takes centre stage.

“It’s the largest race in the Pacific Northwest and racers get together to exchange tales and catch up with each other once a year,” Burkhardt said. “Few vistas are like the downtown Inner Harbour of Victoria that are so beautiful and create a festival atmosphere for racers to come and enjoy.”

The chair of the race for four years has been an avid participant as well, having raced in all but four events since 1977, and 2014 is no different. The veteran sailor said there is just something about the annual event that keeps him coming back for more and fellow racer Stuart Dahlgren agrees.

“It is the one, it is the one that has the prestige,” he said. “It’s the holy grail of sailing around here. There are other races that are more challenging and harder to win but Swiftsure has the caché.”

Boats from as far as Oregon, Seattle and Vancouver join Island boats including the Westerly, a 70-foot long Santa Cruz boat Dahlgren and a crew of 16 will race in the longest and most challenging course in the event, the Swiftsure Lightship Classic.

The 240 kilometre race from Clover Point, to Swiftsure Bank to the finish at Ogden Point could see the entire crew stay up for 15 to 16 hours straight, or see the them take shifts sleeping if they expect a longer than a 24 hour trip. It will be challenging, he said, but worth it in the end.

“I think this is one of the coolest team sports out there. The truest team sport. Not all jobs on the boats are glamorous, but every job needs to get done and someone needs to do it.”

His strategy comes down to the sailing conditions, and it is that challenge, along with the tight competition from the calibre of boats and seamanship he doesn’t see at many races, that Dahlgren is looking forward to testing himself against.

He hopes people will come out to watch the event, including the myriad of festival activities for people of all ages surrounding the races in and around the Inner Harbour – and see the sport for what it is. Not the exclusive club of wealthy businessmen showing off expensive boats, but an inclusive group of people, some of whom don’t own a boat, that just love to be out at sea.

If nothing else, spectators should come to witness the race start which is a spectacle to behold, he said.

“The start … if there is any breeze, is a very impressive thing. It’s a lot of mass and a lot of dollars moving at a high speed in close quarters. There is a lot of chance of thrills and spills that people love,” he said. “(That) and the shockingly beautiful backdrop of the Olympic Mountains, it is a gorgeous place we live in and a great way to see it.”

 

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