Three skippers from the Maple Bay Yacht Club will set sail this weekend in the Van Isle 360, a two-week race around Vancouver Island that runs from June 6-20. Beginning in Nanaimo, the boats will complete a nine-leg journey around the Island as part of a fleet of more than 50.
Woody Hayes will guide First Sight, a 45-foot Beneteau, First Sight; Bill Bakkan will pilot his 37-foot Beneteau, Sparkle Plenty; and John Schnellback will captain Interim, a 30-foot Ross.
Veterans with between five and 30 years of experience in sail racing, all three are looking forward to the test of circumnavigating the Island.
"It’s probably the most challenging level here in this area," Hayes said.
The race runs on alternating years with the Vic Maui Yacht Race, but if you ask these guys, the Van Isle 360 is the better of the two.
"[The Vic Maui] is not very social," Bakkan said. "You don’t see anybody until you get to Hawaii. With this race, you have five day races to Port Hardy, and at the end of the day, everybody gets together."
Stops include the tiny community of Winter Harbour, where the town of 20 people suddenly surges in population with the addition of 50 boat crews, and the salmon farm off Hardwicke Island, which hosts boaters for a barbecue on a barge. In Ucluelet, school children get to tour the boats and take home goody bags.
It’s definitely not all fun and games though.
"It’s very tactical with currents and tides," Schnellback said. "You don’t get that with all races."
Schnellback will sail with a crew of six, Bakkan has a crew of eight, and Hayes will take 10 or 11 on board. That doesn’t include the ground crew of two or three. The large crews are necessitated by the length of the race.
"Especially with the overnight stages, you’ve always got someone down below sleeping," Schnellback said. "You need enough to drive the boat and enough crew for the next shift."
Hayes’s boat, First Sight, used to belong to well-known late Duncan lawyer Don Taylor, who took it on the Vic Maui twice. The boat still flies Taylor’s colours alongside Hayes’s, and Hayes’s ground crew
for the Van Isle will include Taylor’s wife Darlene and Hayes’s wife Marlene.
The road crews are the unsung heroes of the race, doing a range of chores from carrying food and other gear to lighten the loads carried by the boats, to doing laundry. The boat crew members each pay a share to do the race, but the road crew doesn’t pay anything.
"I can’t imagine anyone doing the race without ground support," Bakkan said. "It would be a disaster. No one’s going to be making a lasagna on board."
The largest boat in this year’s race will be as much as 70 feet in length, with 20 feet being the smallest possibility because of what is needed on board. The Coast Guard inspects each vessel prior to the race to make sure they are fully stocked with safety equipment, and random inspections are conducted throughout the race.
"You have to meet safety regulations," Schnellback said. "You need stuff the average cruiser doesn’t have."
Boaters will also give each other a hand, even though they’re all chasing the same finish line.
"It’s competitive, but everybody is on the same page," Bakkan explained.
"You want to beat them, but you want to beat them fair and square," Hayes added.